Monday, July 2, 2007

What's the Use?

A while back, I heard from an old friend. The question he asks is simple but profound: why should we pray for people to make good decisions, stay out of sin, etc., if they're just going to do what they will do? Does it make any difference at all?

Here's how my friend explains the dilemma (edited for obvious reasons). If you have any thoughtful responses, they're more than welcome:

Does free will supercede prayer?

This question comes more from the gut than the head. It has been one I have been struggling with as I have seen “B” and two other close Christian friends involved in adultery. It just sometimes feels like "people do what they want to do".

You remember “A” and his wife. “A” ended up marrying that gal he moved in with. Six months after divorcing his wife, he marries her, but not before he moved her in, forced her kids to call her mommy and (rumor has it) got her pregnant. After months of agonizing over him in prayer, organizing prayer meetings with very mature believers, fasting and all the other spiritual requisites, the divorced wife repented but he didn't. I came away thinking, "I could have used that time to mow my lawn, read a book, clean the car, etc." At the end of the day our prayer didn't seem to make much of a difference in his decisions. From my perspective, we did all the right things the scriptures tell us to do to see prayer answered, and there seems to be no reason why God wouldn't answer this one. A no-brainer when it comes to His Will. Yet “A’s” actions seemed to be little hindered by our intercession. Now I have to believe that our prayer at least caused spiritual turmoil in his soul, but his will superceded our prayer.

And what about “B”? He probably had an army of people praying for him over the years. What he did wasn't a shot in the dark, a one night stand. It was a systematic, organized, pre-meditated, long term homosexual affair and cover-up. “B” was acquainted with every single verse in the Bible that deals with sexual sin. He crammed it down my throat as a young believer. And at the end of the day, "he did what he wanted to do". The Holy Spirit didn't intervene, nor did our prayer for his protection, his knowledge of right and wrong, his intimate familiarity with scripture, his church, his family, his training, his accountability group, his Christian books, his cassettes, Christian music, Focus on the Family publications.... He did what he wanted to do....

So why pray? My time is at a premium. I have cars to wash, lawn to mow, books to read. If my friends are going to commit their sins and the prayer of an army of saints isn't going to make a difference... You get my visceral question....

I have no doubt “A” and “B” heard His voice. I think part of “A” must feel tremendous guilt for having committed adultery and gotten someone pregnant. His bitterness and defiance are probably shielding his emotions. But did God stop at the entry door of self will and only call out? In the case of “B” and “A” it appears so. He didn't stop them from living in sin. At the end of the day he allowed their will to make the final decision.

I was being a bit facetious when I wrote about mowing my lawn, because I do feel I am closer to God through this struggle for “A’s” soul. It caused me to talk to Him more and to wrestle with theological issues. But after so much asking He seems to have said no to us, that he would allow “A” to go his own way...


  1. We pray for our friends to obey God because we love them and we know that God loves them. And it does make a spiritual difference even though it doesn't appear to make an external difference in our judgement. Right now.

    I think intercession for others actually changes us. I agonized in prayer for years over my siblings and parents without any discernible changes. As I kept praying, I became aware of my true motivations in wanting salvation for members of my family of origin--sinful ones like wanting to fix everyone, of wanting to be proven right, of self righteousness, of trying to control others instead of loving them, so I wouldn't be lonely being the only believer in the family, and the list goes on under subheading "selfish desires". And I didn't discover these things all at once, it took years.

    God wants me to love people with unconditional love--no matter how badly they screw up. And one of many ways that we do that is through our prayers for them even though it seems like they are still making selfish decisions. After awhile, I am fully aware of my own capacity to live hypocritically as they do. Prayer helps me see how alike I am to my backslidden friends, and so I pray for mercy for us all.

    Roger Fleming once said in a message a long time ago that God isn't surprised when we sin. The amazing thing is, is that He still loves us before and after, and offers us something better than the dirt and pollution that we hold on to. The problem arises when we become hardened against the grief that God goes through over us. I think prayer keeps us in touch with what God's heart is.

    So, yes, you could be mowing that lawn. You can also pray while you mow the lawn at the same time. Don't be discouraged. God hears you and is doing something.

  2. Hi Althea -

    Your comments are good, and I agree with what you say . . . but that still leaves open the question as to how our prayers affect those for whom we are praying.

  3. Often, we don't.

    Thanks, Arnold. A really good question to discuss.

  4. I know I'm very late with this comment, but I've just discovered this blog and I'm enjoying checking it out. Some great questions here... a heartbreaking story, and a worthy response from Althea. Building on her thoughts, I believe we must look beyond our friends' sinful choices to the final outcome. We should not become overly discouraged by their sin, but pray all the more that they will ultimately be restored. Sometimes, things get worse before they get better, and God uses the bitterness of sin to draw us back to Himself. We come to realize that sin does not satisfy, and like the prodigal son we hunger for our Father's house once again. It may not happen until we are in the middle of the pig sty. While I struggled fiercely falling regularly into various sins over a period of years, there were faithful friends who prayed for me to change. Their prayers were not in vain, though for several years it may have appeared so. I tell you, their joy today is greater than all the turmoil they suffered over my sin. When God brought me back, He made a marvelous display of His great mercy - far beyond what my friends or I could have imagined during the tough times. Yes, I had to choose, but I don't believe I would have returned apart from the prayers God moved them to pray in my behalf. It is a mystery, but as Althea noted, our prayers are an expression of God's love. It's time well spent, no matter the outcome. Some may never return, but on judgment day I want it to be said that I reached out to them with the grace of God.

    Arnold, you have a great blog here. Mine is similar in some respects, you may enjoy checking it out. Thanks for the edification.

    Grace and peace,
    Derek Ashton
    Jacksonville, Florida

  5. Derek -

    Thanks for your good thoughts and encouragement. I appreciate your perspective, and I'll be sure to check out your blog.

    - Arnold

  6. Derek, for some reason I can't see your profile . . . and therefore I don't know the address of your blog. Can you give it to me?

  7. Arnold,

    I need to fix my profile and then turn it back on. In the meantime, I have an "About me" section on the sidebar of the blog, which is Good to hear from you, I'm enjoying your site.

    The idea of "paradox" is being used by some in the church today to lessen the authority of Scripture. I'm trying to reclaim it, not as a reaction to this trend, but because I truly believe it's an essential and often overlooked concept that actually upholds the authority of God's Word. Do let me know what you think.

    Derek Ashton

  8. Thanks, Derek. Looks like we have a similar view of the value of paradox.