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Do Prayers Give God Permission to Act?

There is a popular and perilous rumour around, inspired by the late Myles Munroe and Benny Hinn. It suggests that the sovereign God requires man’s permission to do anything on earth. Munroe claimed that the only creature with authority on earth is mankind, ‘a spirit in a dirt body.’ Once, when hosted by Benny Hinn, Munroe insisted that because God is a spirit without a body, he cannot operate on earth without permission from humanity. ‘Any spirit without a body is illegal on planet earth’ he says, ‘even God Himself is illegal on earth.’ How then does God get the license to operate on earth? Munroe’s reply: ‘Through prayers’.

For Munroe, prayer is ‘man giving God permission or license to interfere in earth’s affairs.’ Indeed, he belives ‘God could do nothing on earth without a human giving Him access.’

Munroe’s Misconception of God

John Calvin, that great French Reformer, remarked in the first chapter of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that, ‘Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and ourselves.’ Thus, a distorted view of humanity inevitably distorts our understanding of God and vice versa.

Therefore, considering the biblical teaching on the nature and attributes of God can be a corrective to such human-centred and poisonous doctrines. For example, Genesis introduces to us an unbound God. From nothing, merely by his word, God made all things. According to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The clear implication is that God is not bound or contained by his creation. That God is everywhere, at every time, is a cardinal Christian doctrine. For instance, in his dispute against false prophets and teachers, the Lord God inquires: “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

Munroe’s claim that God is ‘illegal on earth’ runs counter to the whole biblical narrative. The Maker of the universe is always at home within his creation

Other texts make a similar point (Proverbs 15:3, 1 Kings 8:27, Psalm 139:7-12). That is, God is infinite regarding space, and thus omnipresent and immense, filling all space as one who transcends all spatial limitations. As spirit, he is not circumscribed. Yet he fills all space in the totality of His being at each point or place. As its source, God certainly exists in, but beyond, space.

Illegal on Earth?

Thus, Munroe’s claim that God is ‘illegal on earth’ runs counter to the whole biblical narrative. The Maker of the universe is always at home within his creation. He alone has the key that opens wide the world. “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). There is no single point in the entire world where God does not dwell, not even in Sheol (Psalm 139:8). Thus, God, by definition of his nature, cannot be ‘illegal’ anywhere. Jonah’s narrative also reminds us of this truth.

God’s Sovereign Providence

But not only is God ‘legally present’ everywhere, he freely and fully governs all things. He is not a god who designed all things and resigned, leaving creation to unwind. God is always actively involved in the affairs of the universe, providentially sustaining and guiding it to his desired ends. Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

Even this morning, the Maker of the universe consulted no one before he freely gave us breath

Rehearsing Genesis 1-2, Psalm 104 praises God’s providential provision on earth. The Lord rules over the earth and its waters, the beasts and birds (Psalm 104:5, 9-12). Indeed, ‘the earth is satisfied with the fruit’ of his work (Psalm 104:13). God does all these things without permission from anyone. Even this morning, the Maker of the universe consulted no one before he freely gave us breath. Somewhere in a Ugandan forest, a bird sings and a seed buds, owing to the breath of a God who sovereignly and uninvitedly offers life to all his creatures. A flower fades, and the wind wanes because God reigns in the affairs of men. What we must do is to sing praises to God before whom the earth trembles and the mountains emit smoke at God’s sight and touch (Psalm 104:32-33).

Humanity in Control?

And yet, Munroe claims that ‘even though God can do anything, he can only do what you permit him to do.’ The Bible screams in objection to such an idolatrous stance. “Who is this,” God demands, “that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!’ (Psalm 99:1).

Prayer does not permit God to do anything ‘he could not do.’ Let us put such pompous misperceptions to death. Prayer does not make man sovereign or God subservient

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a distorted view of God’s power on earth not dissimilar from Munroe’s. He essentially declared himself a god (Daniel 3). But seven years under the sovereign and humbling hand of God brought him to his knees. Then he proclaimed: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35).

Prayer in Light of God’s Providence

Contrary to Munroe, prayer does not permit God to do anything ‘he could not do.’ Let us put such pompous misperceptions to death. Prayer does not make man sovereign or God subservient. Prayer is a remarkably underserved audience with the omnipresent and sovereign King. That God answers prayer testifies of his humility rather than our exaltation. Prayer does not change God. It changes us.

That God answers prayer testifies of his humility rather than our exaltation. Prayer does not change God. It changes us

Through prayer, the omnipresent God removes the veil from our eyes to behold His all-pervasive presence that both sustains us and shatters our sinful self-centeredness. As we commune with God, we understand, with Jacob, that God has always been actively present everywhere, and we were unaware (Gen. 28:16). Prayer prevents us from darkening God’s counsel by words without knowledge (Job 38:2). Through it, we join the mission of God, who has always been working (John 5:17).

The Purpose of Prayers

We pray because God is sovereign. It is no use praying to a god who is not already in charge. We pray because we are not in control. If we were, there would be no need to ask. We pray because it is God who works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Neither do we know “what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). We could not pray unless God worked in us.

Through prayer, God’s all-pervasive presence both sustains us and shatters our sinful self-centeredness

But if prayer itself is a product of God’s working in us, how then is it any license to him? We are incapable of praying without him. How then can we permit him to do the work necessary before we allow him? To the contrary, as we saw, God is at home everywhere and always. It is him, already inside his house, who must open the door for us to come in. We need the key, which he already holds.

The very logic of prayer as ‘permission’ breaks down when placed alongside the Bible. Prayer is a product of God’s grand work, not the cause of it. Viewed in light of God’s providence, prayer humbles and reminds us that he is the potter, and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). He is the landlord; we are the tenants who owe him wages. There, on our knees, our pride must perish as his glory glows and grows in our lives, overflowing into our obedience. In prayer, we meet the master of the house who does as he pleases without the need of anyone’s approval. He is God! That’s enough.

We pray because we are not in control

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