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I grew up under the tutelage of a fatalist—my mother. I can remember her singing along with Doris Day’s popular rendition of “Que Sera, Sera.” “Everything is under God’s control,” my mother explained. “Everything will happen just as He has planned. We just have to wait and accept it.” I believed her for a while, especially the day she told me, “Eat your peas if you want to be strong.”

“Why do I need to eat my peas?” I argued. “Everything will happen just as God has planned. We should just wait and accept it.” Finally, she forced me to eat my peas, despite the rigor of my logic.

By God’s grace, I eventually lost my faith in Doris Day’s fatalism and became a follower of Christ. One of my greatest joys in those early years of faith was prayer—bringing my petitions to God and watching Him answer them one after another. One of my favorite Bible verses was, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16 KJV).

But something happened when I began to study theology. I learned the wonderful biblical truth that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). I realized that God is the Sovereign over all creation “who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). But as this precious truth took hold of me, I made a big mistake. I reverted to my childhood logic: “Que sera, sera. It doesn’t matter if we pray. We should just wait and accept what God has planned.” As a pastor and seminary professor, I’ve witnessed the same in many others.

But the Scriptures and sound theology teach something different. God, the First Cause of all things, ordinarily accomplishes His plans through what theologians call “second causes.” These are His created instruments, such as angels, the forces of nature, and human actions. Of course, God is free to work without, above, and against these created causes, but ordinarily He works through them. And Scripture teaches that prayer is a powerful second cause.

We marvel at the energy of the sun and the complexity of nature, and we may even know that God uses us to accomplish His plans. But all too often, belief in God’s sovereignty leads well-meaning Christians to give up on fervent prayer. We pray out of duty, we pray out of desperation, but we often lose the firm conviction that prayer “availeth much.”

Each of us must ask ourselves how much significance we believe our prayers have. Do we think of them as little more than wishful thinking? Or do we believe, as the Scriptures tell us, that prayer accomplishes great things? If we believe that it is important to tell children, “Eat your peas,” then surely we must devote ourselves to calling on God to meet our needs. Prayer is far more important than eating your peas.

The Role of Tradition

Prophetic and Apostolic Tradition

Keep Reading John 3:16

From the May 2016 Issue
May 2016 Issue