DOESN’T GOD WORK ON AUTOMATIC?
A lot of Christians assume that God works on automatic.
If God knows all that is going on in our lives, if He knows our thoughts and our deepest longings, why do we need to bother praying? Surely God can choose to meet our needs without us having to ask?
And although this all sounds extremely logical, it is simply not how the Bible describes God’s interaction with the world.
SOME THINGS ONLY HAPPEN IF WE PRAY
Perhaps one of the reasons we assume God works on automatic is because we see God working on our behalf when we don’t pray.
The Bible teaches that God actually moves because of multiple reasons:
FIRSTLY, GOD WORKS ON OUR BEHALF BECAUSE OF HIS OWN SOVEREIGN CHOICE.
The Bible teaches that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). It doesn’t matter whether people pray or not. There are some things that God graciously does for all people.
Perhaps the best example of this is God’s decision to send His own son to die on our behalf. The Apostle Paul said: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus wasn’t sent because we were seeking a relationship with God, for “there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11), but rather it was God who was seeking a relationship with us.
SECONDLY, GOD WORKS ON OUR BEHALF WHEN WE PLACE OUR FAITH IN JESUS TO SAVE US.
The moment a person becomes a Christian, God does the following…
> He forgives all our past, present, future, accidental & deliberate sins (c.f. Ephesians 1:7).
> He declares us uncondemnable because Jesus was condemned on our behalf (c.f. Romans 8:1).
> He adopts us into His family as one of His children (c.f. Ephesians 1:5).
> He takes ownership of our life (c.f. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
> He prepares a place for us in eternity (c.f. John 14:2).
> He sends the Holy Spirit to come into our life and transform us from the inside out (c.f. Romans 8:9-11).
> He gives us at least one spiritual gift so that we can help fulfill His purposes in the world (c.f. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
Again, we do not need to ask God to do these things for us. They happen automatically, all at once, the moment a person casts their entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.
THIRDLY, GOD WORKS ON OUR BEHALF WHEN WE GIVE OUR LIFE TO FULFILLING HIS PURPOSES.
Jesus said that if we “seek first His kingdom and his righteousness”, He promises to meet our needs (Matthew 6:33). Consider the following…
> If we surrender our money for God’s purposes, He promises to provide for us financially (c.f. Philippians 4:16,19).
> If we set out to make disciples of all nations, He promises that His hand will be with us (c.f. Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8).
> If we endure hardship because of our faith, He promises to reward us when we get to heaven (c.f. James 1:12).
FOURTHLY, GOD WORKS ON OUR BEHALF WHEN WE PRAY.
The Bible is full of examples of God working in response to His people’s prayers. In fact, James goes so far as to say that “you do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
When Jesus was asked by His disciples to teach them to pray, He told them a parable about a guy who desperately needed bread in the middle of the night:
“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:5-8).
It’s interesting to note that Jesus specifically says that the friend will not get up and give the bread ‘because of friendship’. He is making the point here that God is not on automatic. Just because we are Christians and have a relationship with God, doesn’t mean that He will automatically give us everything we need. Rather it is because of the ‘shameless audacity’ of the one who asks that the bread is given.
Jesus then goes onto say: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
He doesn’t say ‘wait patiently’. He doesn’t say ‘submit to God’s sovereignty’. He doesn’t say ‘trust that God already knows what you need before you ask’. Certainly all these things are true. But if we want to receive, we need to ask. If we want to find, we need to seek. If we want the door opened, we need to knock.
Jesus is making the point that is demonstrated all throughout the Bible, and that is… SOME THINGS ONLY HAPPEN IF WE PRAY.
So the question remains, why does God bother to wait until we pray before giving us these things?
WHY DOES GOD WAIT UNTIL WE PRAY?
The Gospel of John records the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What’s interesting, and perhaps somewhat disturbing, is that Jesus had the opportunity to go and heal Lazarus before he died. But He deliberately chose to wait. Let’s take a look…
When Jesus initially heard news of Lazarus’ sickness, He made the statement to the disciples that “this sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).
Now this is confusing. How can this sickness be for God’s glory? Surely if God was interested in attracting more followers, He would prevent the suffering from happening in the first place?
John then goes onto say “Jesus loved…Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:5-6).
This is even more confusing! Why is it that Jesus waited two days? And why would this be because he loved Lazarus? Again, if He loved Lazarus, He would have prevented the sickness in the first place. And if He wasn’t willing to do that, He could have at least healed Lazarus before he died. But Jesus had something else in mind…
When He was asked if Lazarus had recovered from the sickness, Jesus told His disciples: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15).
What is Jesus doing here? How is this for God’s glory? How can it be out of love for Lazarus? How can this be for the disciple’s sake?
It seems as if Jesus deliberately waited for Lazarus to die, just so that He could raise Him from the dead. And in doing so, Jesus did something far greater than just meet Lazarus’ needs… He built people’s faith.
Had Jesus prevented Lazarus from getting sick in the first place, no glory would have been given to God, no one’s faith would have been built.
If Jesus had healed Lazarus while He was still alive, some glory would have been given to God, and people’s faith would have somewhat increased.
But instead, Jesus chose to wait until He could raise Lazarus from the dead. As a result, maximum glory was given to God, and everyone’s faith grew significantly.
The fact is, God is more interested in building our faith than He is in meeting our needs. And this is why He so often waits until we pray.
Suppose God always operated on automatic. Suppose He never waited until we prayed. Wouldn’t His interactions with the world mostly go unnoticed? Wouldn’t our tendency be to attribute God’s actions to circumstances, or luck, or perhaps even our own hard work?
But if God waits until we pray, then His interactions in the world can more easily be attributed to Him. He doesn’t just meet our needs, but He also builds our faith in the process.
Martin Luther explains:
But do you say: Why then does he let us pray and present our need, and does not give it to us unasked, since he knows and sees all our need better than we do? He gives surely to the whole world daily so much good freely, as sun, rain, corn, money, body, life, etc., which no one asks or is grateful for; as he knows that they cannot get along for a single day without light, eating and drinking; why does he then tell us to pray for these things?
Answer: He does not require it, indeed, for the reason that we are to teach him this with our praying, viz., what he is to give us, but in order that we may acknowledge and confess what kind of blessings he is bestowing upon us, and yet much more he can and will give; so that we by our praying are rather instructing ourselves than him. For thereby I am turned about, that I do not go along like the ungodly that never acknowledge this or offer thanks for it; and my heart is thus turned to him and aroused, so that I praise and thank him, and have recourse to him in time of need and look for help from him; and the effect of all this is that I learn more and more to acknowledge what kind of a God he is; and because I address my supplications to him, he is the more disposed to answer me abundantly.
Imagine being in a place of desperate need, and then crying out to God, and seeing a specific, direct answer to prayer. Imagine fasting and praying for months, for what seemed like the impossible, and then when all hope is lost, God intervenes in a dramatic, undeniable way. Imagine knowing for sure that the God of the universe loves you, not just because you have read of the great things He has done, but because you have experienced them.
God waits until we pray not because He wants to give us less. But because He wants to give us more.