Sovereignty, simply put, is, God’s governance in and over creation.
Particular views of divine sovereignty have supposed that the “highest” or “most exulted” view of divine sovereignty is a ‘deterministic sovereignty’ also called ‘particular providence’, meaning, “God controls everything” (very different than, “God is in control”)
Within this view of sovereignty, prayer doesn’t really change anything, per se. It only serves as the ‘proximal cause’ beneath God’s already settled ‘ultimate will’ for all things that will ever be, from all eternity, or at least from since the inception of creation.
Sovereignty is better understood to be dynamic in nature (vs. particular). In this view of divine sovereignty, free agents are given a certain amount of ‘say-so’ in how things will turn out (actualize).
“We must understand that our sovereign God has for His own reasons so designed this world that much of what is truly His will, He makes contingent on the attitudes and actions of human beings. He allows humans to make decisions that can influence history.” –C. Peter Wagner
Within this view of sovereignty prayer actually influences that way that things ‘might and might’ not turn out. This is typified in the scripture with the language of “If… then…” and “perhaps” And God relating to things as if they are genuinely ‘open’ possibilities (cf. Exodus 4, Isaiah 5, II Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 18 etc.)
These ‘open’ possibilities are where the effectual working of our prayers enters in. Without a ‘might and might not’ concerning the future there is no real reason for petition or intercession.
Blueprint Worldview vs. Warfare Worldview
Blueprint Worldview (BW): The view that everything in world history follows a divine “blueprint”. This worldview produces language like, “There is a (divine) reason for everything” and “God controls everything”. Calvinism, for example, follows this line of thinking, but this worldview is not limited to Calvinism alone. Even outside of the realm of theological determinism, much of the Western Christian culture has adopted one form of this blueprint worldview or another. In this view, if God did not ordain/decree all things that ever will occur, He, at least, specifically allowed it.
BW supposes more than just God has plans, purposes and a general framework for redemptive history. The BW supposes that everything that happens is ultimately caused by and somehow connected to God’s “higher purposes” or else He would have never ordained/caused it to be or never specifically allowed it to occur.
Warfare Worldview (WW): the view that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of free agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan.
“While Scripture emphasizes God’s ultimate authority over the world, it also emphasizes that agents, whom God has created, can and do resist his will. Humans and fallen angels are able to grieve his Spirit and to some extent frustrate his purposes (e.g. Gen. 6:6; Isa. 63:10; Luke 7:30; Acts 7:51; Eph. 4:30; Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7). Scripture refers to this myriad of other angels and humans who refuse to submit to God’s rule as a rebel kingdom (Matt. 12:26; Col. 1:13; Rev. 11:15), and identifies the head of this rebellion as a powerful fallen angel named Satan. It is clear that God shall someday vanquish this rebel kingdom, but it is equally clear that in the meantime, He genuinely wars against it.”
WW supposes that not everything that happens is somehow connected to God’s purposes, but some things are contrary to them, and orchestrated, not by divine providence, but by diabolical forces. History does not follow a divine blueprint, whereby every event is settled by the will of God, but it is engulfed in real conflict of wills.
There is no question who wins the war, but many battles along the way, hang in the balance, for which the people of God are called to play an instrumental role in the plans and purposes of God.
That is not to say, however, that the general flow of history and ultimate purposes of God are not known and settled, but that, there are many of the details (even human lives) “up for grabs” by two diametrically apposed kingdoms.
“The war of the ages is over the affections of the human heart” –Mike Bickle
Love, Freedom and Risk
Love requires freedom, and freedom entails risk. In order for love to be genuine, agents must be able to freely choose for virtue or vice (to love or not to love). This kind of freedom is called ‘libertarian’ freedom (vs. ‘compatibalistic’ freedom) meaning, that the freewill agent is free to self-determine. This kind of freedom entails a risk on God’s part, because allowing freedom to exist means that things won’t always turn out as desired (ie. evil, wickedness and especially, people going to hell)
Therefore, our prayers enter in on the level of exercising that God-given freedom out of love for God and His purposes for creation (love).
