Front Page
Series Contents

Series Theme:  Looking at Prayer Afresh

Phase One :  Preparatory Foundation Stones










































































































Title:   3. God at Work


                 This page puts the focus on what God is doing




1. Introduction
2. General Indications
3. God and Unbelievers
4. God and Us
5. The Extent of God's Speaking
6. And So…



1. Introduction


Because this is so fundamental we need to pick this up as a separate subject, the fact that God IS working. Because it is simply one facet of the whole subject of us, God and prayer, I include it in as a foundation stone that prepares the way for going on to the main teaching pages that follow.


The world would seek to maintain that the earth and all life on it is simply one big closed machine and even if there is a God He stands outside it and has no influence upon it. The Biblical teaching is far from that! Throughout the Old Testament God is seen to be interacting with His world specifically, but not exclusively, with Israel.




2. General Indications


In the New Testament we find the following indications of God's activity:


Phil 2:13  it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.


- God has a purpose and He works in and through us to bring it about
- This we take to mean by the presence of His Holy Spirit within us.


Eph 2:10   For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

- This is the same thing – God has planned things and He is using us and the gifts that we have from Him to work out that plan.


Eph 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

- Without getting into the depths of free-will and predestination here, simply note that a) God has a plan and b) He is working to achieve it and c) we are a part of it.


1 Cor 12:6,7 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

- This appears to refer to the way the Holy Spirit works in human beings and as far as it refers to believers, it means He gifts each believer in a way He has chosen.


Thus it is very clear that God works in and through believers, but what about unbelievers?




3. God and Unbelievers


Now we might be tempted to think that God only works in and through believers but in the Old Testament we see otherwise:


In Gen 20 we find the story of Abimelech, the king of Gerar, who took Abraham's wife, and the Lord spoke to him in some detail in a dream.


The story of Joseph is classic in this respect. God gave this (unbelieving?) young man prophetic dreams (Gen 37:5-). Later in the story the Lord gave significant prophetic dreams to the king's cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:5) and then to the king himself (Gen 41:1), all most probably unbelievers.


We also find that the Lord used a dream with unbelieving Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1-) and then again later another dream, (Dan 4:4,5-), a prophet interpreting the dream (Dan 4:19), and then a voice out loud (Dan 4:31-), every time reiterating the same detail prophecy which was fulfilled within a year.


Later the Lord spoke significantly with another king at this time -


2 Chron 36:22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia , in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing

- somehow the Lord managed to provoke Cyrus into sending the Jews back to Jerusalem after the period of the Exile.

- did He speak directly to him, did he use Daniel, or did Cyrus find the Isaiah scrolls written a long time before, and see his name there as Israel's deliverer? (see Isa 44:28). However it was, the Lord communicated with this unbelieving king.

In the book of Job we see how the Lord uses Satan to bring about things on the earth (Job 1 & 2) and although the detail of how it happened is not given, it is easy to conceive of Satan whispering into the ungodly and unrighteous minds of the marauders who he then used to come against Job.


Indeed throughout the Old Testament we find the Lord using ungodly nations to bring corrective judgment on Israel and we must assume it followed in a similar way as that indicated in Job. (The only time there is a specific correlation stated is in respect of facing David with his sinful attitudes. In 1 Chron 21:1 it is Satan seen as inciting David, while in a parallel 2 Sam 24:1 it is ultimately attributed to the Lord.)


In the New Testament we find Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost giving a bigger picture:


Acts 2:27,28 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

- those ungodly and unrighteous leaders brought about the death of Jesus Christ, but that was exactly what God had planned from the outset (see 2 Tim 1:9, Rev 13:8, 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4 etc.)

- this does not mean that God overruled the free will of these men so that they sinned, but that He brought about circumstances to which they would respond is such a way.


Later he would preach by way of explanation –


Acts 3:17   Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer

- Peter reiterates that Christ's death was God's plan spoken of through the prophets, yet now it had come about by the sinful, wilful ignorance of those involved in it.


Later when the church was together praying they declared –


Acts 4:27,28 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

- the same thing restated


This is foundational to the early apostolic preaching and teaching, that the death of Jesus Christ, although brought about by the free will of men, was in fact part of the preordained plan of God. God did not make them do it, but engineered things so that their sinful actions would bring about His plan – the death of the Lamb of God.


One of two vital but more general verses:




4. God and Us


It is worth examining in more detail how the Father works in drawing people to Himself.

Jn 5:17,19,20 Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."… "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.

- God the Father is ALWAYS at work

- Jesus, the Son, joined in with whatever the Father showed him He was doing.

- Observing the scope of what Jesus said (see for example Mt 11:5) we may assume the Father was freed to do the things on His heart, that He desired to do, by His Son's availability to Him.

