Dear Calvin Church,
This Sunday will be my 13th anniversary of being Calvin’s pastor. For those with triskaidekaphobia, that may be rather ominous. Indeed, in the current climate where COVID-19 is frightening everyone. And indeed, with businesses, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants closing, with Wall Street having the worst opening days since 1987, and then hearing of churches closing down, people are panicking. Some might think it is all a hoax, but there are others who are very concerned. How shall we react? The Session has called the congregation to a day of fasting and prayer tomorrow.
As Christians, we can be greatly comforted to know our infinite and eternal God is sovereign over all things and he has “unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1) and eternal plan is reasonable, intelligent, wise, unalterable, certain, and perfect. Nothing happens by “chance,” or “fortune.” This means that we are not tossed on some random sea of fate. Still, our hearts are frequently disturbed in this world because while theologically we know God is in control, things in our lives often seem out of control. It is a hard pill to swallow that if God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, then even the things going on in the world today is part of God’s eternal decree. And yet, as Heidelberg Catechism #1 assures us, “He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
We are seldom given the mind of God in our predetermined trials, but we are given the promise of his Word that “he works all things out for the good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Again, God gave us the promise, and He gave us the means to claim that promise: prayer. As we seek the Lord in prayer, He makes good on His promise. In prayer He shows himself over and over again to be our God. We may never come to know why God has predestined this thing or that in our lives, but the gift of prayer offered in faith is the door by which we come to the throne of grace and where we learn to rest in Christ and in God’s Word, power, wisdom, and love. We may not have to know the why of heartaches if we know who ordained them.
God has not only determined everything that will happen, but he has also ordained the means by how it will all happen. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (1:19). Clearly, Paul expected God to use the prayers of the saints to give him the provision of the Spirit to deliver him. In Colossians 4:3 he also asks for prayer so that God would open doors of ministry for him and that he might preach the gospel with boldness. In other words, Paul fully believed that the whole church is involved in the mission and ministry of the gospel. Yes, he is sent to go out and preach it, but the prayers of the saints were the means by which he could do that with success and boldness.
This is a very important understanding of prayer because we can easily fall into the trap that thinks that because God has sovereignly ordained everything that comes to pass, it is pointless and useless for us to pray. But again, James 4:2 very clearly tells us, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Of course, the next verse warns us to ask with right motives and desires, that is, to see God glorified. Earlier (1:5), James said we must also ask with faith. The point of 4:2 is that so many blessings are not given to us because we haven’t prayed for them! The lesson of this is that whoever wants help from God, and whoever depends on the prayers of the saints for help, really relies on the promise of God because it is God, in his wisdom, who put prayer and help intrinsically together. What God has joined together, then, let no one separate.
We pray confidently because we know that God has foreordained everything that comes to pass and because Christ defeated all his enemies, and ours, nothing can stay his hand or derail his plan. Again, we may not know what God’s eternal purpose in a particular matter is, but we still pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray in Jesus’ name, recognizing our ignorance and weakness, but we are also trusting that our perfect faithful High Priest is interceding for us and perfecting our petitions as it were. We may not know the details of God’s predetermined plan in our trials and why all this hubbub is going on in the world today, but our praying reflects our assertive hope that He not only has an immutable plan, he has all power and wisdom to accomplish it. And through our praying in the Spirit, we become co-laborers with Christ as he builds his church and establishes his inheritance in the saints, all to the glory of the Father, according to his wise and eternal counsel and immutable will.
—Rev. Michael Babcock