David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
True faith is an act of the will, in the sense that God gives us a new will in the new birth, along with faith (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8). God does not make us robots; he successfully woos our hearts. Faith is not merely an act of the will, because it is also the act of the Holy Spirit in our souls, drawing us to Jesus Christ, and bringing us to trust in him as he is revealed in his Word (James 1:18).
Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30). Here Paul lays out the Ordo salutis, the order of salvation. He describes for us the consecutive steps by which God accomplishes the work of redemption in each person’s life.
The question of evil and suffering is never a theoretical one. We all experience real and deep pain and wickednes. However, for the Christian believer (who recognizes there is a God), there are only three logical possibilities for the evil things that happen in this world:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered (Luke 2:1). What powerful truth and what precious comfort are contained in this familiar verse! Here we see that God’s purposes are perfectly and promptly completed. Did you think that kings, or presidents, or dictators make history? No! They are but instruments in the hand of the eternal and purposeful God. Hundreds of years before, God had spoken through the prophet Micah saying:
“Surely I am coming soon.” “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 When the ascended Christ promises the apostle John that the Second Coming is imminent, John replies by turning the promise of God into a personal prayer to God. “Lord, you promise that your return is certain and soon-coming; yes, Lord, please do what you have said.” Is this how we respond to the clear prophecies and sure promises of God in his Word?
When Queen Esther faces the daunting choice of risking her own life by going before King Ahasuerus or of letting all the Jews in Persia be slaughtered by Haman’s order — Esther’s adopted father Mordecai says to her, “Who knows whether you have come here — to your position, in this place, in this exact period of history — for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). What a sweeping, staggering claim this is! And yet Paul says we can know for certain that all the details of our lives are working together for our good, as believers in Jesus Christ. How do we know this?
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart (Psalm 104:14-15). The psalmist is worshiping God for all his creative acts and wonders. And among the things God gets credit for, according to Scripture, is the results of human labor! No only is God worthy of worship because he makes grass to grow for cows to eat; God is worthy of worship because he provides
…I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits (1 Corinthians 16:7). Even the best of desires may not be brought to fruition here on earth. Even our best kingdom visions may never be fulfilled. And even our best plans may never come to pass. Here even the apostle Paul himself admits that his plans are fallible and must therefore be flexible. “I have made my very best plans,” Paul says, “and am operating according to them to the best of my ability—but all the while in the recognition that my plans may not be God’s plans.”
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him… (Revelation 1:7). Behold… Jesus is coming, and every eye will see him. Jesus is described in Revelation 1:5-6 in terms of the great Redemption that he has accomplished for every believer—he loves us, he has saved us from our sins, and he has made us into a kingdom whose one common ground is Jesus. Yet the emphasis is not on us, but on the fact that such a beautiful redemption means all glory and power belong to him!
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is faithful. What a wonderful reminder! God will never give up on what he has begun, he will never renege on any promise he has made. Because God will never give up, we ought to never give up. And yet God’s faithfulness, we are reminded in this very verse of Scripture,
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent? (Luke 11:11). I don’t remember why we started playing this game, but sometime this week I initiated a little game with my kids: what if you won a million dollars? First of all, what would be the first ministry we would give to? And secondly, what would be the first thing that you would like to spend money on?