Some Calvinists have never struggled with prayer in any way. Others of us have struggled with it in almost every way.
Number me with the latter.
One conundrum bogged me down when I was a very young Christian — and long before I was much of a Calvinist. In its simplest terms, it is: how can our prayers make any difference?
If God knows what He is going to do, and has known since before the first tick of the cosmic clock, and if His will is settled and absolute and unalterable, then what possible impact can our prayers have? And even more to the point, what possible purpose could they serve?
I've made sufficient peace with that issue on two fronts:
- God says to do it (Luke 18:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:17, etc. ad inf). If I believe Him, that's sufficient in itself. If I don't believe Him, nothing will suffice.
- God carries out His sovereign will through means. My prayers are parts of those means (cf. Ezekiel 36:37-38). It isn't mine to divine His sovereign will, but to pursue His revealed will (Deuteronomy 29:29, and see #1 above).
- Genesis 18. In this passage, God comes in judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham catches wind of it, he pleads with God for the cities. Finally, God agrees not to destroy Sodom if ten righteous can be found (v. 32).
- Exodus 33:1-14. Yahweh says "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (v. 3) But Moses pleads with Yahweh, and Yahweh agrees that His presence will go with Israel (vv. 12-16).
- Numbers 9. Some Israelites were unable to keep the Passover. The law made no provision for them, so they were shut out. Yet they asked God, because they wanted to worship and participate. God provided a second Passover for those who, for unavoidable reasons, were unable to participate on the correct date.
- Amos 7:1-6. Yahweh threatens judgment on Israel, the prophet intercedes, Yahweh (at least) forestalls the judgment.
- Mark 7:25-30. A Syrophoenician woman with a possessed daughter implores Jesus for help. He puts her off, gives no encouragement to ask further. But ask she does, and Jesus frees her daughter.
There are also other examples that I might call OTOH examples — examples where God announces a decision, is asked to change that decision, and refuses to do so.
- Deuteronomy 3:23-28. Yahweh has told Moses that he may not enter Canaan with Israel due to his sin at Meribah (Numbers 20). Moses asks God to relent, and let him enter. "Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again," God replies (v. 26).
- Matthew 16. Jesus announces that He is to die on the cross. Peter reproves him. Jesus rebukes Peter sharply, and goes to the cross regardless — thank God!
For instance, what would have happened if Eve had asked God how to respond to the Serpent, rather than blundering on into gawping rebellion? What if, after Eve's sin, Adam had asked God what to do about Eve?
We could go on and on.
Here, in one final enumeration, is what I take from this:
- God gives believers' prayers a significant place in His plans.
- We should never downplay the importance of approaching God in prayer, Biblically understood.
- It is the height of folly to let circumstance or human reasoning discourage us from bringing our petitions to God. In other words...
- Let God say "No, I have a better plan," rather than, "Since you did not ask (James 4:2b)...."