Christian theology teaches that there is a separation between the work of God and work performed by things, people, and events. God’s work is called the Primary Cause – He made all things, seen and unseen, and maintains all things (Colossians 1:16-18).
The actions of things, people, and events are called the Secondary Cause – these activities can only occur within the provisions and constraints of God’s Primary Cause. My definition is limited to addressing a concern I have. I am not attempting to redefine any established Christian catechism (e.g, Westminster Confession of Faith).
An easily understood example of a Secondary Cause is prayer. God, as all-knowing, all-powerful, in all places, and all-sufficient, could easily anticipate and provide all things without a person’s prayers. God does directly intervene more times than we know. His action is a Primary Cause. (Shush, you lovers of Causation. I’m trying to make a point. 😉)
Here’s my concern: Jesus told us to ask, to seek, and to knock (Matthew 7:7–8). Jesus taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). He taught us to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). He taught us to pray with faith (John 15:7). Therefore, God’s will is for us to pray and for Him to answer prayers. Why? Within God’s sovereign will, there are actions that He will only do if a person or a people asks it of Him. Really?
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14
Notice the “If my people.” The worldly religion of “fatalism” – the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable – has crept into the Body of Christ. If everything is inevitable, why would Jesus teach us how to pray the way He did?
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Why would Jesus tell us to ask for our material needs, and forgiveness, and protection from evil, if all of these things were going to happen even if we didn’t pray? Of course, we can go back to Daniel’s prayer and God’s answer (Daniel 9:1-19) as well as many other examples. Please know that I am not addressing the theology of election or the truth that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) Nevertheless, it is imperative that the children of God pray. Prayer is within God’s will. So, we are to ask, believing that prayer matters and that God changes times and circumstances.