Jamaal Williams is Pastor of Forest Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is a native of Chicago, IL. Jamaal received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University where he served as president of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s black chapter. He has an M.A. in Church Ministries and is currently pursuing a D.Ed. Min in Black Church Leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jamaal serves on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Council. He is married to Amber, and they are the parents of Nia, Kayla, and Josiah.
This summer, the brothers and sisters of my congregation have gone through an unusual amount of physical suffering. Cancer, heart attack, strokes, sickle cell and death aggressively reared their truculent heads. One Sunday burdened by these ailments, the congregation joined hands across the aisle and bombarded heaven with desperate pleas of healing for particular individuals who were in digressing situations. Within two weeks, two people had died and a third was declared to be unrecoverable. It wasn’t long after that when a member asked me a sincere and relevant question: Should we have prayed for healing with so much boldness? Or is it better to not ask for healing and just pray for God’s will to be done? Perhaps the heart behind these questions is – since God is sovereign, why should I pray?
The Sovereignty of God is the biblical doctrine that everything is under God's rule and control; nothing happens without His decree or permission. He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). If God has already determined the outcome of how everything will unfold, why should we pray? It’s important for us to pray in light of the sovereignty of God for at least four reasons.
- Biblical authorities expect, exemplify, encourage and even command us to pray. In Matthew 6 Jesus doesn’t say “if” you pray but rather “when” you pray. He also, models prayer throughout his ministry so much so that the disciples ask him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul commands that we “pray without ceasing.” Philippians 4:6 declares, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” That’s not to mention other great New Testament commands and encouragements to pray like James 5:17-18, Romans 12:12. The Holy Spirit inspired these men to stress prayer as a necessity not merely a luxury.
- Our Father delights in our prayers of faith. In Revelation 5:8, we are given a picture of God’s throne, “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Perhaps the prayers of the saints are shown to be in golden bowls because the saint’s prayers are deeply valued by God. We also see in Scripture Jesus teaching on the power of persistent – persevering prayer. Jesus commands us to keep on asking, and keep on knocking. He also praises in a parable a widow’s persistent cry for justice from a wicked judge. Hebrews 11:6, teaches us that without faith “It is impossible to please God.” Though God is sovereign, He enjoys our prayers and is pleased with them. As Psalm 102:17 “he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.”
- Praying to God ministers to our own souls. Confessing sin, offering up praise and thanksgiving to God, making petition and supplication when done in faith brings peace. In Philippians 4:7 after Paul tells us to pray about everything, he promises that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts in Christ Jesus.” Even if our prayers aren’t answered in the way we think that they should be, the process of prayer ministers to the inner man. Prayer reminds us that there is an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God who hears, and it helps us to know Him more intimately.
- Prayer really does change things! If prayer doesn’t change the situation or circumstance, then praying will change and equip you for it. However, we should rejoice because the effectual prayer of a righteous man does avail much (James 5:16). Think again of the story of the persistent woman whose pleading changed the mind of an unjust judge in Luke 18. If the unjust judge rewarded the woman justice because of prayer, how much more will our righteous, just and heavenly father reward those who diligently seek Him? If God chooses not to deliver our bodies from menacing disease, it’s not because He couldn’t but because He has another way that He has opted to receive glory. Remember how God used Moses in Exodus 32 to intercede on Israel’s behalf. God was angry with His people after they impatiently and faithlessly made a golden calf to worship. But God had mercy on Israel because of Moses’ prayers. This is an excellent reminder that while God is sovereign, He has included our prayers and supplications in His eternal decrees. He ordained our prayers and uses them to affect change in the world. Prayer is a part of the good works that we were created for (Ephesians 2:10).
When David’s child was sick in 2 Samuel 12 his situation was not much different from that of my congregation when we prayed fervently for God to move. The Bible says David fasted and lay prostrate before the Lord, hoping God would have mercy and spare the child’s life. God did not save the child despite David’s desperate pleas. When we face suffering and death in which God does not answer prayers of healing, our response should be like David’s. We should trust the Lord’s decision and continue worshiping Him through prayer so that we can find the comfort and strength to endure the circumstance He did not change. Yes, God is sovereign, yet at the same time He calls us to pray. Why? Because in and through our prayers God accomplishes the good and sovereign purposes we cannot see. May we like David pray fervently for the healing of our loved ones, but keep our faith not merely in faith itself, but in our merciful God who is worthy of trust.