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
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.
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
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,
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.)
b) Glorification & Sanctification
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:
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!