03 July 2008

Prayer and the might-not-have beens

by Dan Phillips

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
HSAT (Having Said All That), I have also noticed the most remarkable occasions in Scripture when what God had been going to do is presented as influenced by human prayer. Now, I don't want to over-theologize it (and will resist that in the meta). If God says A, and a human says oh please, do B; and God says OK, I'll do B, then He meant to do B all along — and meant to do it in response to human petition. Plus as an added bonus, He meant to do the petitioner good by involving him or her in the process.

Instances where prayer factors in to God's plan
  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. Amos 7:1-6. Yahweh threatens judgment on Israel, the prophet intercedes, Yahweh (at least) forestalls the judgment.
  5. 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.
Now, you may see these discussed here and there, particularly from the perspective of whether this shows a mutable God. (It doesn't, but that is not our concern here.)

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.

Instances where prayer is flatly rejected
  1. 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).
  2. 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!
HSAT, have you ever wondered about a third category? Have you ever wondered which Bible stories might have gone differently, and how so, if someone had just asked 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:
  1. God gives believers' prayers a significant place in His plans.
  2. We should never downplay the importance of approaching God in prayer, Biblically understood.
  3. It is the height of folly to let circumstance or human reasoning discourage us from bringing our petitions to God. In other words...
  4. Let God say "No, I have a better plan," rather than, "Since you did not ask (James 4:2b)...."
Dan Phillips's signature


donsands said...

Nice post. I need to pray more, and pray bigger prayers. For we serve an Omnipotent compassionate Father.
John 15:7-8

Thanks for the encouragement.

pastorbrianculver said...

I agree, we can all pray more! And it needs to be a prayer that will ultimately glorify God. A prayer of thanksgiving is so important. I wonder how many people pray for God to do something in their life and after God does it, they forget to give Him the praise He so rightly deserves. I have been away for a couple of months due to recently getting engaged! I have always enjoyed coming to Team Pyro! Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Brian,

Great post Dan. I followed the link and re-read your previous posting on prayer. Excellent.

I too, need to prayer more. Thanks.

DJP said...

Brian, congratulations! I was just wondering, yesterday, where you'd gotten to!

Pedro said...

Thanks Dan for another well taught lesson... I am even more thankful that I now know what HSAT means.

DJP said...

The really important thing, Pedro, is knowing one thing your friends don't know.


Mike Westfall said...

Thank you for pointing me to the what-prayer-is-and-isn't post from a couple years ago. That was really enlightening to this newbie calvinist who's swimming in a sea of magical-thinking Vineyarders.

DJP said...

Glad it helped you, MM. I actually think one of the most-cherished evangelical myths without a whisper of Biblical support is that prayer is a conversation. Which yeah, except for the NOT.

Josh said...

I preached Genesis 18 last Sunday - the one conclusion that I drew was that we obviously cannot change the mind of God since Numbers, Job and Malachi for example bear out the fact that God is immutable and cannot be corrected by man. Yet the one thing that can change is us. Prayer changes us.

I look back on all the Scriptures and the requirements for God to hear our prayers is that we are right with Him, humble and praying His will. That sounds a lot like prayer is a part of the sanctification process.

This very old heresy that is resurfacing in the form of Open Theism is simply foolishness. We would do well to read the life of Job before we consider how we approach God and what our "expectations" in prayer might be.

Mike J said...

Dan - fantastic reminder. Seriously.

If I might humbly add something...

The issue with the place of prayer that Calvinists often encounter is - and I think your post identifies this - fundamentally a philisophical issue. In other words, the theology is clear, but the mechanics or ontology is not so clear (and I'm not saying this pretending that I know).

I want to point something out that I think is helpful.

When Calvinists wonder about the place of prayer, they seem to, in my view, forget their grounding assumptions about God!

1) God is sovereign (I'll leave the nuances to the reader's discretion)
2) God is eternal, immutable, and timeless
3) God knows because He decrees (divine aseity).

You cannot legitimately ASK the question without seriously reckoning with your own grounding assumptions. But that's exactly what the Calvinist does. I think that if the Calvinist remembers these three points I don't think that he'll struggle as much with the place of prayer.

