Prayer: The Catalyst of God’s Actions

Something to reflect and meditate on as you seek the Lord’s will.

Prayer is how God accomplishes his will—through moving the hearts and wills of others to carryout his purposes in bringing lost sinners to Christ, sanctifying and preserving them to glory.

So, though God is sovereign, it doesn’t negate the necessity and power of our prayers to move God to action (not to be understood as open theists see it).

Prayer is how God works to bring about his purposes. Our salvation and sanctification are the effect flowing from causal prayer. Lets see some Scripture to demonstrate what I mean.

Jesus says in Matthew 9:38, “therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” That is a very interesting statement, considering that the harvest belongs to the Lord and is the one who brings the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7). While God has decreed to save a people for himself (Revelation 5:9-10), and nothing can stop him from doing so (Matt. 16:18), Jesus asks that we pray earnestly for the Lord to send out laborers to do this work in building the church. Why is that? God desires for us to earnestly want that (Matt. 6:33).

Prior to Peter’s betrayal, Jesus says to Peter that he has prayed for him that his “faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). Peter’s faith doesn’t fail because Christ prayed for him. God ordained for Peter to have enduring faith, but that secured salvation was brought about through the prayers of Christ.

In John 17:9, Christ says that he is praying for those whom the Father has given him. Why is he praying for them, considering what he said earlier: “I give them [those whom the Father has given him] eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. . . . [And] no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (10:28,29)? God has ordained to save those whom he has called, but his saving them is through the prayers of Christ.

In Acts 8, Peter rebukes Simon the magician for his desire to purchase the power of the Spirit to use as he pleases. Peter said for him to “pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you” (v.22). If God is going to forgive him, prayer is going to be the means through which this forgiveness will come about.

Paul’s prayers under gird the sanctification of the churches he shepherds and the power of his ministry.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul and Timothy, since hearing of their conversion to Christ, have not ceased praying for them, asking that God would fill them with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Col. 1:9). The praying serves as the catalyst—the desire to God—that he would fill them and grow them in Christ. Their sanctification is rooted in answer to prayer. Paul and Timothy ask in prayer because they have the confidence in God that if they ask anything according to his will, they are heard (1 John 5:14), with full assurance that God will supply every need, according to his riches in glory in Christ (Phil 4:19). God’s will is for our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:13), and it is brought about through the payers of the saints.

He asks for the Ephesians to be “praying at all times in the Spirit . . . and also for me that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (6:18,19). And he asks the Colossians to “pray . . . that God may open us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3).

The advancement of his ministry—the power of the gospel—is brought about through prayer.

Even for us to increase in love to each other is rooted in prayer for the Lord to bring that about (1 Thess 3:12).

What is of the utmost importance to realize is that . . .

Because God has ordained all events to come to pass, even the prayers leading to and/or serving as the cause of those events, then the events cannot come to pass unless the prayers that are ordained come to pass before hand.

That is huge.

God’s working in the world is mountain-moving work (Matt. 17:20). That is why he says to have that kind of faith. And to see lost sinners changed from children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) to children of light (1 Thess. 5:5), is a mighty work, requiring mighty prayer.

We must pray to move mountains; nature-changing is mountain moving.

That is why we are called to be “devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12)

 

–Romans 11:36

 

The Grace of God: More than Just a Pardon

If there could be one word that Christians find most comforting when meditating on who God is and what he has done for us through Christ, it is the word Grace. When I hear the word grace, I (and probably most Christians) immediately think of Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So what does this text mean? Most pointedly it means that our salvation is not based on the merits of what we do but on the basis of God’s unmerited favor toward us. He, by his mercy and grace, gives us faith to believe in Christ.

Now, while we can see that God gives us grace, are we to think of grace merely as a divine pardon? Is it an act of benevolence on God’s part in granting forgiveness to lost sinners, or when God gives us grace, is it something that actually empowers the believer to do something, to think and act differently?

We will read a few humble words from the apostle Paul, which will be our foundational text to start from as we search the Scriptures to understand what this grace is.

In chapter 15 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them of the gospel—the one he preached to them, forming the foundation of the faith by which they have been saved through. The message of the gospel he received is: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 3-4). After listing all those whom Christ revealed himself to, he lastly mentions himself—the one “least of all the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle” (v.8).

Paul is deeply humbled that the Lord revealed himself to one who “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). Paul speaks of God’s elective purposes in having set him apart for this calling as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). For the sake of the gospel and the church, Paul “had far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2 Cor. 11:23) than any of the others. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (v.10).

Paul persevered not merely by his own will or strength but by the grace of God that was with him. So what is this grace that was with Paul? By Paul’s words we see that grace, though a noun, seems to have an element of enablement, even action, to it. We see in this text that grace accompanies Paul, enabling him to work for the Lord. He says, “it was not I, but the grace of God.” Lets look at some other texts to help elaborate on what we see in this passage.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul begins the letter with an exaltation of Christ, demonstrating his preeminence and supremacy over all things, reminding them of what they once were, where they are now, and how they are to remain in him. Paul then expresses his joy though having suffered for their sake but understanding what God has called him to do: to “present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). And “For this,” he says, “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:29, emphasis added). Notice Paul does not refer to his own energy; rather, he is speaking of God’s energy that God powerfully works within Paul. So, what does that mean?