“Prayer is essentially a partnership of the redeemed child of God working hand in hand with God toward the realization of His redemptive purposes on earth.” –Jack Hayford
“Prayer is simply that personal, interdependent, mutually influential communication necessary to the establishing and flourishing of loving relationships between God and man.” –Tom Belt
9 variables related to prayer (taken from “Is God to blame?” by Greg Boyd)
1. God’s will (cf. I John 5:14, James 4:3, Matthew 26:39, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
2. Faith of the person being prayed for (cf. Mark 6:5-6, Matthew 9:22, Luke 7:50; 17:19)
3. Faith of people praying for others (cf. Luke 5:20, Matthew 8:13, Mark 9:14-19, James 1:6-7)
4. Persistence of prayer (cf. Luke 11:5-9, Luke 18:1-8, I Thessalonians 5:17)
5. The number of people praying (cf. Nehemiah 9:1, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Matthew 18:19-20, 26:36,41 Acts 1:13-14, 4:24-30, Ephesians 6:19-20, Colossians 4:3-4, I Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Hebrews 13:18, James 5:13-16)
6. Human free will (I Timothy 2:4-6, 4:10, 2 Peter 3:9, Deuteronomy 30:19)
7. Angelic free will (Daniel 10:12-13, I Thessalonians 2:17-18)
8. Number and strength of spirit agents (cf. Daniel 10:13, 2 King 6:17-18, 2 Samuel 5:24, Mark 5:1-4, Mark 5:7-13, Matthew 9:17-18,22, Luke 11:14-23)
9. The presence of sin (cf. Joshua 7:10-11, Mark 11:25, James 5:16, I Peter 3:7, Psalm 66:18, Proverbs 28:19)
…and there are probably more…
Creation is incredibly complex– a massive ‘web’ of determined things, undetermined things, cause and effect, accidents, sin, rebellion, a myriad of wills and influences (both positive and negative). In the midst of all of this, God is working redemptive history to a point- to sum up everything in Christ, bringing about the maximum amount of life, love and goodness to His creation.
Prayer and Divine Foreknowledge
Divine omniscience, simply put, is, God knows all things.
Particular views of divine foreknowledge (knowledge of the future), have supposed that the best understanding of foreknowledge is as, “exhaustively definite”, meaning all of the future will only turn out (actualize) in one (definite) way -the God way that God knows that it will. In this view, the future is described only in terms of what ‘will and will not’ occur. The future is ‘epistemically closed’. This view of foreknowledge, we’ll call “exhaustive definite foreknowledge” (EDF).
“If God foreknows things, THAT thing necessarily happens. That is to say, there is no such things as free choice” –Martin Luther
Theological determinists naturally hold this view (EDF), because foreknowledge of future events naturally flows from predetermining them.
Other views along these lines are ‘middle-knowledge’ and ‘simple-foreknowledge’ views. In these views, prayers don’t effect how God knows things will turn out. God doesn’t necessarily settle all of the future via divine decree, but He does view the future as ‘a book of settled facts’. (There are many ways to come to this view, but divine timelessness is one of the most common).
“God foreknows how everything will turn out, but that doesn’t change our free will”
God’s foreknowledge must be ‘grounded’ in the way that the world is. Divine omniscience is coterminous or coextensive with reality. So, if God’s foreknowledge is exhaustively definite, then the way that world is, determines the future must be definite as well, leaving no ‘space’ for it to turn out otherwise. Indeterminacy within creation gives ‘space’ for the future to be defined not only as what ‘will and will not’ occur but also as what ‘might and might not’ occur.
Prayer enters in, at the ‘might and might not’ of the future.
An ‘open view’, of foreknowledge, characterizes God’s foreknowledge, not as exhaustively definite, but as an exhaustive foreknowledge, whereby some of the future is definite and some of the future is possibilities and all of the future is known by God as such. Same definition of omniscience, but a different idea about what the content of the future is. I believe this takes into account the full witness of scripture, and gives special weight to the prayers of the saints concerning future events. God describes future things as what ‘might and might not occur’ (Exodus 4, Jeremiah 18) and God reflects on the past, as if it was not always a foregone conclusion what would definitely occur, (Genesis 6, Isaiah 5) just to name a couple of ways that this view relates.
So again, God’s foreknowledge must be ‘grounded’ in the way that the world is. Prayer actually changes the way that the God-world relationship is and therefore, changes the how the future will actualize -the future that God knows as partly a realm of certitudes and partly a realm of possibilities.
We pray into those possibilities and shape history with the God who redeeming His creation.