1) God knows the requests of our prayers before (read: outside) time

2) God knows whether He answers our prayers before time

3) God knows because He decrees.

4) God knows the requests of our prayers because He decreed our prayers

5) God knows whether He answers our prayers affirmatively because He decrees whether He answers our prayers

6) God is immutable and timeless.

7) Given (6), the decrees, being in the mind of God, are properly timeless.

8) The decree for the prayer does not precede temporally the decree for the answer, and vice versa - the decrees are outside time, eternal, simultaneous, with neither preceding.

9) We cannot know whether the decree for the answer of the prayer logically depends on the decree for the prayer, or whether the decree for the prayer logically depends on the decree for the answer to the prayer.

Basically, what I am trying to tease out is that we are asking a question predicated on our EXPERIENCE yet requiring an answer based on God's. Yet, who knows whether, in the mind of God, the prayer exists for the answer or the answer for the prayer? The decrees must be simultaneous and eternal. We merely experience it temporally.

Ok, I'm done now :P

DJP said...

Y'know, I do some enumerating, then first thing you know, everybody is making lists.

Mike J said...

"Y'know, I do some enumerating, then first thing you know, everybody is making lists."

Whoa, slow down there. I'm an engineer. I was (to my shame and social detrement) making lists (numeric and bulleted) long before I read anything by a Pyromaniac!


Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis wrote that "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes me."

That's the way I look at prayer. Calvinism took away the "I wants" from my prayer life, and turned it into "Help me trust your purposes in X".

It also makes me think of the sermon on the mount when Jesus asks:

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?"

When our requests are for bread God grants them, but sometimes we ask for a snake thinking it's a fish, and God, with the love and wisdom of the Father that he is, refuses to give us the thing that would harm us. And perhaps sometimes, we ask him to take away the bread he has given us thinking it is a stone. We get caught up in temporal circumstances and seek relief, yet God is sovereignly directing our spiritual good despite our foolishness, and to a result that will likely embarrass us when what we have seen only shadows of is revealed to us in full.

There are a lot of things I asked my earthly father for that he flatly rejected, and in hindsight, I am so glad he did, because those things could have been my undoing.

A. Yepiz said...

Talk about providence.

I was struggling in prayer today for some reason. Then I come here and you post this?

"God says to do it."

This is usually my main motivation. I want to do it because God wants me to do it. Great post DJP.

donsands said...

"Open Theism is simply foolishness."

It's a little deeper than that I would say Josh.
I would agree it's a false teaching, but it's not as simple as you think.

I don't think Dan wanted to go down this trail, so I won't. Just wanted to say that, FWIW.

candy said...

I sometimes struggle with the "Why bother" aspect of prayer. Sometimes I have a defeatist attitude. Especially when it comes to prayers for my family's salvation. Answers to prayers seem meager. I get discouraged at times. Yet I persevere thankful in the understanding that God is sovereign. I wish I had a heart to pray more fervently. George Mueller is a good example of someone who trusted in God and prayed fervently.

Dan. I hope you and your son have a good trip down to Mammoth. I hope it is not too smoky.

Josh said...

Open Theism is simply foolishness - is not equivalent to Open Theism is simple foolishness.

I agree that it is no walk in the park I just meant it was nothing other than vain philosophy but me no speak good.

Stefan Ewing said...

Another famously rejected prayer, albeit mediated through Samuel: 1 Samuel 15:24-26.

Well, anyhow, this really falls into the whole question of human responsibility in the service of the Divine will, doesn't it? We who are most conveniently labelled as Calvinists (maybe "Biblicists" is better ;) ) can also trip for the very same reasons on questions of evangelism and sanctification.

If God chose His elect before the foundation of the world and His grace is irresistible, why do we have to evangelize? Well, Jesus Christ calls us to do so (Matthew 24). He also commands us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and illustrates it in Luke with the story of the Good Samaritan, at a time when Judeans despised Samaritans above all people on earth. Isn't pleading with our neighbours to turn to God before it's too late a loving act?

