This month (Monday-Wednesday) your preachers are sharing some things they’re thankful for, as we inch closer to the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m thankful for the power of prayer.

I say that, but I must start with a rebuke. Brethren today are not taking advantage of prayer like we should. There are basically three reasons to pray…

  1. To give praise to God
  2. To give thanks to God for answered prayers (or, as Garth Brooks reminded us years ago, for unanswered prayers, too)
  3. To petition God

It’s on that third point where we have failed.

Many brethren, and I am guilty of this too, think of petitioning God as merely listing off all things we want or think we need and then vaguely adding “Thy will be done!”. We treat God as if He is Santa Claus: We climb on his lap, read off our list, and sit by our chimney’s waiting for the goods. That is not how this is supposed to work.

There’s an old hymn we sometimes sing called “Did you Think to Pray?” It includes this line…

Ere you left your room this morning,

Did you think to pray?

In the name of Christ, our Savior,

Did you sue for loving favor

As a shield today?

Listen to that penultimate line: Did you sue for loving favor. Have you ever thought of prayer like that? Have you ever thought of it as though God was a Judge and you were a citizen, filing a lawsuit in order to have your case heard before the Honorable decision maker? Because that’s exactly what prayer is. But here’s the thing: Not everyone gets to do that. Only those who have a lawyer willing to work with you can stand before the Judge and plead their case. Good thing you have a Lawyer…

…we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

(1 John 2:1b)

The word “advocate” carries a similar idea to a lawyer, someone to stand between you and the Judge and intercede on your behalf. Through Jesus we can petition God. We can sue to have our case pleaded before the Judge. With that in mind, you obviously wouldn’t stand before an earthly judge and say “here is what I want. I want __________. Thank you.” and sit down. You wouldn’t do that because you know the Judge wouldn’t give you anything. You have to plead your case not state your request. You go to the Judge, you tell him what you want, and then you tell him why. That’s how it works.

And that’s how it works with God…

“…you have not because you ask not.”

(James 4:2)

You have the right to ask for what you need. So do it. But don’t just ask: Make your case. Tell God “here is what I want, and here is why…” You have the right to change God’s mind. You have the right to change the will of God. That’s the part where we have failed, with regard to prayer. We don’t realize the power given to us by God. The world is not set in stone. God’s Providence and Intervention still exist. In that case, we are handicapping ourselves by not taking advantage of the power given to us.

This doesn’t mean God’s will won’t be done. That’s not what I said. I said we can change the will of God (sometimes). When we do, God’s will is done. Sometimes we pray and God says no. In that case His will still is done. Either way, the privilege to approach and make our case is always there. If you think prayer is just “I’ll ask but God’s just going to do whatever He wants anyway….” you have missed the boat entirely. Again, James says you HAVE not because YOU ask not. He didn’t say “you have not because God decides.” That’s true, but based on what he says it’s also true that we get to ASK for God to make certain decisions for us. And then we leave it up to Him to either agree or not. Whatever He decides to do, we submit and follow Him: That’s why we say “Thy will be done.”

Now let’s talk about free will, because whenever we get into discussions about prayer and changing the will of God, the discussion always circles around to it. Here’s a simple illustration:

Let’s say there’s a hole in the backyard fence, and tomorrow the nosey family dog is going to catch a scent, take off, slip through that hole and escape. Let’s say a child comes to you and says “I need that hole fixed, please. If it isn’t fixed, my dog will escape, he might hurt himself or cause an accident that hurts someone else. And besides, I love my dog and don’t want to lose him.” Let’s say you hear the petition, consider the arguments, and decide to act. You fix the hole. Fast forward to tomorrow: The dog goes to where the hole used to be, but is no longer. He paws around a bit but can’t get out, so he goes back to the porch. Crisis averted.

No one’s free will was hindered here: No one made the dog not try to escape. It’s just that a higher power intervened and made it so that the dog’s attempt did not succeed. That’s Providence and Intervention. I don’t dare say I understand it fully when it comes to the Divine working of God, but I’ve seen it Biblically and anecdotally in my own experiences enough to know it when I see it.

So ask yourself: What is worrying you? What is troubling you? What things are you thinking about right now that you feel powerless to control? Is there anything going in the world or in the country or in your town or in your home where you say “I just really want/need ______ to happen.” Fine. What are you doing about it? Have you gone through your Lawyer to petition the Judge? Have you told Him what you want, what you need, what you think is best for you, your town, your country, the world? Have you made your case? Why should the Judge grant your request? Tell Him. Convince Him. He might still say no…but He might just say yes, too.

That’s the power of prayer, and it’s a power provided only to God’s children. Be thankful for that.

Are you taking advantage of it? I hope so.

~ Matthew