The Bible speaks often of the power of prayer. For example, the Bible says the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. However, if God has everything preordained/planned, how do our prayers have power? How can God both listen and answer prayer while already having everything set out according to His will?
Thank you for your question. Indeed, the Bible says in James 5:16b The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availethmuch. Let me paraphrase that for you: The powerfully working prayer of a righteous person has much strength. Let’s first look at this text a little more closely and try to understand it in context.
First notice that this is the prayer of a righteous person. In other words: A believer justified by faith, trusting in the righteousness of Christ alone. That doesn’t mean sinless. Rather it means someone who now lives for the Lord, someone who by God’s Spirit nowdesires to walk in accordance with God’s will (sanctification).
Then notice that this text indeed emphasizes that this prayer has power. It not only is powerfully working, because the Holy Spirit lives and rules in the heart of believers. No, this speaks about believing prayer. This therefore doesn’t mean lifeless, formal prayer, trying to do your duty and move on.
And then the text also shows that such prayer has much strength. It truly accomplishes something. And the situation that is given right before the text speaks about forgiveness and healing. And the example right after speaks about the prayer of Elija who asked the Lord to stop the rain.
Now, let’s come back to your question. Your question is, how do we understand this in light of God’s sovereign preordination? Doesn’t that contradict? Perhaps you mean: Why pray if God has decided everything beforehand anyway? (Eph 1:11) Why pray to the Lord who knows everything before we even ask Him? (Mt 6:8) What’s the use? Or, how can we say that prayer accomplishes something, while actually God is simply doing what He foreordained?
And you are right, God has planned everything before hand. And we cannot change anything ourselves. Yet, the Lord commands us to pray. Yet, the Lord says that the righteous man’s prayers can be effectual and avail much at the same time. What might seem like a contradiction in not a contradiction. For, indeed we use our privilege and responsibility to pray within the realm of God’s All-inclusive sovereign rule and plan.
Think about it in terms of a big and small circle. The big circle is God’s Sovereignty. The small circle is our responsibility to pray and the answers to our prayer. That small circle indeed operates within that big circle of God’s sovereignty.
Now what does that mean practically? It means that the prayers of believers, those made righteous in Christ, are all planned before we pray them. And that our prayers will be heard insomuch as they are prayed with a heart bowing under the Lord’s authority and in Christ’s name (Jn 14:13). We should therefore not see prayer as manipulation, or twisting God’s arm, but we should see prayer as a time of fellowship and growing in our trust of our heavenly Father. A part of this is that we may bring all our requests to Him, while we plead His promises. And as a result of the Holy Spirit working in us, our prayers become more and more in line with His will. In other words: Prayer is a means through which the Lord is transforming our will to His!
And the amazing thing is that when God is sanctifying us in this way, that God gives us the joy of answered prayer, and credits the answers to our prayers! All because the Holy Spirit worked those prayers in us, and we prayed them and the Lord is pleased to work through them, answering them.
So yes, they avail much, because your and my will are getting more and more in line with His. That’s why He hears us. Because He planned to have us pray these prayers. And He planned to hear them. Because without Him we can do nothing, not even pray.
I hope this answers your question. I am encouraged by the fact you want to understand this. May the Lord bless you and encourage you with many answered prayers, as you learn to pray according to His will, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor van der Hoek