Or sanctification. If we have assurance of salvation, the perseverance of the saints, isn't anything we do to help in our own sanctification just works-based righteousness? Well, except that God through His apostles calls us to participate in our own sanctification (1 Peter 1 and so many other passages). And Jesus' First Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—which means turning all of these faculties to the service of God, and not the service of sin.

Like Candy, however, sometimes I'm less than fully passionate in my prayer life, since I'm still waiting for God to answer my #1 prayer request—my wife's salvation. I understand that all happens in His time, and clearly there are still things He needs to do in me (or needs me to learn to do) before I can be the steward of my wife's life as a new believer.

Hadassah said...

I have often observed prayer as a blessing that works itself out backwards in my life.

For instance, say I pray about something. Then I see God bringing about an answer to my prayer, maybe even in a way that was unexpected. If I had not prayed, God certainly would have accomplished His own plan regardless. But because I DID pray, I have the privilege of SEEING and KNOWING that my prayers were answered. The blessing is mine, because I prayed before the result was known, thus the blessing worked itself out backward.

I sure hope that makes sense.

And I agree, the best reason to pray is b/c God commanded us to do it.

Kim K. said...

(reader for forever, first time posting...)

This post is a good reminder. I've been thinking lately that my prayers can seem so shallow and me-centered. (A natural outcome, probably, from praying with young children.) It also seems kind of silly to add "if it is your will" to every petition, even though God certainly will only answer according to His will. Some in my church ask for prayer because "prayer works!" and that strikes me as the wrong focus, too.

I've lately been reading from The Valley of Vision and realizing that my prayers need LOTS of work - more emphasis on God and much less on me. Thanks for the timely teaching.

DJP said...

All right! Kim K comes out and join's Pyro's Army of Kims!

Welcome, and thanks, Kim.

Mike Riccardi said...

I think if we leave the reason why pray to, "Because God told us to," we give an incomplete reason. Sure, we do indeed pray because He tells us to, but why does He tell us to?

I think the answer is for reasons like the one Hadassah and others have talked about. Through prayer, we're changed into greater conformity to His likeness, especially in the tuning of our will to His. But how? Because in the solemn meditation of praise, confession, and thanksgiving and supplication to God, we acknowledge our own insufficiency and emptiness in that we are not worthy of the praise and thanks we give Him, that we are sinners who need to confess, and that we are powerless to do whatever it is that we might ask Him to do. And when we see our insufficiency and emptiness, we see His perfect sufficiency and fullness.

And so He commands us to pray because in so doing we see Him. We behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, and by doing so are transformed into His image.

And so then we pray not merely by buckling down because it's our duty, but rather we are motivated to pray by the beauty of Christ Himself.

Dan L. said...

Good stuff on why I'm not a Calvinist. (Oh, the irony).

DJP said...

Hm; maybe it's time to consider a "Most Nonsensical Comment of the Day" category.

Jesus Is Coming Soon said...

I Agree wholeheartedly with you mainly because I know my prayer life is weak.And Jesus Christ gave us a much greater example ....Lord Help us all.

The Apostle paul prayed and also used his political rights to accomplish Gods will ( also a good commentary on capital punishment)

Acts 25:11 says, “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Matt said...

Dan, thank you so much for a timely post.

I've struggled with this since becoming Reformed.

When I was an Arminian, and I prayed for the (future) salvation of my little children, I just prayed that they would choose to follow God.

Not so easy since becoming Calvinist. Since their choice will be (is) determined by God's eternal purposes in the universe, I've really struggled with how to pray. I think of John 6, and now just ask for Jesus to draw my precious babies to Himself.

DJP, the rest of you: How do you pray for your sweet children? (I'm tearing up while writing this, just thinking of the possibility of my kids rejecting Jesus)

God bless you all!
Matt (oh and happy belated Canada Day to Stefan and my other fellow canucks around here. To the rest of you, happy 4th of July tomorrow)

Matt said...

Oh, and I thought the graphic might read: "Dog and pony show"

greglong said...

Matt, great question.

I would answer that you pray for your children in the same way you pray for anything else--according to your desires ("Ask, and you shall receive") in submission to God's will ("not my will, but thine").

