God is in Control
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God concerns God’s rule over his creation. Nothing is more powerful than God, and nothing is above God’s rule. Scripture is clear that God is in complete control, and his reign is supreme. There are no other gods beside him (Isa 42:8-9; 44:6-8). Furthermore, Jesus’ work on earth shows God’s clear supremacy over the demonic world (Mark 1:27).
Since God is in complete control of all things, he is in complete control regarding prayer. Humans cannot manipulate God in order to bring about their own desires. God cannot be made to do anything. Unanswered prayer is one evidence of God’s control. It is clear from Scripture that God chooses to answer prayer on his own terms, and sometimes a prayer is answered in a different way than requested. An example is Paul’s prayer to be released from his “thorn in the flesh.” Instead of taking away the thorn, God provided Paul the grace needed to deal with the difficulty. Sometimes God simply refuses to grant the request made in a prayer. James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (Jas 4:2-3).
The idea James presents of not receiving because of asking with wrong motives is similar to Jesus’ teaching about prayer. Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive anything they ask for if they pray in his name. The prayer “in Jesus’ name” is not a prayer in which one adds the phrase “in Jesus’ name” to the end of the prayer, thus making it valid. Rather, praying in Jesus’ name means seeking his glory and speaking accurately about him. It is praying in line with his will. Also, praying in Jesus’ name refers to praying with the authority given by Jesus. God gives authority to his people in prayer. Jesus tells his disciples, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18).
Jesus’ words to Peter on the same subject underscore the idea of authority. Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . .” (Matt 16:19). The authority comes from Christ.
The authority of the believer in prayer is an authority derived from the authority of God. God grants the believer authority as his representative on earth. As long as the believer is praying in accordance with God’s will, he can affect the world around him by his prayers. In effect, the believer is acting on behalf of God, because God has commissioned the believer to do so. This is the understanding of Jesus’ words about binding and loosing. It is “an authority derived from a ‘delegation’ of God’s sovereignty.”
The idea of derived authority is also seen in creation. God created the entire world with everything in it. He retains sovereign authority over his creation and may do whatever he wishes (Ps 24:1-2). At the same time, God has given humanity authority over his creation. He tells Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28). God gives humanity the authority to govern creation.
Paul speaks of being an ambassador of Christ (Eph 6:20) and refers to believers as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). The concept of apostle carries the same understanding. Apostle can mean “delegate, envoy, [or] messenger.” Christians are representing Christ, the one who has all authority (Matt 28:18). This authority of Christ is given (at least in part) to his followers who represent him on earth. Part of this representational authority is the power given by God in prayer. The prayer of the Christian, when rightly representing God, has the power of God behind it. Truly, “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas 5:16).
Furthermore, in addition to the authority of God’s people to represent him, Scripture suggests that God chooses to work in cooperation with humanity to bring about his will. Rarely does God work directly; instead, he works through people. God delivers his people from Egypt through Moses. God brings judgment on evil nations through other nations (Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Persia). God speaks through his prophets. God spreads the Gospel through the work of the Apostles. Truly God’s people are “fellow workers” with him (2 Cor 6:1).