Friend, there's a 200 year old sermon you must read. It will take an hour of your time, but it will change your life. To encourage you to read it, pastor John Piper has written this compelling introduction to Thomas Chalmers' work: "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection."
"The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good,
to expel the love of what is evil."
- Thomas Chalmers
In the previous article, we discovered two mistakes people make as they think about prayer. These mistakes are rooted in a misunderstanding about why we pray. Now, we want to answer the question, Why do we pray?
Prayer is a gift that God gives us for our benefit. Therefore, we must understand its purpose within the greater scope of our Christian journey.
In a nutshell, when you believe in Jesus, God saves you from your sin. But he also takes you, a sinner, and transforms you into the image and likeness of his Son Jesus (Romans 8:29). This process involves a transformation of your spirit, soul, and one day, even your body at the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Paul writes to Christians, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). God tells us here that the believer’s thoughts will increasingly align with God’s thoughts. This happens as God changes their worldly perspective into a godly one.
Our entire Christian life is defined by submitting our will to God’s, and, thus, being conformed to his character. God’s purpose for his children is that they would look more like Jesus. Therefore, every part of our spiritual journey contributes to this overall purpose—including prayer.
Prayer brings our desires into conformity with God’s desires. As we pray, we begin to view reality the way God views it. We gain the ability to properly discern God’s will. Then, as God continues to transform us, we find ourselves embracing his plans and purposes for our lives.
Many people, unfortunately, see prayer as an attempt to bend God’s will to theirs. Though a popular idea, we know it’s wrong thinking. God’s thoughts are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We should never be concerned with trying to get God to see things our way. As Christians, we should be concerned with seeing things God’s way.
As we continue to build our theology of prayer, or what we believe about prayer based on the Bible, we must include three beliefs: belief in God’s unchanging plans, belief that we have a responsibility to pray, and the belief that God’s overall goal for any aspect of our lives is our transformation.
So, what’s God’s goal for us in prayer? What does he say is the purpose of prayer? Let’s take an example.
Suppose you have a sick relative who you hope God will heal. We must understand that God’s will for this person in this specific situation is already determined; it’s fixed, one way or the other. We’ve already seen in the Bible that God himself has said he doesn’t change his mind.
We call this final outcome the “end.” In other words, what God determines for this relative through this illness is the goal or purpose—the end—of the situation.
Let’s assume you want your relative healed. There are two options:
You can’t possibly know which outcome is in God’s mind. But as a Christian, you must admit God truly knows what’s best, and his insight into this situation (as well as all others!) is far broader than yours. Because he knows all things, he has determined the wisest course of action.
You must also admit that because God is unchanging, his plans for our lives are also unchanging. Because God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11 NIV), we know that God’s design for our lives is a good, pleasing, and perfect one—in fact, the very best one for his intended purpose or “end” for our lives.
So pray for healing for your relative. Then, what eventually happens is in conformity with God’s will. Even if God doesn’t answer in the way that you want, he has a greater purpose in mind for that answer than you know at this point.
Of course, God could simply heal your relative without any input from you. But also suppose that God wants you to hold your relative’s hand and watch this healing process. What if that had been God’s purpose all along? That you would humbly come to him in submission, asking him for a miracle?
Your prayers would become the “means” by which God has determined to heal your relative. Your prayers are the means by which God acts toward his appointed end—namely, your relative’s recovery.
As God invites you into his work, sometimes saying yes, and sometimes saying no—but consistently proving to you his wisdom and goodness—you grow to trust him more. Isn’t this ultimately the goal of our faith, to grow in loving God, trusting in his ways, and praising him for his faithfulness?
The beauty of this understanding of prayer is that it balances God’s immutable (unchanging) nature and our responsibility as believers. It doesn’t over-emphasize our responsibility. It also doesn’t ignore God’s desire for us to participate in his transforming plans for creation. And along the way, we get to know him better.
The tension that exists between God’s unchanging will and our responsibility can actually encourage us in our prayers. It means that we should bring our petitions and requests to God (Philippians 4:6), because he wants us to play a part in his plans, and he wants us to receive the joy of answered prayer (John 16:24).
Through prayer, our will is subjected to God’s will. The more we pray, the more our thoughts align with God’s thoughts. Prayer is a spiritually transforming exercise as we humbly submit to God’s will for our lives.
That’s why the apostle John can write, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15 NIV).
All effective prayer is according to God’s will. In this way, then, the instrumental cause of prayer is us, but the effective cause of prayer is God’s will, who continues to work out everything in conformity to his plans and purposes for our lives.
Put another way, I am what God uses (the instrumental cause) to bring about the plans he has had from the beginning (the effective cause).
Prayer doesn’t change God or his plans. Prayer changes us and is God’s gracious invitation to participate in his plans.
Transforming our will is only one of the reasons we are to pray, however. In the last article of this three-part series, we’ll examine several other reasons why we should pray.
“Be different.” That slogan is everywhere. No one wants to look just like the next guy, right?
Bad news: We are all the same. As much as we tell ourselves we are all unique, the Bible says that by default, we all live according to a pattern the world has set for us.
We all worship; we all live for something. While the Bible says we were made to live for God—body, mind, and soul—it also tells us that we follow the ways of the world. It describes us as dead and lifeless, following by nature the worldly pattern set for us (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The world wants us to be godless, unaccountable, self-directed (Romans 1:18-32). When we submit to this mold, we become foolish, senseless, deceived, and depraved. We’re spiritually dead. And, we’re on our way to just punishment for ignoring the God who made us.
Now the good news: God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He rescued us, at a cost only to himself. He has shown us mercy. He shouted over our ignorance by sending Jesus Christ to earth to die on the cross for the sins of anyone who will believe in him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus freely gives new life: life as a free citizen of heaven who is able to resist the world’s agenda and live for God. Let God change your thoughts. Ask him to!
To those who have faith in his Son Jesus, he gives the Holy Spirit. God himself comes to live in us, changing us from the inside out. The Spirit gives us power to resist the world and helps us understand God’s thoughts.
God has also recorded his thoughts for us in the Bible. God’s Word is God’s thought, and we’ve got it right in front of us.
So don’t conform! Don’t let the world squish you into its thinking! “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
When we submit to God’s prescribed pattern of thought, we become wise, able to discern and approve God’s direction in our lives, which is good, pleasing, and perfect. God has higher plans for you. He wants you to look like his perfect Son.
Will you ask him to start the process of making you into the mold he wants for you? Don’t conform to the world. Be different, be truly different.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
For those whom he foreknew
he also predestined
to be conformed
to the image of his Son.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.