P.S. Dan, because I am a Calvinist, I do not think it strange to pray for something AFTER it has already happened but BEFORE I know the result. Obviously I'm not "changing" the result, but perhaps God ordained my prayer as part of His sovereign will for that situation. Or am I the only one who has done this?

Of course, this usally happens when I've forgotten to pray for someone and then only remember after the fact but before I've heard what happened.

< sheepish grin >

donsands said...

"How do you pray for your sweet children?"

I like what you said about John 6. I do pray the Father would draw them to the Gospel of Christ. I pray that the Lord would have mercy on my three grandsons, and that they would grow to love Jesus Christ, and that our Savior and our God be pleased to glorify Himself in these "sweet children", as you called them. Sweet little sinners really, though created in the image of God Himself.

May the Lord be merciful to all our children who have not know His mercy, nor His righteousness as yet. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Or am I the only one who has done this?

I do this all the time. I have even left phone message with friends requesting they pray for something that I know will have already occurred by the time they receive the message.

Schrödinger's Cat Paradox applies to prayer, so to speak.

Mike Riccardi said...

In that vein, what of praying for the salvation of the dead? I'm not advocating a belief in purgatory or anything, but what do you guys think about praying for the salvation of someone who recently died?

Stefan Ewing said...

Greg, Garet: I know exactly what you're talking about—praying for something after the fact, usually because in my human frailty I forgot to do so beforehand.

Matt: Happy belated Canada Day to you, too, and happy Independence Day to all you'se south of the 49th parallel. I'm afraid my last comment might have come across as if I know what I'm talking about. As far as loved ones are concerned, I'm still very weak in my praying—both the passion and frequency.

I think a large part of my weakness in this area has been because I allowed myself to held back in my praying because I can't know if God will answer this particular prayer until He actually does. But that is the WRONG approach, and I know it. We should have no trepidation about praying wholeheartedly for our loved ones' salvation and should not even dream of letting the question of whether they are elect or not cross our mind—not even tacking on an "If it's your will" at the end. The inner workings of God's will are for Him alone to know in the unsearchable vastnesses of His wisdom.

All: I cited Matthew 24 when I mentioned evangelism. Of course I meant chapter 28.

Anonymous said...

what of praying for the salvation of the dead?

I guess as long as you don't try and baptize them. <\insensitive swipe at Mormons>

On a more serious note, whenever I think of my grandpa, who passed away 13 years ago, I pray for his salvation. He was antagonistic towards Jesus in the lucid period of his life, and I have no reason to believe that anything changed as he moved towards death. But I can hope that God in his mercy granted my grandpa repentance near the end, even though no one knows for sure. That hope materializes as prayer.

Stefan Ewing said...

It just occurred to me...I mentioned sanctification and evangelism before. These are the three week points—along with prayer—for those who believe in the sovereignty of God, are they not?

I mentioned the Great Commandment the other day: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself."

The first part certainly covers sanctification: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength means not sinning (by God's grace, so far as we can avoid it), not raising false idols, serving Him, and so on.

The second part covers (or can cover) both evangelism and prayer. Evangelism certainly, for the reasons I gave in an earlier comment. But even prayer, too. After all, isn't one of the noblest forms of prayer intercessory prayer for others? When we pray selflessly (hopefully selflessly) for the health, salvation, relief from suffering, etc. of others, are we not—even if just for a moment in our selfish lives—loving our neighbours more than ourselves?

I have always held up the Great Commandment as a fundamental passage(s) in the Bible, but only because it seemed to be an expression of some basic, fundamental principles. But perhaps it actually has direct application precisely to those areas where believers might be most likely to struggle.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Riccardi said...

After all, isn't one of the noblest forms of prayer intercessory prayer for others?

I'd actually say no. I think it is no more noble to pray for others to see the glory of God than to pray for yourself to see the glory of God. The noble prayer is that which asks God to do what He will. Most foundationally, that is "Be glorified in your works. Get what you're worthy of from your creation." Whether that's for us or for others, the nobility flows out of the source: God.

When we pray selflessly (hopefully selflessly) for the health, salvation, relief from suffering, etc. of others, are we not—even if just for a moment in our selfish lives—loving our neighbours more than ourselves?

