Another long one! Sorry! I debated even posting this but I figure if I’m open enough to say I’ve got questions, I ought to post any answers I feel like I have. I’m never saying I’m 100% right, just explaining what I feel like I understand right now.
Nearly two months ago I blogged about some doubts I had about prayer, predestination and free will. As I said, I prayed about it which is weird I know. How can you pray about whether prayer works or not? But I did. Here were the pieces to the puzzle I knew:
- We’re told to pray
- Jesus prayed
- I’ve seen prayers being answered
- I believe I have free will
- I believe God is omniscient meaning he knows the past, present and future
For some reason, though, I could not put the pieces together. As I blogged before, if he knows the future, how is it free will and if I don’t have free will and everything is set, what’s the point of praying?
Last week at Bible Study we somehow got on the topic and I confessed how much of a struggle this was for me. I’d blogged about it but for some reason talking to 7 other adults about it had me in one of the most vulnerable positions I’d been in a while. They were all so fantastic though, each talking about a time in their lives they had questioned or a time they had seen the reason for prayer. But even though they talked me through it, I still believed all the pieces but I could not see the whole picture. I cried most of the way home just begging God to help me understand. And I knew it was a very real possibility I may not understand this side of heaven. It’s not called faith for nothing.
A few weeks ago, I started writing in a prayer journal. Even though I was struggling through what to pray about, I knew and understood the need to talk to God. If nothing else, I was doing it because God said to. And really? I don’t know what else to do. When I have a burden, I tell God about it. And yes, I know it’s weird I was doing something I didn’t totally understand. Anyway, as I was writing the Thursday night after bible study, all the pieces started coming together. It was like lights were coming on in a house. I even wrote OH MY GOSH in big letters across the page as understanding dawned. All my pieces finally fit together. I don’t know if I can explain and I still don’t have ALL the answers, but boy, I got something that night.
For a while now I’ve been debating the whole concept of God’s omniscience. My heart knew it was true but my head wasn’t wrapping around it. Let me try to illustrate the possibilities I had.
Do you remember those Create Your Own Adventure books? Depending on what you wanted to happen, you went to a different part of the book and the story was different every time? That’s one way I tried to understand predestination and free will. We got to choose what we did and God just understood every avenue. He changed everyone’s future and all the downstream affects as we went. In God’s Choose Your Own Adventure book, though, it all ended the same because there’s Revelation and I had to fit that into my theology somehow. As long as the Adventure hit those conclusions, it worked. This theory let prayer work too because the future was unknown! We needed to pray about everything! But with this one, it didn’t quite fit my beliefs in His omniscience. I had heard over and over that God knows what’s going to happen and He’s not taken by surprise. So if it’s truly a Choose Your Own Adventure, He doesn’t really know the future and that doesn’t work.
The other way I tried to look at it is like a book already written. He wrote the book and we’re just living it out. We’re not really choosing what we do even though it feels like it. But as we know, that theory went by the way side. Even though that solves his omniscience, it doesn’t solve for free will. Or prayer for that matter.
And then it hit me that it’s not a Choose Your Own Adventure or quite like a written novel. It’s like a flap book. You know those little books you read for children where a word or picture is hidden under a flap and you have open it to read it? That’s how I see it. And the book isn’t just written by Him it’s written by us too. So how does this work?
We have free will so we’re writing the book. But, He knows the end of the story. In fact, He knows the book front to back. He helped write the storyline but we choose what the characters do. What’s under the flaps are simply part of the story. And a prophecy is simply God lifting up a flap over that part of the story and saying this is what’s going to happen. He isn’t going to work everything out so we get to that point. It’s already happened for Him because He sees it. He’s just letting us see that small part. Now what about prayer? Is there any point to praying about anything beyond just communing with Him since He knows everything? Why yes! The only way I can understand this is through this verse Matthew 7-11:
7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
This verse is best understood with my own children. Sometimes I don’t give them something because they haven’t asked for it. Sometimes I don’t know what they want and other times I just don’t. I don’t simply drop every possible toy they’ve ever asked for in their laps for no reason whatsoever. But if they ask for it, I’m so happy to give it to them if I can and think I should. And it’s not that God doesn’t know that we want it but for some reason, He wants us to ask. Now would God give you a gift even if you don’t ask for it? Yes, sometimes. But I truly believe sometimes he wouldn’t.
So is everything up to us? Can we just pray and get it? No, I believe God does have plans for us from Jeremiah 29:11.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
So here’s the thing. God has plans for us and He’s always calling for us to do those. In fact, prayer is so important for us so that we can see what He WANTS to happen. How will we know what to do if we don’t ask? And yes, sometimes we don’t and the passage written in our book is not what His ultimate plan was for us.
So does God change His mind in the moment about what to give us because He knows the future? In an example, would He quit wooing a person to Him if He knows that they will never follow Him ? No! I don’t believe so. I think it would be against His nature to do so. He will always call us to His plans. And because He’s a just God, in the moment, even if He knows how it turns out, He’s going to give us exactly what we need in that moment. No more, no less. If we ask Him for more, I think it may be more if we hadn’t.
Does this mean if we just pray hard enough everything will be peachy king? A big fat no! God’s plans a lot of times include times of pruning and testing. As I just heard yesterday, sometimes God is more interested in our character than our works. He’s trying to make us look like Him so yes, there will be hard times no matter how hard we pray. Remember He gets a say in the storyline.
I think what I didn’t realize is even if God knows the future, in the moment, God will do what is right. And every single time, leading up to that moment, He will react the same. Just because He knows how we will react, He doesn’t change so He will always react the same.
So you still might not quite get it and be saying well, if it’s already written, I may as well give up. Why pray about it? Why care? Here’s the deal. YOU are writing your book. You DO have free will. Yes, God knows what you’re going to write but does that change in this moment what you will choose? The question is, what story do you want read back at the end? You get to choose. Will it do you any good if you give up on God and write a bad story? So what if God knows in 20 years what you’re going to do? Right now you have the free will to write it. Why not write something fantastic? Why not write a story of forgiveness and love and patience and humility? Why not hit the mark on His plans for you? God knows what you’re going to choose but YOU get to choose it. The best way I can explain it is your book right now is written in pencil. He sees what’s going to be written and that’s not changing. There is not an eraser. But as we live life, we are writing our story in pen.
So let’s go back to prayer. Prayer is so important to me right now because
- God wants to know my desires
- I want to know God’s plans
- I want God’s wisdom revealed to me
- I need to build a relationship with him
- He told me to
- Jesus did it
It all boils down to the fact that it actually doesn’t matter that He knows does it? If you believe A, that you have free will and B, that He has plans and they are the best, we NEED prayer. Either He will let us know what to do or in some cases, He’ll give us peace that He can’t do what we’re asking.
So at the end of the day, it’s not just prayer we need, it’s Jesus we need. We need His wisdom, His peace, His mercy, His grace, His love. It shouldn’t surprise me that it all leads back to Jesus. It shouldn’t. But somehow I didn’t see that one coming.