If you would like to read my views on religion and how we got started with the ministry, you can read this.
How the Devil Derailed Prayer
For many Christians, prayer is not as important as it should be. Many Christians only pray before meals, before bed (when they are children), or in emergency situations. The concept of “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17 – ESV)  is not a part of the lives of most Christians. How did the average Christian lifestyle drift so far from what the Bible says to do? The short answer is that most Christians are taught that everything that happens is God’s will, or “God is in control,” and that even Satan (if the Christian believes in Satan), has to ask God’s permission before he can act.
We all hate meaningless work, and that includes meaningless prayer. Good, solid, powerful, focused prayer takes a lot of work, a lot of time and mental energy. No one wants to make that effort if his or her prayer does not really make a difference. Unfortunately, that is what the teaching that “God is in control” does; it teaches that our prayers really do not make much, if any difference.
If everything that happens is God’s will, then God’s will gets done whether or not anyone prays. If prayer does not change anything, then what purpose does it serve? We have been told it demonstrates a person’s humility and obedience to God’s command to pray. Also, it has been used as a punishment for sinning (such as in the Roman Catholic Church when prayers are assigned as a penance for sin). Also, it has been said to be therapeutic because confession and prayer are “good for the soul.” It has also been taught that we pray to help align our own thinking with what God is doing, and to humbly accept the will of God.
It was Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 A.D.) who discussed and defended the doctrine of “predestination” with such vigor it became an intrinsic part of Church doctrine. The doctrine of predestination played a large part in devaluing the importance of prayer in the everyday life of Christians. It has even been considered heresy that prayer could be effective for salvation. This is why even today there are no “altar calls” for salvation in the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, or other denominations that believe a person cannot choose to be saved because God made that choice for him ages ago. 
Augustine did teach that prayer was valuable and acknowledged that it was a person asking God for His favor. However, his words do not create much motivation to pray. To Augustine, and to the millions of people who follow his teachings, prayer was just asking for things that God already knew He was going to do. According to that theology, prayer does not change anything in heaven or on earth.
The doctrine that “everything that happens is God’s will” is held by many thousands of sincere, God-loving Christians. It has been around for more than 1500 years as a foundational doctrine of many Christian denominations, but it produces bad fruit. For example, the exemplary Christian, Watchman Nee, writes: “Prayer does not alter that which God has determined. It never changes anything; it merely achieves what He has already foreordained.”  Not surprisingly, Nee, who acknowledges that prayer does seem to change things, in timing if not in essence, also wrote: “God’s people must pray before God Himself will rise up and work.” 
Nee’s two statements are contradictory. If people must pray to get God to work, then prayer does change things. On the other hand, if prayer changes nothing, then God’s going to work when His people pray is just coincidence. Watchman Nee is a wonderful and influential Christian. Imagine how much more helpful his teaching about prayer could be, if instead of being forced by his theology to say that prayer never changes anything, he could aggressively proclaim that prayer changes things dramatically, because it does!
The Bible says that prayer makes a difference; it changes things. Scripture never teaches that prayer is just a ritual, or just affects the one who does the praying. It is true that there is no verse that says, “Prayer changes things.” Nevertheless, this is the clear teaching of Scripture. We are supposed to learn from the examples in the Bible as well as its statements of fact. The many examples of people who prayed and received answers clearly teaches us that prayer makes a huge difference in what happens on earth. Furthermore, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matt. 7:7a), and “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22). If we have to ask for something before it can be done, then we play a significant role in getting God’s work done on earth.
God is not in control of what happens on Earth
We assert that God is not “in control” of what happens on planet Earth. Many things that occur are not His will. He wants all people to be saved, but most will not. He wants people to live godly lives, but most will not. God does not want the crime, corruption, and disasters that occur around us to happen, yet they do. Why? Because God is not “in control.” Jesus knew that God’s will often did not happen here on earth, so in “The Lord’s Prayer,” he prayed to his Father and said, “…your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10b). That would be an absurd request if Jesus knew God’s will was in fact always being done on earth.
God is not “in control” of everything that happens on earth now, but that does not mean that He is not involved, or will not take control in the future. Jesus Christ will come down from heaven with the armies of heaven, fight the Battle of Armageddon, and conquer the earth (Rev. 19:11-21). When Jesus Christ rules the earth in the future, the will of God will be done on earth, and the things that make life so difficult now will not occur. If God was in control of things on earth both now and in the future, then why would we expect our next life would be any better than this one?
Understanding the spiritual situation that exists today helps us to understand the value of prayer and why God says over and over again that we should pray. There is a state of war that exists in the universe today, with God, Jesus Christ, good angels, and Christians on one side, and the Devil, demons, and evil people on the other.  The evil that occurs on the face of the earth today is not just “good” that somehow looks like evil. Some theologians try to convince us that when someone is murdered, raped, or killed, it is the will of God and therefore, somehow ultimately good, no matter how “evil” it seems to us. Yet, Jesus taught us that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:24). If God is the cause of sickness and death, then when Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead, he was undoing God’s work, and God’s kingdom would fall apart.