I don't think we want to love our neighbors more than ourselves. I think we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, lest after preaching to (praying for) others we might find ourselves disqualified.

There's no virtue in depriving ourselves of seeing the beauty of God and enjoying Him "for the sake of others." I put it in quotes because the only way we can bring others to enjoy God's beauty is by enjoying it ourselves. To feel like praying for our own growth in grace and the knowledge of Him is selfish is wrong-headed (and I mean that very congenially).

We shouldn't be motivated by trying to be unselfish when it comes to God. We should be very selfish about getting as much of Him as we can get. And at the same time we should be earnest to communicate the fullness that we share in (John 1:16) to others. But we shouldn't pit them against one another.

I hope this doesn't come off as snappy, nitpicky, or antagonistic. I really am saying these things for what I believe is your benefit.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Excellent presentation, Dan. I was thinking of the example in Genesis 24 when Abraham's servant prays earnestly for the wife for Isaac, and it is obvious that God answered the prayer.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post, Dan, from one who struggles with this very question. As my understanding of soteriology has become more in line with Scripture (and therefore more Calvinist :) ) I've wondered, why bother?

As many have mentioned above, my prayers have become more about me and less about everybody else. I don't mean my prayers are selfish "gimme this" things without intercession for others. I do mean that my prayers have become less "won't you change him to make him more the way I want him?" and more about myself being conformed to His image, to seeking the good works He has laid out for me, to seeking His strength to sustain me, to draw and endear others to Christ by my behavior, etc. Valley of Vision has been an enormous tool to this end.

Praying for our children - yes - I weep as I pray for God's mercy and saving faith to shower upon my children. I believe that my prayers produce the spiritual growth/fruit in me that might help draw them to Him.

I pray because it changes ME. Oh, how it changes me. It doesn't turn God's will to mine, it turns my will to God's.

Unknown said...

I should say, it doesn't turn God's will to mine, it turns my will AND my heart AND my soul AND my actions AND my weaknesses AND my strengths AND my desires AND... all to His.

Steve Wilson said...

Hey Dan, this is off topic, but did you receive my email? I might be able to help you with your search for a pastorate.

Great insights on prayer, hope there is more coming.

Chris H said...

There's a great line in The Magician's Nephew that talks about that sort of thing. When asked about why Aslan hadn't given the humans anything to eat for their journey, Fledge the horse says that Aslan probably would have, if any of them had asked. Digory asks whether Aslan knew they would need food, and Fledge replies that Aslan likely did, but seems to be the sort who likes to be asked.

That's what this post sparked in my brain.

Susan said...

Hadassah said: "The blessing is mine, because I prayed before the result was known, thus the blessing worked itself out backward.

I sure hope that makes sense."

It makes very good sense, Hadassah. The bolder the prayer and the greater the affirmative answer, the bigger the blessing that works backwards! I remember a specific case where many of us had prayed for a pastor at our church who had an extremely dangerous medical condition, and the Lord graciously answered our prayer by giving him the transplant that he desperately needed in the nick of time. It was so special to me personally because I asked the Lord specifically for the pastor and the Lord's answer (especially in spite of my failure to complete a continuous 10-day lunch fast for this matter) showed me how merciful he was.

On a sadder note, I find my heart to be increasingly hardened these past few years toward praying to the Lord because of personal issues/sins/losses and others' sins toward me. It's ironic that I should be so hardened because such things are supposed to drive me to the Lord, yet I find myself unable to pray because of these things. I think it's because I see them coming from the hand of a wrathful God and not a loving Father. Dan's post is probably another reminder from the Lord that I should always pray and not give up (like that Canaanite woman and the persistent widow).

Hadassah said...

DJP, I vote for a post on prayer NOT being a conversation in the very near future.

If there are older posts, could you link?

CR said...

I really appreciate you defining your acronyms every once in a while like (HSAT).

Anyway, you may recall from Acts 12 that the church was praying for Peter when he was in prison. We know the story, the angel of the Lord slaps Peter across side the head and wakes him. Peter is miraculously released.

Then he goes to the house of Mary and knocks on the door and the servant girl doesn't even open the door because she recognizes Peter's voice and runs and tells everyone that was praying that Peter was here. They tell the servant girl that she is out of her mind.

