July 14, 2014 Broadcast

Ask R.C. Live, Part 2

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Before He created the world, did God know we would sin? Should Christians study Philosophy? These are just some of the listener’s questions Dr. RC Sproul will answer, Monday, on Renewing Your Mind. Join us as we air Part 2 of our pre-recorded event called “Ask RC”, Monday, on Renewing Your Mind.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Kingdom-Focused Prayer

  2. devotional

    Providence and Prayer

  3. article

    The Place of Prayer

Kingdom-Focused Prayer

Having seen two of the major teachings on prayer in the old covenant — that God brings His sovereign will to pass through the means of our prayer (Gen. 18:16–32) and that prayer should be selfless and reflect a concern for His people (1 Sam. 2:1–11) — it is now time to see how new covenant prayer fulfills these elements. There can be no better place to see this fulfillment than in the model prayer that our Savior gave to His disciples.

Plainly, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that it appropriate to pray for personal needs. Included is the petition that asks God to supply “our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), which is another way of asking our Father to supply all of our needs. Jesus also shows the appropriateness of praying for personal needs in giving us petitions that lead us to call upon God to forgive us our individual sins and be with us in temptation (vv. 12–13). Selfless prayer is not incompatible with prayer for individual needs, so we need not ever think that it is wrong to ask the Lord to grant personal requests, knowing that He will do so when they are in line with His sovereign will.

Still, Jesus does not make personal needs the focus of the Lord’s Prayer but rather the kingdom of God. This is where He starts the prayer, linking the petition for the kingdom to come with a request that God’s name be hallowed (vv. 9–10). As Dr. R.C. Sproul has pointed out on many occasions, Jesus is using the kingdom of God here to refer specifically to that realm where people do His will freely and joyfully. Because God’s will is done freely and joyfully in this kingdom, His name is hallowed or regarded as holy by the kingdom’s citizens. Our Father, of course, is King of creation, but this reign is not yet universally acknowledged. To pray that people would regard the name of the Creator as holy is to pray for them to submit to His rule and for His kingdom to come. To pray for His kingdom to come is to pray for His name to be hallowed.

John Calvin comments, “The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.” God’s kingdom is the focus of the Lord’s prayer, so we pray rightly only when we ask for His kingdom to come.

Providence and Prayer

Any discussion of God’s sovereign providence invariably makes us ask, “Why, then, should I pray?” This is not an invalid question; if the Lord has already ordained the outcome of all things, how can our prayers change anything? Furthermore, God knows our needs before we ask (Matt. 6:8). Does praying for these needs that He already knows mean we believe that He needs updates from us?

In his Institutes, John Calvin concluded these questions are asked only because we do not realize that we pray more for our own benefit than for God’s (3.20.3). Consider prayers of adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. Obviously, the Lord does not need for us to adore Him. He got along just fine without our worship before we were born. But if we were created to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, we cannot fulfill our purpose if we do not praise Him. Similarly, our Father knows our sins, but “confession is good for the soul.” There is no greater relief than to confess your sins and thereby gain a new sense of God’s forgiveness. Finally, the Lord does not feel slighted if we fail to thank Him. Yet thanksgiving empowers our walk with God and deepens our sanctification by reminding us that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).

Supplication is that part of prayer where we feel the tension with providence most strongly. First, we must affirm that prayer cannot change God’s eternal decrees. In His hidden will (unrevealed to man), the Lord has already determined what will come to pass (Deut. 29:29), and nothing can alter this plan (Num. 23:19). Yet prayer does change things in one sense. Today’s passage tells us Elijah’s prayers affected Israel’s rain. God planned to end a drought and show Ahab His power, but this purpose was hidden from him beforehand (1 Kings 18). The Lord used Elijah’s prayer to reveal and fulfill His intent. 

We may not know God’s eternal decrees, but we do know that He really uses prayer to accomplish them. We must pray believing that our intercession impacts events because our sovereign Lord hears us and uses us to bring about His purposes. Whether He says “yes” or “no,” God works through our supplications to execute His plan.