The Greek word for energy here is ἐνέργεια (energeia), and in this context it refers to a functioning power. We can see this in some other translations: The NET Bible says, “according to his power that powerfully works in me”; HCSB says, “striving with His strength that works powerfully in me”; and the LEB says, “striving according to his working which is at work powerfully in me.”

Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians in 2:12-13 to continue in their obedience I believe provides more clarity to understand what this grace is. He tells them “to workout out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure” (emphasis added). Here we see that it is God who works in the believer—God’s grace is God himself.

I think Ephesians 3:14-20 clearly supports this understanding, demonstrating the clearest definition of grace:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

So, when Paul says, “not I, but the grace of God,” it is really God working through him to accomplish his purposes of making Christ known to every tribe, tongue, and nation. It is the action of God to complete the work that he has begun in you (Philippians 1:6).

Though our study here is not exhaustive, the few passages we have looked at I believe demonstrate that grace is what flows through us from the indwelling of the Triune God in our hearts. Grace is what we have now that we are in Christ, which is renewing our minds, guiding our path, strengthening our faith, and pressing us “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Grace is more than a pardon; it is the power to overcome sin and grow in holiness; it is the power to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel; it is the power that grows our hearts in greater affection toward Christ and others; it is what opens our hearts and minds to see who God truly is in Christ. And ultimately, it enables us to glorify God in all that we do. Grace is the power of God; it is the Spirit of God; it is the Son of God, all working in us to fulfill his purposes.

—Romans 11:36
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A Moment of Trinitarian Truth

Outsiders have attacked the doctrine of the Trinity, the central, all-encompassing doctrine of our Faith for centuries, positing that its origins are un-biblical. Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, and even liberals calling themselves Christians advocate that the doctrine of the Trinity arose due to the profound influence of Greek Philosophy, also referred to as Hellenization, in the Christian church since the time of the second century. Nowhere, they say, can the doctrine of the Trinity be found in the pages of Scripture. The Trinity, though indeed a mystery, is not a contradiction. There is no contradiction in a belief of a divine essence shared by three co-equal, co-eternal persons. Again, it is truly a mind-boggling mystery, but it is not a contradiction. Now, if a person follows the line of thinking by those who don’t believe in the Trinity, then yes, they will see that it is a contradiction. Those who have been shaped by a theology rooted in the wisdom of man, as those cults are, will only see a tainted and marred picture of the beautiful doctrine that we Christians cherish.

The world is a reflection of the Trinity. It is because of the Trinity that we understand and know that the most treasured aspect of life for human beings—personal relationships—are only that way because of the Trinity. The Trinity reveals to us that God is love (1 John 4:8). And that love is reflected in the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. God can only be love if there is a personal relationship to demonstrate love through. We know that God is not contingent on anything outside of himself, so he did not need man to demonstrate love in order to be love. The Trinity is the means for God to be love, not contingent on anything outside of the Godhead. And love is shared between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Love, the love deeply rooted that we yearn for and is in us, requires a Triune origin.

The Trinity, Broughton Knox says, is “other-person-centered.” He continues, “Eastern religions popular in the Western world today have the same concept of reality. Their followers are invited to ‘mediate on yourself, worship yourself, repeat the mantra going on within you; God dwells within as you.’ The doctrine of the Trinity contradicts and corrects these modern thoughts and attitudes. It teaches that reality seeks the welfare of the other person. Reality is good, it does not serve itself but serves others. And since this is ultimate reality, any philosophy of life or any social theory which contradicts this reality will certainly be running into the shadows” (The Everlasting God, pp. 62-63).

I so often encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to be reading the pages of Scripture with Trinitarian lenses, looking at the different roles of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in God’s plan of redemption. Now, while there are plenty of stand-alone texts speaking of the deity of Christ and the Spirit, I truly enjoy the moments when God reveals to me texts that I have not seen before, revealing and strengthening the truth that the Trinity is a doctrine directly and only from Scripture. I am indebted to Broughton Knox for this ‘moment of Trinitarian truth’ in which he points to three verses from three different Gospels in which each author records the inerrant word of Christ speaking about the future persecution Christians will face.

Matthew writes, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:20).

Mark writes, “ And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (13:11).

Luke writes, “ for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (21:15).

What do we see in these texts? We see that in the future time of persecution, the Spirit of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will speak words of wisdom through God’s children in their time of persecution. The writers of Scripture, recording the words of Jesus, are all attributing the same action to each person of the Trinity. Up to this moment, I had not made the correlation yet. Some of you may have already made these connections, but for me it was a new refreshing, invigorating moment to see another testimony in Scripture of the unified yet distinct work of our Triune God.

Praise be to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—the blessed Trinity.

—Romans 11:36