- Did the Father speak to people and prompt them to come to Jesus and present their needs to him, to receive healing etc.? How else might He have been moving?

- Trying to formulate the bigger picture we would suggest that God
         - speaks to people to prepare their hearts (see more below)

- uses those who are available to Him to move in power (Jesus and then the apostles in Acts)

But consider something more significant

Rom 8:28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.


These much often quoted verses speak about God's ongoing activity :
- He knew us before the foundation of the world – that we would respond to Him
- He called us – by the working of His Holy Spirit
- When we responded, He justified us in accordance with Christ's work on the Cross
- He then imparted His Holy Spirit to indwell us (thus He glorified us ) imparting eternal life
  and the means into eternity.
What we need to see in these verses is the time frame :
- From before the beginning of the world
- Brought to bear on us at some point in our lives (before we were believers)
- His Spirit to indwell us throughout our lives (once we were believers)
- But the last point is an ongoing process (see 2 Cor 3:18 esp. “being transformed” and “ever increasing glory” i.e. an ongoing working of God throughout our lives.)

a) Called

•  We noted above that God calls people to Himself. When it started happening, we don't know; we simply weren't aware that we were hearing Him.
•  Yet we speak about the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which takes place BEFORE we became a Christian, but it is a key working to bring us to the point of acknowledgement of need and surrender.
•  The truth is that before we came to that point of surrender we had whole trains of thought – which I suggest were prompted by God – which ultimately culminated in what we call ‘conviction'.
•  This was God working in us as unbelievers, seeing that we were ripe to hear and respond.


b) Glorification & Sanctification

•  When we were converted – justified by God because of what Jesus had done on the Cross and now applied because we have responded to the convicting work of the Spirit, and surrendered to Him – we were glorified – declared children of God with an eternal destiny and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
•  Sanctification is the word used to describe the ongoing, changing work of the Spirit within us, that makes us more and more (gradually) like Jesus, and it starts at the new birth and continues throughout our lives. The Spirit teaches us, convicts us, challenges us, encourages us, spurs us on and on, i.e. He speaks within us throughout our lives to conform us to Jesus.



5. The Extent of God's Speaking


It might be worth considering briefly just what God shows us and what He says when He speaks. If we take the apostle Paul's words about prophecy as the norm – everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) and add to that his words about the Scriptures, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) we could expect that what God says will strengthen, encourage and comfort us, while at the same time teaching, rebuking, correcting and training us.


What else God might say is really pure speculation. Does God give people bright ideas or insights as to how His world works so as to develop science, technology etc.? We won't know this side of heaven. One thing seems obvious from experience, and that is that generally God does not speak the Gospel into the minds of unbelievers; they need to hear it or read it. Similarly He does not appear to generally speak words of judgment into the hearts of unbelievers. However, at some point in some, His Holy Spirit is obviously able to bring conviction, sometimes even without hearing the Gospel.


A question we may be left with is, why is it that God doesn't seem able to speak to us more clearly than He does, and the answer has surely got to be because of our pollution with sin.


Possibly the most specific words that Jesus spoke on this subject were, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them,” (Mt 13:13-15) which appear to suggest that hard heartedness brings about both a blindness and a deafness to spiritual truths (and God's voice).


I would suggest that ‘hard heartedness' in this context can mean having fixed ideas, and even those of us who ‘pride' ourselves on leading evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal churches can be just as vulnerable to this, and this may be one reason why in many churches (if we are honest) we may find the same words apply as applied in the days of Eli when Samuel was small: “the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” (1 Sam 3:1) Preaching and teaching may abound, but is that always the same as God speaking directly into His people?



6. And So?


We have noted that:

•  God speaks and works in both believers and unbelievers – and He is working all the time.
•  Although we believe He does speak all the time, we have suggested that there come times in the lives of those who are later revealed to be ‘the elect' when they are ripe for the Holy Spirit to convict and bring repentance.
•  It is plain that once we become children of God we embark on a life where God speaks to us through the presence of His Holy Spirit within us, as well as through outward means such as preaching, teaching, prophecy etc.
•  However we have also noted that He also speaks and prompts and even brings about His will through unbelievers, while not violating their free will.
•  We have also considered the extent of God's speaking and questioned our ability to hear, which may be limited because we have closed minds.


The key point? God is working, speaking and moving in respect of people, all the time in His world, yet so much of the time we do not realise it. Frequently we are ‘unable to hear' because our own minds are set.


We may think this is an academic discussion and it may remain so until we start thinking about what we pray. If we exclude all this from our thinking and praying, we may find ourselves godless. Godless prayer? How terrible!