You Have to Know Why You Pray
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
- 2014 Dec 15
We’ve all heard the story of the young wife who cut off both ends of the ham before cooking it. When her husband asked her why – she didn’t know; that’s the way her mom always did it. Sensing she was missing some valuable information she went to her mom with the question. Answer: “I only had one pan and it was too small for the ham.” Well that leaves one a little hungry in more ways than one.
You have to know why you pray. Question: why do you pray for God to save people if God doesn’t overcome a person’s will and that person’s natural bent against Him? If you believe that people choose God, why do you pray? Or, how about this question: if God is sovereign and will unfailingly save His elect, why do you pray? If what will be will be, why pray? It seems we have two ends of a ham here.
Paul says something interesting to the Thessalonian believers; he knows they are God’s elect: that they’ve been chosen by God. He knows God chose them because he sees the evidence of God at work in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-10). He says the reason they were saved is because the gospel they heard was accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s power. They did not believe the gospel on their own; they were enabled by the Holy Spirit and that’s why Paul thanked God for them. He didn’t thank them for coming to Christ or for being good Christians; again, he thanked God for changing them.
So the answer to our first question seems simple enough. We pray because God does overcome a person’s will and natural bent against God. We pray for God to change people’s hearts. Whether we fully embrace intellectually God’s sovereignty in salvation, we all embrace it practically when we pray. Those who argue God won’t violate a person’s will actually pray that He does just that (if they pray for God to save people). Let’s leave that end of the ham on.
So far so good; but what about the second question? If divine election is true and God will save His elect, why pray for their salvation? The answer here is simple enough as well. Paul knows God is sovereign in salvation and that is exactly why he prays. Belief in God’s sovereignty over all things is not fatalistic; the bible doesn’t teach us to have a que sera sera attitude toward life. Yes, God has a plan and it will come to pass. But, God accomplishes His plan through means like prayer and witness. The very reason Paul prays is God’s power and control over all things. Let’s leave that end of the ham on too then.
Now, why wouldn’t you pray for a lost friend or lost family member’s salvation? There are only three reasons why you wouldn’t. One, you don’t believe God can answer your prayer because He won’t change a person’s heart. Two, you misunderstand the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation (predestination) and prayer is not part of the equation and makes no difference. Or three, you just don’t care. Now that one takes the ham – or the cake – or something like that.
So let me ask this question again: why do you pray for your lost friend or lost family member? Answer: because you know God is in control of his/her salvation and you want Him to bring it about. Now that’s something we can feast on.
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