In our study on prayer yesterday from Matthew 9:35-38, the theological tension of prayer became evident. It is a question all of us have probably pondered from time to time, even if we did not consider it a “theological tension.”
Matthew 9:38 says, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Ok, so let’s get this straight. The harvest is the Lord’s. It’s His business, and He will accomplish His purposes. So why are we to pray about it? What good will our prayers be? Do our prayers really do anything? If God is sovereign, why do we pray? If God is in control of all things, if God knows the beginning and the end, if God has ensured and secured His purposes, why does it matter if we pray or if we do not pray? We’ve all probably struggled with this question from time to time.
Fatalism says, “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you pray or not.” That is not Christian theology. That is not the Bible’s teaching on the relation of sovereignty and responsibility. This tension in prayer is an example of this larger, biblical tension of how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility cooperate together to fulfill God’s purposes without doing injury to either one. God is truly sovereign. Man’s response to God is a true and consequential response.
So why do we pray? Because God has not only ordained the end (sovereignty: His harvest) but He has also ordained the means to fulfill that end (responsibility: the prayers and participation of His people). God is sovereign, wise, and good, and He has ordained it such so that He folds the prayers and participation of His people into the means of accomplishing His purposes.
The sovereignty side of it is that God will accomplish His purposes. The responsibility side of it is that He will do so by calling His people to pray and answering their prayers. His end will not be accomplished without the prayers of His people. That would be fatalism. His purposes will not be thwarted by the failure of His people to pray. That would mean He is not sovereign. The solution is this: God’s purposes will be realized but not without the prayers and participation of His people.
So why does God include His people in His work? Because if we join with Him in the labor, we will also join with Him in the glory and the joy of the reward!
If God is sovereign, why do we pray? For our good and His glory!
Wil Owens, Teaching Pastor