It's funny, here they were praying, and they were like, what, the Lord answered our prayers? Huh?

It's funny, we know they were earnest in their prayers, but even when the Lord answered them in a way, they probably hoped He would answer, they were shocked?

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...


Thanks for your comments, but I really didn't mean my comment the way it came across to you.

I'm certainly not saying there's anything ignoble in praying for oneself. And I do need to pray—and do pray—for my own spiritual growth.

And I ain't no ascetic advocating self-denial, either. Frankly, I don't think Jesus Christ calls us to that at all. Humbling ourselves in service to God, yes. Denying ourselves in the pursuit of some false piety, not so much. God created this beautiful world that testifies to His glory and over which He has granted us stewardship, and some of the most beautiful Psalms are Psalms of praise to the beauty of His creation. (Not to mention the Lord's speech to Job out of the whirlwind!)

Maybe I was using the wrong principle for the application I was trying to get at. As Calvinists, we (not necessarily all, but some or many) struggle with three things (maybe more):

1. Prayer. If God knows the ends from the beginnings and ordained all before the foundation of the world, why bother to pray at all? This is, of course, what Dan addressed in this post.

2. Sanctification. If we have assurance of salvation, why do we need to work at growing in our walk with Christ? The reply being that Scripture calls us to do just that.

3. Evangelism. If God chose the elect before the foundation of the world and His grace is irresistible, then won't all whom He has chosen be saved, regardless of what we do or don't do? The answer to this, again, is that Scripture calls us to evangelize. (The reasons why are for another discussion.)

What I was trying to tease out—imperfectly, I might add—was how all three of these stumbling blocks for Calvinists (of whom I am one) can be said to be addressed one way or another by Jesus Christ in His Great Commandment. Two applications of loving our neighbours as ourselves (point taken) are evangelism and intercessory prayer—though there are many other forms of prayer that are equally "noble" (and I was wrestling with which word to use, lest it be misinterpreted). One application of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is in the daily discipline of wrestling with sin and temptation.

So it was a meandering tangent, imperfectly applied, and even more imperfectly argued. If you still think I've got something wrong, please do correct me. Part of the wonder of this blog is that it is an excellent sounding board for figuring out if we—all of us—are on the right track or not. Iron sharpening iron and all that.

All praise be to Him from Whom all blessings flow.

Susan said...


Dan talked about prayer's NOT being conversation (in the way we all understand conversation to be) in this old post.

Hadassah said...

Much obliged, Susan

Susan said...

Anytime, Hadassah. I jump at the chance to practice writing html tags! :)

John said...

Excellent, my friend. There was a time when I did not pray at all because of a hyper-calvinist view; I still struggle with it, but know that everything you said is true.

Ms. S said...

I have often wrestled in reconciling God's sovereignty and the need for prayer. Thank you for this very helpful post.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Right on, Dan. Thanks for not being that Calvinist who reduces prayer to be of use solely for the one praying. By God's grace and in his sovereign providence, prayer does change things. Historically, Reformed folks have always said as much. For some reason, it's only the more recent "neo-Calvinists" that have perpetuated what amounts to, at times, fatalism.

Incidentally, I just wrote on this principle and how it relates to prophecy.

Susan said...

Interesting...I came back here to see if there are new posts when I realized that there's another Susan here! The difference is that my profile is private and that I don't own a blog. Maybe I should change my display name to avoid confusion...?

Jesus Is Coming Soon said...

Letter from a prayer warrior for the Innocent and Helpless

Royce Dunn

Ministering to Pastors about Prolife

Satan has targeted our nation’s pastors, to keep them occupied with “church growth,” budgets, and other duties beneath the priority of massive child killing. Most pastors do not comprehend the toll of legalized abortion unless someone, usually a layperson, witnesses to them, to help them discern the gravest curse and destroyer ever to invade our country and neutralize the Church. Pastors assume they are “prolife” and lead “pro-life” churches, which Satan quietly accepts as victory. How tragic the current spiritual stronghold!