The Place of Prayer

R.C. Sproul

What is the goal of the Christian life? Godliness born of obedience to Christ. Obedience unlocks the riches of the Christian experience. Prayer is what prompts and nurtures obedience, putting the heart into the proper "frame of mind" to desire obedience.

Of course, knowledge is also important because without it, we cannot know what God requires. However, knowledge and truth will remain abstract unless we commune with God in prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches, inspires, and illumines God's Word to us. He mediates the Word of God and assists us in responding to the Father in prayer.

Prayer has a vital place in the life of the Christian. First, it is an absolute prerequisite for salvation. Some people cannot hear; yet though deaf, they can be saved. Some may not be able to see; yet though blind, they can be saved. Knowledge of the Good News--salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--will come from one source or another, but in the final analysis, a person must humbly ask God for salvation. The prayer of salvation is the one prayer of the wicked God has said he will hear.

What do those in heaven have in common? Several things. They have all been justified, having put their faith in the atonement of Christ. They are all praising God. And they have all prayed for salvation. To be without prayer is to be without God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the hope and reality of heaven.

Second, one of the surest marks of the Christian is his prayer life. One might pray and not be a Christian, but one could not possibly be a Christian and not pray. Romans 8:15 tells us that the spiritual adoption that has made us sons of God causes us to cry out in verbal expressions: "Abba! Father." Prayer is to the Christian what breath is to life, yet no duty of the Christian is so neglected.

Prayer, at least private prayer, is difficult to do out of a false motive. One might preach out of a false motive, as do the false prophets; one might be involved in Christian activities out of false motives. Many of the externals of religion might be done from false motives, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would commune with God out of some improper motive. Matthew 7 tells us that in the "last day," many will stand at the Judgment and tell Christ of their great and noble deeds done in his name, but his response will be that he does not know them.

So, we are invited, even commanded, to pray. Prayer is both a privilege and a duty, and any duty can become laborious. Prayer, like any means of growth for the Christian, requires work. In a sense, prayer is unnatural to us. Though we were created for fellowship and communion with God, the effects of the Fall have left most of us lazy and indifferent toward something as important as prayer. Rebirth quickens a new desire for communion with God, but sin resists the Spirit.

We can take comfort from the fact that God knows our hearts and hears our unspoken petitions more than the words that emanate from our lips. Whenever we are unable to express the deep feelings and emotions of our souls or when we are completely unclear about what it is for which we ought to be praying, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 says, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." When we don't know how to pray or what to pray for in a given situation, the Holy Spirit assists us. There is reason to believe from the text that if we pray incorrectly, the Holy Spirit corrects the error in our prayers before he takes them before the Father, for verse 27 tells us that he "intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

Prayer is the secret of holiness--if holiness, indeed, has anything secretive about it. If we examine the lives of the great saints of the church, we find that they were great people of prayer. John Wesley once remarked that he didn't think much of ministers who didn't spend at least four hours per day in prayer. Luther said that he prayed regularly for an hour every day except when he experienced a particularly busy day. Then he prayed for two hours.

The neglect of prayer is a major cause of stagnation in the Christian life. Consider the example of Peter in Luke 22:39-62. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to pray as was his custom and told his disciples, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." The disciples fell asleep instead. The next thing Peter did was try to take on the Roman army with a sword; then he denied Christ. Peter did not pray and as a result fell into temptation. What is true of Peter is also true of all of us: we fall in private before we ever fall in public.

Is there a right and wrong time for prayer? Isaiah 50:4 talks about the morning as the time when God gives the desire to pray on a daily basis and about renewed confidence in God. But there are other passages that give times of prayer during all times of the day. No part of the day is set apart as being more sanctified than another. Jesus prayed in the morning, during the day, and sometimes all night long. There is evidence that he had a time set aside for prayer; however, considering the relationship Jesus had with the Father, we know that communion between them never stopped.

First Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to pray without ceasing. It means that we are to be in a continual state of communion with our Father.

Excerpt from Does Prayer Change Things? by R.C. Sproul

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