Prayer as response.

There’s a fairly large Christian denomination that posted a link on their Facebook group with these words: “Have you checked out what God has been doing around Canada in response to our prayers?”

Is there anything peculiar about that statement?

There are, I think, a whole lot of assumptions being made here (not necessarily negative). But it’s revealing in terms of their view of prayer.

Does prayer “flip a switch” with God, so to speak, that releases Him to act? Are our prayers generative? Do they make things happen? Are our prayers responsive?

Does God respond to our prayers or are our prayers a response to God?

Our words are never the first word. God speaks and then we speak in response. God’s word comes first. Our word comes second. Thus, prayer is always responsive.

Perhaps then it would be more apt to say: “Have you checked out what we are praying in response to what God has been doing around Canada?”

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise,” (Ps. 51:15).

Thoughts?

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8 comments
  1. Leslie said:

    I see what you’re getting at and I agree with you in that God speaks first, but I also think he chooses to involve us and wants us to ask for things and to relish his response. In James 4:1-3 they talk about people who don’t have what they want because they don’t ask God for it and when they do ask God, they have wrong motives. It would seem that God does want us to ask but we also need to have the right motives. So I’d say the question you asked above “Does God respond to our prayers or are our prayers a response to God”– could be answered by simply saying “yes” because i think both are the case. God may bring about a change for which we prayed because he enjoys our involvement not because he can’t do it without us. I think their statement worded that way serves to remind people that God does respond to our petition. That being said, we need to pray in the Spirit– so we’re praying in obedience for the things which he speaks first into our hearts. He speaks first, and we respond in many ways including worship, thanksgiving, and petition. Asking for something in the right spirit absolutely elicits a response from God. We’re in a *relationship* with God. A relationship requires both parties to be speaking and both parties to be responding.

    • jt* said:

      Yes Leslie, I think you’re right here. And I love the way you put it: “…because he enjoys our involvement…” Amen. I there can be a danger (perhaps reflected to in the statement they made, perhaps not) of making God “ours”. But God is not a tribal deity that we can claim for ourselves. We don’t have him on the payroll, so to speak. Now I’m sure that’s not what they were intending (not consciously anyways) but I do think that it’s something we need to consciously avoid in humility. Yes, God has dignified human creatures by enabling them to genuinely respond. It’s just important to keep perspective. God first. Us second.

  2. Andrew said:

    JT:

    I think there’s another possibility: God plans our prayers, and plans the response to our prayers, so that it’s true the effect came about because we prayed. But that doesn’t require that he responds to us in the sense that he chooses to take a different course than he did prior to our prayer. In the end, our prayer is part of his plan, though a part that has an effect on what happens later in the plan. FWIW.

    • jt* said:

      “God plans our prayers, and plans the response to our prayers…”

      Well, what do you mean by “planned”? I mean, we want to say that our prayers are *really* ours, don’t we? If God plans our prayers then in what sense are they really ours?

      • Andrew said:

        Whoops! Forgot about this!

        I’m not quite sure how to respond, so could I ask for clarification? What is it about the idea that God plans our prayers that makes you think it’s inconsistent with those prayers being truly ours?

  3. jt* said:

    @Andrew, well we want to say that our prayers are really our prayers. They are our words, genuine and uncoerced. So, if by ‘planned’ you mean something along the lines of they are essentially God’s words, His thoughts and utterances, then I think that’s problematic. Like Leslie says above, because God desires genuine relation with human creatures He gives us the ability to offer something that is genuinely ours to offer. This way we are able to participate in some form of reciprocal relation of giving and receiving, of loving and being loved. But the love and words that we offer back to God must truly be *our words and our love* for us to be genuinely *in relation*. I suppose I’m just concerned that the idea that “God plans our prayers” may not have room for this (depending on how you mean it, of course).

  4. Andrew said:

    @Jon

    The way I see these things in general is, we certainly do have a relationship with God, but it is not a symmetrical relationship. Whereas God needs nothing from us, we receive everything we have from him. Thus, whatever we are giving to him is really already from him anyway. For example, “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17), and everything, moment by moment, is held in existence by the word of His power (Heb 1); everything holds together in Christ (Col. 1). Traditionally these concepts were summarized in the theological doctrine of concursus (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=32700). In this sense, all the activity in the universe is ultimately “God’s”.

    This is also evident throughout scripture in more specific events: e.g., Jesus is put to death by Jews and Romans, but only because God’s hand and plan predestined it to take place (Acts 4:28); Joseph tells his brothers that while they intended to do evil to him by selling him into slavery, God intended that activity for good, to preserve many people; in 1 Kings 22:28-34 an archer draws his bow “at random” (this seems to exclude any idea of coercion) and hits a disguised king just as the Lord said through his prophet. In all these cases human actions are done by human beings, and thus the actions are truly “theirs”, but nevertheless they are also acting according to an unseen plan and directed by God, so that the events are ultimately “from God”.

    I see prayer the same way. God may plan for a person to pray that another person would get saved (for example), and then bring about the result because of the prayer he planned. Thus our prayers can truly cause effects in history, but not in a way that is ultimately unplanned by God.

    FWIW, which may not be much.

    • jt* said:

      I get that we do not have a symmetrical relationship with God, but for there to be the sort of reciprocal relationship that God desires with human creatures I do believe that He gives us (even here it’s grace) us the ability to respond in a meaningful and significant manner. We do not respond with something that God needs, but we do respond with something that is genuinely ours, something that we may offer back to Him. I have a hard time saying that “all the activity in the universe is ultimately “God’s””, although I see what you’re getting at and really I agree. But evil, for example, is not something we would attribute to God, right?

      I think, really, I agree with you. I just want to maintain that our actions truly are *our* actions even though there may be something larger afoot.

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