As most Coordinators know, I experienced failure early in prolife. Not one of the 82 pastors I wrote a passionate three-page letter regarding six local abortionists (in 1985) responded initially to our small ministry’s plea for help. Astounded, I went out to talk with the clergy, usually without appointments, and within 18 months each of the 82 pastors, plus others, had signed a letter supportive of our mission. Not all of the pastors were firmly committed to Life, but all did sign a letter, and about half of them attended our first Life Chain in 1987. By 1991, the six local abortionists had either closed their abortion practices or moved (two of them) from our bi-county area.

What did I learn while meeting with the pastors? That they do not realize the gravity of abortion on demand and the Church’s drift into détente. Yet, I also learned that pastors are willing to listen and receive ministry from passionate lay people. As a result, my mission was mainly a reply to pastors’ unexamined reasons for not joining the abortion battle. Some of their reasons are entered below, with my responses. Be encouraged that a single response may win a pastor’s support for your Life Chain.

Pastors’ Reservations and Coordinator’s Responses

(1) Pastor: My brother, God has called you to prolife, but He has called me to soul winning.

Royce: Pastor, God has called each of His sons and daughters to join you in winning souls—and, similarly, He has called each of us to be a good neighbor, to aid those in urgent need, and to embrace what He called “undefiled religion”— caring for orphans and widows. Inasmuch as fathers have no legal voice to prevent abortions, preborn Americans have no father defender and are legal orphans, with only the Church, you and me, to look to for a defense. Thousands of them, the most innocent of our fellow citizens, die daily, and what is our response to their silent screams? Is not their blood crying out to us, as innocent blood cried out to Biblical Israel? On our soil, what was God’s eventual solution when the Church refused to expose and confront institutional slavery? A catastrophic Civil War ended that evil practice. [Today, brutal terrorists from the same region that subdued ancient Israel and (later) Judah may inflict unspeakable suffering and loss on our nation. Has not America, on our watch, become a violent, terrorist nation against the unborn?]

Thus, what duties do we have, pastor, that are more compelling than our firm resolve to end the most evil and deadly siege our nation has faced? How can we hope for revival in the Church if we do not strive to “rescue those led away to slaughter”? Will not God strengthen our evangelistic labors if we have heart for the defenseless unborn and their mothers? The churchmen on the Samaritan road, who passed on the other side, were unmindful of God’s priority. Are we not committing the same spiritual blunder?

(2) Pastor: Mr. Dunn, we’re a praying church, and we believe prayer, rather than public demonstrations, is the solution to legalized abortion. Don’t you agree?

Royce: Pastor, kindly permit me to disagree. Would God use our prayers to feed our starving neighbors when we have the food but will not deliver it? In fact, given our record of apathy, God may already deem our prayers a stench in His nostrils, much as He did Israel and Judah’s prayers, as related to us by the prophets. If we care to know where unwanted local children are killed, we can go to the death centers and see the mothers enter and then exist in despair, without their babies. Across our nation, the killing centers are often within earshot of multiple churches, yet few pastors have gone or asked their people to go to the centers to pray and counsel.

Truly prayer is vital to Christian living. Christ, our divine model, prayed all night. We are to “pray without ceasing.” Moses prayed and fasted 40 fays. But prayer cannot substitute for action God requires of us. You know the 25th Chapter of Matthew, Pastor. Christ will one day judge the nations and separate the sheep from the goats. By what criteria will He distinguish a sheep from a goat? Important as prayer is, it is not referenced in Matthew 25. Rather, Christ tells us, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was naked and you clothed me.” The sheep give heart to urgent human needs, to loving their neighbors as themselves, as did the Good Samaritan. Thus, we who endeavor to follow Christ are defined most not by what we say but by what we do. Proverbs, as you recall, commands us to “rescue those led away to slaughter” and cautions us not to say we did not know about their oppression, else God will repay each of us according to what we have done. We must not “pass by on the other side.” Please stand with us the laity. Your pastoral leadership is desperately needed.

(3) Pastor: Royce, we’re just a small church and can’t do everything a large church can do. We’re with you in spirit and we’ll pray for you, but we can’t take on more tasks at this time.