A World at War
God originally created the world under His control. Then, in an act of amazing love and trust, God gave the rulership of the earth to mankind (Gen. 1:28). For a short time Adam and Eve ruled the earth according to God’s will, and it was a blessed place. When the Devil deceived Eve (1 Tim. 2:14), and Adam and Eve sinned, somehow (the Bible does not make clear exactly how) the rulership of the world was transferred to the Devil. That is why the Devil is called, “…the god of this world…” (2 Cor. 4:4 – KJV), “…the prince [archon = ruler] of this world…” (John 12:31), and “…the ruler of the kingdom of the air…” (Eph. 2:2). The Devil rules the world, so he was able to offer it to Jesus (Luke 4:5-7). It is also why 1 John 5:19 says the Devil controls the world: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”  The world has taken on the characteristics of the Devil, becoming a very dark and difficult place to live.
The earth is now a war zone between the forces of good and evil, and each side wins some battles. Every time a person gets healed or saved, it is a victory for God. Every time a person gets harmed or killed, or what is worse, dies unsaved, it is a victory for the Devil. God is trying to help and bless people who live on the earth. However, He is righteous and just, and will not simply step in and take control of what He had entrusted to others. Our prayers open a door for God to work in our lives.
The Bible is full of the imagery of war. God Himself is called “the Lord of hosts” many times, and the word “hosts” means “armies.”  But if everything that happens is God’s will, why does God need an army? Who is He fighting? The simple truth is that God needs an army because the world is at war. Theologically, the book of Job has been used to trump the huge number of verses that show God fighting the Devil. Theologians use the first two chapters of Job to teach that, although the Devil is the agent doing the evil, he must have God’s permission to act. However, if that is correct, then all God would have to do to stop evil would be to say, “No!” to the Devil. Furthermore, the “God controls the Devil” theology does not answer all the clear verses about God at war.  For example, Acts 10:38 (ESV) says Jesus healed those who were “oppressed by the devil.” But if God had to give permission for people to be oppressed, it would have been easier for God to stop granting permission to the Devil, than for Jesus and his disciples to expend so much effort to get people healed.
Scripture says, “The Lord is a man of war…” (Exod. 15:3 – ESV) because there is a war, a real, genuine, “win some and lose some” war, going on between God and the Devil. God does not win every battle.  Many verses depict God at war for His people. Psalm 18 is a Psalm that has comforted many people through the years. It tells of a person who was in distress and called out to God for help. God “heard my voice” (v. 6) and responded. First, He got angry (v. 7); so very angry that “Smoke rose from his nostrils…” (v. 8). Then God “…parted the heavens and came down…” (v. 9), and “…shot his arrows and scattered the enemies…” (v. 14) and “…rescued me from my powerful enemy…” (v. 17).
Praise God that we have a God who will fight for us, but if what is happening on earth is God’s will, Psalm 18, and many others like it, make no sense. If everything on earth was God’s will, the poor man in Psalm 18 would cry out to God about his suffering, and we can imagine God calling back and saying, “I know what is going on. Quit complaining. What you are going through is my will and for your own good.” Psalm 18 only makes sense if what was happening on earth was not God’s will, if the “enemies” were real, and if God was able to intervene when the person prayed to Him for help.
Psalm 18 gives us a glimpse of the importance of prayer. The world is controlled by the Devil, but God is able to act when we ask Him. The whole process of deliverance in Psalm 18 started when the person called out to God for help. The word “pray” means, “ask,” and if we want God’s consistent help in our lives we have to ask Him for it. We ask (pray), for His help.
The well-known Christian, Brother Andrew, author of the best-selling book, God’s Smuggler, saw prayer change things so dramatically that he wrote the book, And God Changed His Mind.  Brother Andrew’s book is a step forward from the idea that God’s will is eternally fixed and always done and that, therefore prayer does not really change anything. He asserts that, in the end, God’s will is always done, but he teaches that our prayers can get God to change His mind:
“…God’s plans for us are not chiseled in concrete. Only His character and nature are unchanging; His decisions are not!…when we see things happening in the world that appear to be ‘acts of God,’ and we disagree with what God seems to be doing (or allowing), we can ask Him to change His mind.”
Thank God for Brother Andrew’s book, but it leaves us with some very important questions: “Why should we have to ask God to change His mind? Why would He do harm in the first place?” If someone has cancer, and we pray for the person’s healing and God “changes His mind,” and heals the person, we are left wondering why a good and righteous God would give the person cancer in the first place.
The only satisfying and Scriptural answer to why there is evil, and why prayer actually works and is vital to Christian life, is that the world is at war. Our prayers give God permission to work in a world that is now controlled by the Devil. How can we give God permission to act on earth? When we become saved, we legally become God’s property, paid for by the death of Christ (1 Cor. 6:19 and 20, 7:23). God can act on behalf of His property, and when we pray, we sanction His intervention. 
We may never understand why some prayers seem to work and others do not. However, the answer is not that God does not care about us, or that somehow He is doing what seems evil to us but is actually good. God only gives us a tiny glimpse of the spiritual realm and the spiritual battle, but if we take what we see at face value, we see that often prayer is speaking into existence the legal permission for God to act in our lives.
Thanks for reading.
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