Monday, September 21, 2015

Does Prayer Change Things? by R.C. Sproul (Book Review #77 of 2015)

Does Prayer Change Things? (Crucial Questions Series)

This is a great, short book that I would recommend to anyone asking "Why do we pray? What's the point if God is omniscient? How do we pray?" Ligonier has made this and others free for Kindle, so I highly recommend adding it to your library today.

Sproul writes (spoiler alert):
"Things change, and they change according to His sovereign will, which He exercises through secondary means and secondary activities. The prayer of His people is one of the means He uses to bring things to pass in this world. So if you ask me whether prayer changes things, I answer with an unhesitating 'Yes!'" (Loc. 100)

"Prayer, like everything else in the Christian life, is for God's glory and for our benefit, in that order" (Loc. 64). Prayer reminds us that God is in control, we are not, and He is sovereign over every circumstance of the universe as it unfolds.

"If I thought even for one moment that a single molecule were running loose in the universe outside the control and domain of almighty God, I wouldn't sleep tonight" (Loc. 44)...God's sovereignty casts no shadow over the prayer of adoration. God's foreknowledge or determinate counsel does not negate the prayer of praise" (Loc. 73). 

Prayer intrinsically changes us and our attitudes.
"What prayer most often changes is the wickedness and the hardness of our own hearts. That alone would be reason enough to pray, even if none of the other reasons were valid or true" (Loc. 119).
"Prayer prompts and nurtures obedience, putting the heart into the proper 'frame of mind' to desire obedience" (Loc. 15).
"Peter did not pray, and as a result he fell into temptation. What is true of Peter is true of all of us...we fall in private before we ever fall in public" (Loc. 37).

When we pray we acknowledge that God gave us a way to Him through Jesus and that we are loved and accepted and forgiven because of Christ:
"When God promises us that He will forgive us, we insult His integrity when we refuse to accept it. To forgive ourselves after God has forgiven us is a duty as well as a privilege" (Loc. 291). 

But if God is omniscient and knows what I need before I ask, why bother praying? Foremost, because God commands us to:
"Regardless of whether prayer does any good, if God commands us to pray, we must pray" (Loc. 50). Prayer is about maintaining a relationship with someone who we are to love more than any other:
"Spurgeon said that 'the proud sinner wants Christ, and his own parties; Christ, and his own lusts; Christ, and his own waywardness. The one who is truly poor in spirit wants only Christ'" (Loc. 519).

(Perhaps my favorite quote:)
"Yes, He knows what is in my mind, but I still have the privilege of articulating to Him what is there (Loc. 70)...If God knows what I'm going to say before I say it, His knowledge, rather than limiting my prayer, enhances the beauty of my praise (Loc. 75)...I may not understand the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but I do realize that what stems from the wickedness of my own heart may not be assigned to the will of God...There will always be a conflict between divine sovereignty and human autonomy. There is never a conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom (Loc. 110).

Sproul recommends the ACTS acronym of prayer, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, and unpacks each biblically. Ultimately, we become better at prayer only by praying: "To become accomplished in anything, we must practice. If we want to learn how to pray, then we must pray-and continue to pray" (Loc. 632).

One seeming contradiction is Sproul's earlier mention that Jesus modeled for his disciples praying to God as "Daddy" in Aramaic, which would have been shocking and heretical. But that's the relationship we have now through Christ. However, Sproul returns later and scolds those who "would speak (to God) as if to a friend at a baseball game" (Loc. 369). "We should not come rushing into God's presence arrogantly, assaulting Him with our petty requests, forgetting whom we are addressing" (Loc. 235).

Even with that minor point I would not hesitate to give this book to anyone; it'd be the first I'd recommend on the subject. I would like to read Tim Keller's recent book on prayer before the year is up. Unfortunately, my time reading is often time spent not praying, and that is something I have struggled with. Prayer is one of the hardest things for me to do. 4.5 stars out of 5. 

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