Royce: Pastor, another minister told me last week that because his church was large and growing rapidly that he could not possibly add abortion to his duties. Are we talking here about church size or about church purity? Did not Gideon consider his clan too weak and small to achieve a great victory for God? Did God adopt Israel because of her population and might? “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” Who can know how God wants to use you and your congregation to be a giant killer. “’Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” God may choose one of your members to turn an abortionist away from his savage practice. He may use you to reach other pastors and, ultimately, to liberate a nation from legalized abortion. The fact that you pastor a small church may prompt you to rely firmly on Christ and be a man He can use mightily. Please join the battle with us and urge other pastors to join with you. The killing must end in Yuba-Sutter.

[From Royce Dunn’s personal experiences with pastors]

Seven Reasons Why Christians Should Attend

the Local Life Chain

1) To join a national prayer chain that seeks God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness for our nation. "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray... [2 Chron. 7:14]." The 9/11 attacks and continuing terrorist threats on America are surely linked to the catastrophe of legalized abortion, as the innocent blood of America's youngest citizens—victims of unspeakable terrorism themselves, by the tens of millions—cries out for justice. If God used a horrendous civil war to end institutional slavery in America, what might He use to end legalized abortion, which is a far greater threat to our nation than all foreign terrorists combined? If we truly value preborn Americans as we say we do, is not our own homeland one of the earth’s most violent nations today? Let us not permit denial to steal our compassion and will to act.

2) To better understand the impact that legalized abortion is having on our country and why the Church must unite to end it. The first and primary purpose of Life Chain is to minister to its own participants. We the Church can end legalized abortion and severely wound its family of allies—homosexuality, pornography, cohabitation, addictions, divorce, etc.—in any year we commit to do so.

3) To move the Church, under pastoral leadership, from the pews to the “city gates” and market place, where Christ often taught. For too long, we have remained in our sanctuaries and relied on rhetoric or surrendered to silence, instead of submitting to God with compassionate hearts in action. Wrote Afro-American pastor Clenard Childress, Jr., a champion for Life, in No Shepherds Cry: “The pew cannot do what the pulpit is suppose to do.”

4) To minister to the public, empowered by the Holy Spirit. If the Church accepts the ministry God intends for His followers, God will empower His Church to witness truth to the public, with conviction, humility, and compassion.

5) To honor the many millions of preborn citizens who have perished. They have often, if not usually, endured brutal deaths alone, while within sight or earshot of church bells and pulpits.

6) To help build a bold and committed army of Christians who truly want to be Prolife in deed and word. We must engage the battle until the curse of legalized abortion is vanquished from our land. America is surely not a “Land of the Free” for preborns. And to what degree are we spiritually a “Land of the Brave” today?

7) To provide God a witness to anoint and use to save lives and change hearts in each local area. God wants to work through willing vessels, who will defend and honor His Little Ones with devotion and boldness.

Note to Coordinators: Use this information as you desire: to reproduce and send to pastors, for posters, to extract quotes, to give to media personnel, etc.)

Royce Dunn

National Director of Life Chain

Phone: 530-674-5068


www.NationalLifeChain.Org and www.LifeChain.Net

John T. Meche III said...

I think of prayer as a way of God having us ever coming to him in need of him.

Jim Pemberton said...

Good post! I've struggled with this as well.

Prayer as a second cause glorifies God. Prayer as a practice brings us in line with the prescriptive will of God. Our obedience to him in all things is the manifestation of this. Inasmuch as we pray in obedience, He uses our obedient prayers according to his sovereign design first to glorify Himself, but secondly to teach us to trust Him. Therefore, inasmuch as we move from monologuing to dialoging with God in prayer, God's responses to us are designed to instruct although His plan will be carried out unchanged.

If you saw the Matrix, I'll use the "Oracle" as an illustration. She seems to indicate to Neo that he already knows the answer. He says he's not "the one". She says, "Sorry, kid." as though to agree. He turns out to be "the one". Morpheus tells Neo that the Oracle merely told him what he needed to hear.

This is not to say that God is disingenuous, but that He brings us to greater knowledge of Him with the understanding that at every point along the way we will not have full understanding of Him. But we must still make the journey lest we sin or sink into error.