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Article 89 - Prayer #5

Seven Lessons on Prayer

Jon Gary Williams

Lesson 5 - Prayer and Divine Providence

First, let's look at the word "providence." This English word is from the Middle English term,
providere - (pro - - before) and videre (to see). In this word we see our modern term "provide" - that is, to see ahead. However, in the New Testament the Greek word is different, yet it conveys the same idea. It is pronoia - pro (before) and noea (to think). So the underlying idea behind the word providence is "to think ahead."

This word is found only one time in the King James New Testament - Acts 24:2 (in the NKJV, "foresight"). However, in this instance it is not speaking of God's providence, rather, it refers to the help that Felix provided to the Jews.

Though the word "providence" is never used to refer to God's providence, the idea of His providential working is clearly set forth in scriptures. We'll see this later. The essence of divine providence is that God knows ahead. He thinks ahead, He plans ahead. It is God knowing things ahead, before they happen.

God's providence is something that always relates to man, specifically to the future of man. God's divine providence means that He sees ahead and creates circumstances beneficial to His people, and, more important, to His own purpose.

Before going further it is necessary to point out the difference between foreknowledge and foreordination. Some have asked, "If God knows things before they happen, does this mean He is causing them?" The obvious answer is no. Just because He knows things ahead does not mean He has foreordained those things. There is a difference between foreknowledge and foreordination.

For an illustration, suppose a man is standing on the edge of a high rounded bluff. Below, he sees a railroad track that circles the bluff. On one side he sees a train about to come around the bluff. On the other side he sees an injured man who cannot move, lying on the track. From his vantage point above he can see that the man below is going to be run over. Question: If the man is run over, is the man above causing him to be run over? The answer, of course, is no. Similarly, from God's superior vantage point he knows ahead things that will occur, but this does not mean He causes them to happen.

Let's look now at God's divine providence? To show more clearly the place and purpose of divine providence, it is important to compare it with how God works in other ways. There are three realms through which God works.

First, God works through the natural realm. That is, He works through the laws of nature. He accomplishes things thru the physical laws which He himself set in force. Classic examples of this are: the healing of wounds through blood coagulation, or the mending of bones through fibrous tissue and cartilage.

Second, God works through the supernatural realm. This is the realm of the miraculous, or the direct intervention of God, wherein He overrules the realm of nature. Biblical examples of this are, water turned to blood, the parting of the Red Sea, the restoring of sight to the blind, the healing of the lame, and even the raising of the dead.

There have been times when natural laws alone would not accomplish God's purposes. So, God overruled his natural laws to supernaturally (miraculously) change things.

But, between these two realms is another realm - the realm of the providential. This is not God working through the natural realm, or through the supernatural. In this realm, to accomplish His purposes, God channels the course of natural events. He looks into the future and manipulates paths by which his purposes are fulfilled.

With the supernatural God directly alters (overrides) the natural realm. And this is most often accomplished immediately. However, with the providential He simply channels the course of things and works slowly in His own time frame. A classic Old Testament example of this is, Joseph being made a salve in Egypt and then becoming an avenue of God's purpose.

The scriptures explicitly teach God's divine providence. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28)

Things that do not seem to fit together, God can work them together. Even seemingly hopeless conditions, things which seem to be out of control, God can work them together for good.

Some have asked: "Does God's divine providence have anything to do with prayer?" So, here is where prayer enters the picture.

Look closely at Romans chapter eight again. Note that Paul clearly speaks of God's foreknowledge. "All things work together for good..." However, notice that just prior to this, he spoke of prayer.

"Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God." (Rom. 8:26,27)

This shows the connection between prayer and God's providence. Here, Paul links prayer and divine providence together; they are inseparable.

Look for Paul's example of this in Romans 15:30-32. Here, Paul asked the brethren to pray for him, that he might come to Rome to be with them. He did not know how this would be done, but he trusted God's providential care. Look now at Acts 21:12-17. When at Caesarea Paul was warned not to go to Jerusalem, but God's providence was already at work. One week later, he was arrested (21:27-33). He was then put on trial and asked that he appear before Caesar himself (25:11,12). Later, he was taken to Rome - in God's providential working their prayers were answered.

In response to prayers, God can reach down through the corridors of time and bring things together for good. We need not to be anxious. This may help us in comprehending why we do not see our prayers being answered in the time frame we might desire.

Click here for Lesson 6: What Prayer Can Do For Us