Some believe that prayer is in the final analysis, praying what God has already determined that you would pray (Calvinism). However, a simple, not a simplistic, reading of Scripture makes palpably clear that while God has predetermined many things, He sovereignly chose not to predetermine everything, but to incorporate the prayers of His people into the contingent outcome.
That is to say, God included in His plan that some events would be different if His people prayed than if they did not pray. This is ever so clear in the numerous conditional verses.
For example, John says, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:13–15).
Please do not let determinists sidetrack you by arguments about whether this is a carte blanche promise or not; I do not believe it is, and accordingly that is not my point. Additionally, the question of what is God’s will is not my emphasis either. Of course, we all agree that everything, both actualities and conditionals (if the latter exist), exist only because God so structured His plan. Rather, my point is that these statements are clear conditional statements and grammatically have quite simple sentence structure.
There are conditions introduced by “Whatever” and “If” followed by a consequence. The first two statements speak specifically of prayer. Without importation of Calvinism’s compatibilistic determinism, it is quite clear that God has structured His plan to condition some things that He will do on whether or not the disciples, and by application His people, ask.
In other words, to read it as determined or that prayer does not actually make a difference (if the disciples did not pray God would do the same or they are predetermined to pray or not pray), is to turn a simple conditional promise of God into unintelligible pap.
Verses 13 and 14 speak of different issues, but they parallel as statements.
Vs 13, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
Vs. 14, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
Vs. 14 inextricably connects a person following Christ with a prior condition of loving Him. If the condition is not met, it seems obvious that one will not follow Him. If a person can truly follow Christ without meeting the condition (same outcome even if condition is unmet), then the sentence is nonsensical and irrelevant.
In like manner, vs. 13 inextricably connects Christ doing some things with the prior condition of asking Him. If Christ will do those same things that He has in mind without a person meeting the stated condition of asking (same outcome even if condition is unmet), then the sentence is nonsensical and irrelevant.
The same balderdash seems present if everything is already determined (compatibilism and decretal theology) because there are no “if” conditions in which humans play a part of being able to act or refrain (John 14:23–26).
James says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). We see that God clearly makes granting His wisdom conditioned upon being asked. If God gives wisdom to those who do not ask (same end whether a believer asks or not), then the promise is at best twaddle, and I would say God is guilty of calling His people into futile and misleading actions.
James 4:1–3 is explicit regarding why the people to whom James writes do not have their prayers answered. First, because as verse 2 states, “You do not have because you do not ask.” That is as clear as it can be for anyone who takes the Scripture at face value. Second, those that ask do so with illegitimate motives and purposes as verse 3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Verse 1 makes it clear that their conflicts and sin emanated from following their own pleasure, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” Of course, God does not answer such carnal and hedonistic requests. But that truth does nothing to minimize the conditionality of this verse.
Once more, please do not let people sidetrack you from the point of the verses highlighted in this article, which is their unambiguous conditionality. These verses demonstrate to anyone who is interested, that God’s plan incorporates some things that will happen if a person prays, asks, and these things will not happen if he does not. With this is the clear implication that the person can choose to ask or not. This ability is of course realized because God decided such would be a part of His plan, and He would provide sufficiently so that His people could ask or not. To wit, prayer changes outcomes of at least some events.
The Scripture is replete with conditional promises in all important and not so important areas of life such as sin, salvation, service, love, obedience, and prayer. To suggest that the outcome is the same whether the condition is met or not, or that the condition is a deterministic condition (which essentially strips it of being humanly conditional as is clearly articulated in the passages), seems to posit that God is either incapable of simple communication or that He is a master deceiver.
In light of God so structuring His plan, the commands to be devoted to prayer, “pray at all times”, “without ceasing”, and not “lose heart” (Col 4:2; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17; Luke 18:1) make perfect sense; which we should gladly do. Not for mere self-pleasure but that our Father might be glorified (John 14:13) and our joy might be made full (John 14:24).