by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 2 Study # 4 (Part II of a focus upon Prayer) April 20, 2004 Lincolnton, N.C.
(026)Thesis:The part that prayer plays in participating in the "will of God" is complex, but real.
Introduction:Last week we looked into the fact that "prayer" is supposed to be an expression to God of those things that are significantly important to us as opposed to an exercise of spiritual discipline that makes prayer simply something we are to "do". Tonight we are going to move a bit further into verse 10 and address the issue that Paul raises with his concept of "requests according to the will of God". He says in our text that he wants to be able to go to Rome by the "will of God". There are a host of issues tied into this notion that prayer is to have some impact on the will of God and, tonight, I want to press that envelope just a bit.
I. The Biblical Statements Regarding Prayer and the Will of God.
A. James 4:2 -- there is a "will of God" that will not come to pass if there is no request for it.
B. Ephesians 1:11 -- there is a "will of God" that will come to pass even if there is no request for it.
C. I John 5:14-15 -- there is a "will of God" that will come to pass because there was a request for it.
II. The Consequential Understanding of the "Will of God".
A. The Bible is clear that there is such a thing as predestination.
1. This is a declaration of a certain aspect of our concept of the "will of God".
2. This is a fundamental requirement for both "promise" and "prophecy".
a. It is beyond human comprehension that there could be anything "promised" with integrity that was not underwritten by, at least, omnipotence.
b. Nor can anything be "prophesied" with integrity without, at least, omniscience in harmony with wisdom.
3. The Bible is not shy about declaring that predestination is a fact, and all who shy away from the concept do so both ignorantly and, in some senses, rebelliously.
B. The Bible is equally clear that God, angels, and men are persons and not machines.
1. This means that there are real limits to what is "predetermined" because alternative choices are both real and exercised by persons who have volitional capacity.
2. This is a fundamental aspect of eternal life as a relational reality between persons.
C. These unambiguous biblical declarations require a certain understanding of the concept of the will of God.
1. There is a base line "will of God" that is completely governed by "predestination" and the "determinate counsel". There is no variation or change in this "will" of God. It is upon this "will" that all prophecy rests, for once God tells us that a thing will occur in our history, it is bound by His integrity to come to pass in our history without exception or fail. It is upon this "will" that all things determined "from the foundation of the world" rest, for the determination of God is backed by His omnipotence and cannot be thwarted. The vast majority of this "will", as revealed by prophetic utterance, is "untimed". That is to say, only a few prophecies come with any kind of specific "timing" attached so that there is no "failure" by reason of long periods of time that pass without fulfillment.
2. There is the slop in the gears "will of God" that allows for multiple options within the determined boundaries. Every mechanic knows that "gears" do their very best in performance over time if the "tolerances" between the gears is maintained. Every mechanic also knows that "gears" can be significantly "out of tolerance" and still drive the shafts to which they are attached. There will be a lot more "stress" and "whining" and "wear and tear" when things are out of tolerance, but the gear shafts will still turn.
a. The "all" in Ephesians 1:11 ["...who works all things by the counsel of His will..."] needs to be properly understood. Many of the "heavy" predestinarians have bought into the view of the world as "machine" and cannot see anything that could be outside of the "all" of Paul's statement. However, if we understand the world as machine we need to understand what it teaches us: there is such a thing as allowable slop in the gears. My point is that the "all" in Ephesians 1:11 does not, by the context, or by reason, or by any other argument, of necessity indicate all-inclusivity. The "all" is context-defined to relate to those things that are within the "counsel" of the "will" of God. The word translated "counsel" is a word that means 'a determination that is backed by the power of the one making it'. Thus, since the power of God is omnipotence, anything that He "determines" will, of necessity, come to pass. Thus, Paul, rather than saying that "all" is included in the determinate counsel, is simply saying that "all" that is included in the determinate counsel will come to pass. In other words, one can believe in every statement of "determinism" in the Bible without becoming a full blown fatalist / mechanicalist / materialist / impersonalist.
b. The "allowable tolerances" are where man's requests and lack thereof fall. In simple terms, if a man makes a request that is rooted in the love of God, and it can be done without sending the "predeterminate will" spinning off into never never land, it will be done. On the other hand, if a man refuses to make a request, God will, if it does not send the "predeterminate will" spinning off into never never land, restrain Himself from providing what was not requested.
c. The most obvious difficulty that this raises is that man, by reason and logic, can never tell whether the "thing" he requested "will" be done.
1) The mysteries of where and how the "determinant" will of God and the "slop in the gears" will of God interplay are too great for man's intelligence, so it will never be that man will be able by reason and logic to know whether his request will be fulfilled or not.
2) However, the Scriptures do not allow us to take the "agnostic" route to prayer. They speak too often of a person being confident by a confidence gendered by God Himself that his prayers have been heard unto his receiving of his petition [I John 5:14-15]. In counter balance, however, those same Scriptures also speak of the magnitude of man's ignorance and the lack of divine solution to the ignorance so that many of man's requests are "blind". They even say that man's ignorance is so great that, at times, he will not even know what to pray.
3) This means that God, on occasion, opens man's understanding of His "will" so that man can "confidently pray" and "receive what he has requested". This "opening" of man's understanding can only be accomplished by the internal ministry of the Spirit of God as He "connects" man's various thoughts together unto the building of "faith" so that man, as a result, "knows" that he is going to receive that for which he asked. Paul gives some evidence of this in multiple places, of which Philippians 1:25 is one example.
a) The difficulties here are legion. The Scriptures do not tell us that man can ascertain when the Spirit will generate this "faith" in his regard and when He will not. The Scriptures tell us to commit everything to God in prayer ("...in all thy ways acknowledge Him..."). They tell us to seek "His will" ("...nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done..." and "...Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth..." etc.) without telling us what that "will" is with precision ("...the secret things belong to the Lord our God..." and "...how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out..."). They tell us to be on guard against the deceitfulness of sin and that must fundamentally mean the elevation of our "will" over His. Thus, men pray "blind" much of the time. And that is no problem except to a "control freak" who simply cannot let Someone else be in control without "knowing" the details of the game plan.
b) But the difficulties do not unseat the fact that God does, very often, do exactly what His children ask Him to do. This is in the face of the fact that they seldom have any "faith" that He is going to do so. He also does, occasionally, impart the "faith" ahead of time so that His child "knows" he will receive what he has petitioned Him for.
c) The bottom line seems to be this: there is, and always will be, enough ambiguity that no one can set up a "pattern" that is more than a generalized overview, but there also is, and always will be, enough clarity that believers can be "in the know" about the legitimacy of their walk with God.