Tuesday, May 18, 2010

God's Use of Means

It's been asked more than once: "If God has ordained everything that comes to pass, and nothing can thwart his will, then why do we still need to pray? What real difference do our prayers make?" This is a great question. If we believe that God simply reacts, waiting for our prayers to guide him in his responses, this won't present a puzzle. If we believe that God is dependent on us--on our weak and faltering efforts--to accomplish his will, then we probably won't even have considered this question. But if, through our reading of the Scriptures and our own suffering we've gained a higher view of God and of his word, then this at some point becomes of great interest. Why does a sovereign, all-powerful God ordain that his people should pray for what he's already determined will come to pass?

The reason is that God, for his own glory and purposes, chooses to use means to accomplish his will. ("Means" are not ill-tempered, cranky people!) Means, rather, are the ordained ways by which God fulfills his preordained purposes.

For example, we know that Christ has purposed to return some day. He will return no matter what. All that he has ordained to come to pass between now and then (missions, the preaching of the gospel, the perseverance of the church, the "fullness of the Gentiles" being brought in, etc.) will also come to pass, no matter what. Yet he has told us to pray for his return ("pray like this... 'Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.'") He told us to pray for all that comes in between. We are to beseech the Father to send laborers into the harvest (missionaries, church planters, teachers and preachers) and to pray for the church, for her success in proclaiming and living out the gospel in the world, and to pray and work for our own sanctification, even though "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).

In his wonderful little book The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes offers this helpful illustration, showing that the use of means is a principle taken for granted even in civic matters: "For who, if he knew before that it would be a fruitful year, would therefore hang up his plough and neglect tillage?" In other words, if a framer could somehow see ahead and know that harvest time will bring a rich crop, he would still get his plow out in the spring to till up the ground and plant the seed. His plow and his effort and the seed are the ordained means to the certain, coming bounty.

So God, in the unsearchable riches of his wisdom and ways, has ordained that all his sovereign purposes will surely come to pass, and that they will not come to pass apart from the prayers and labors of the saints. Again in the words of Richard Sibbes, "The means that God has set apart for the effecting of any thing are included in the purpose that he has to bring that thing to pass." We can be sure that in whatever he has decreed, he will also provide the means--whether prayer, or the preaching of the gospel, or any other ordained means--to accomplish those purposes.

photos here and here


JunkerJorge said...

I have wondered the same and thought the same things. Good post!

findingthemotherlode said...

Lovely post. Thank you.

I have been reading The Bruised Reed along with the Challies group, too.
Probably one of the richest gems I've read to date.

He doesn't change, but we must.

Jeri Tanner said...

Thanks much to you both. Elizabeth, the book was huge to me at this time in my life! It is indeed rich--I hope to read it yearly.