Summary: This is the first 1/2 of a two part sermon addressing the link between God’s sovereignty to act without us and his requirement that we pray so that he can act.
I think in the last year we’ve learned much about what it means to pray. True enough most of our prayers are for healing and comfort but we certainly have been learning to pray by practicing I think. But praying, by definition is speaking to God, worshiping God, Thanking God, or imploring God to do something different than what is going on.
Two weeks ago (Sunday, August 01, 2004) someone in the Tampa Florida City Council invited Michael Harvey to open their meeting with “prayer”. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,127614,00.html “Atheist Invocation Sparks Outrage”)
The only problem is that Mr. Harvey is an atheist. One can very easily imagine that Mr. Harvey didn’t pray, he scolded the council for praying to what he called "invisible men in the sky." I can’t imagine why; but several of the city council members got angry at Mr. Harvey for being consistent with his lack of faith and “a debate continued for nearly 30 minutes until three members walked out.” Now before you side with the Tampa council on this, consider two things. 1) Someone on the council invited him. 2) Michael Harvey was indeed being consistent. (May God lead him to repentance!).“Harvey doesn’t believe in God so praying for civic wisdom for public servants, the whole idea behind any invocation, was impossible.” Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life quipped, "It doesn’t make any sense to be praying in essence to ’’whom it may concern.’" I would agree.
By God’s grace alone by the way, we possess faith in Him, and therefore we run to him in prayer. He is not some “invisible man in the sky” he is the ever present; all powerful; holy; and by grace, approachable creator, owner and Lord of the universe. His power is not limited and his authority is absolute – that is to say, that God is sovereign.
But it nearly begs the question a bit, if God is sovereign, why does he ask us to pray in these many terms? If God responds to our prayers, does that mean that he somehow changes his plans? Can we infer from the scriptures that God creates wickedness to bring about his plans? I believe in tonight’s text we find the answer to these questions and in a rather unique passage we get to witness The Divine Interplay of Prayer in God’s Unfolding Plan. Fact is, it won’t answer all our questions about prayer, but we can see demonstrated here, (1) the faithfulness of God in answering prayer in the past, (2) how God expects prayer to bring about not just changes but even the unfolding of his revealed will, How God answers prayer, as well as the sovereignty of God’s choice being affected before works or prayer are ever uttered – and yet somehow in a mystery God’s revealed will, his perfect will and his permissive will combine to bring about the unfolding of his plan through the frail – and frequently failed labors of his humble subjects; all to the praise of his glory and grace... Give God the Glory; Say praise the Lord!
Fitting all these pieces together is perhaps a somewhat familiar text in Genesis Chapter 25:19-34. Historically speaking the text ties together the promises made to Abraham and to the children of Promise – ultimately Israel; together with Another of Israel’s neighboring states. The previous section shows God blessing Ishmael and thus his descendants with many blessings including wealth – so that we can see the relationship between the Arabs and the Jews going back to that text, where this text will show to us the Edomites a people who were usually at odds with Israel; and here we learn a bit of the reason why – it has been this way from the beginning by God’s sovereignty but it was also needlessly exacerbated by the underhanded techniques of Jacob against his brother. Throughout history then both nations would continue to suffer injustice at each other’s hands at various times until roughly 1700 years after their inception they entirely disappeared in fulfillment of many prophecies.
(Easton, M.G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.)
Theologically however we can begin to observe the mystery of prayer in God’s unfolding program. There are then five individual lessons that must not be taken apart but should rather be understood as a whole, and I think when taken together will help us to pray not only with greater faith but greater effectiveness, because we do actually serve a God who does more than merely answer prayer, He longs that we pray to Him so that His Purposes might be carried out. Read with me then if you will from Genesis 25:19-34.
As we enter this text there are a few main points that strike me as particularly important in regards to prayer.