“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)
Our text points to the question of an individual’s view of God as it concerns prayer. This may not be readily apparent to the reader. However, when we begin to understand the contents of our prayers as they reflect the condition of our hearts, we are able to know how the devices of our hearts make up a great deal of our prayers as our heart cries out to God.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit of God makes intercession for us, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” Accordingly, “he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). We don’t know what to pray for; we don’t know how to pray; because our prayers are framed by our heart’s devices; “nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” And so we recognize the Sovereignty of God in our prayer life.
What does God’s Sovereignty indicate? I believe that God is absolutely Sovereign, which means that He holds and exercises absolute control over all His works. It is utterly impossible for an all-knowing, all-powerful God to lose control. He must therefore always be in control. And His control is active; he doesn’t just sit back and watch as human beings do what we do – but He works all things after His own foreordained plan and purpose.
When we apply this Sovereign view of God to our prayers, we learn to pray: “Nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). By shaping our prayers according to the Will of God, we are given “…the confidence that… if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). We are given assurance of affirmatively answered prayers because we are asking God to have His Way in our lives.
But some people have trouble understanding the purpose of praying when confronted with such a view of God’s Sovereignty. Now, prayer is a multi-faceted, multi-dynamic subject that cannot be fully discussed in such a short work as this devotion. For our present consideration, as we examine our text verse, we are going to identify three attitudes of prayer that reflect the individual’s view of God’s absolute Sovereignty.
The first attitude we see when mentioning God’s Sovereign control is fatalism. The fatalist has a negative view of God. To him, God is a tyrant whose relentless Will must be done anyway, so why pray? There is no need to seek God’s blessing if God does what He does regardless of human intercession. In the fatalist view, the attitude in prayer is: ‘What difference does it make?’ If he prays, he is entering into his prayer life expecting defeat by the Sovereign Will of God.
The second attitude we encounter with respect to prayer in light of God’s Sovereign control is resignation. This person recognizes prayer as an act of obedience to the command of God. His heart stirs him to seek God’s favor; but his attitude in prayer is similar to the fatalist, in that he sees the Will of God as negating his prayers. There is no confidence in his prayer life because he is resigned to ‘whatever’ the Lord will do for him.
The third attitude that we will note is the attitude of contentment. This individual recognizes the Sovereign Will of God as a qualifier for his petitions. But his view of God’s Sovereignty is a source of comfort, as he knows God’s purpose is for his good. He is encouraged to cast all his care upon the Lord, knowing that the answers to his prayers – affirmative or negative – rest in the absolute Sovereignty of God; whose actions are expressions of His perfect love.
These three attitudes – fatalism, resignation, and contentment – are all natural responses to the view of God as being absolutely Sovereign in His control over all things. If one were to try to define these three attitudes, he would see a distinction in their fundamental meaning. But we have herein distinguished the three by their essential influence on the individual’s prayer life, showing that contentment should be our attitude as we make our requests known to God.
The Bible tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul expressed his own attitude in prayer after he had “learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Neither of these sentiments imply a resigned or fatalistic view. Rather, Paul could rejoice even in his infirmities, because he knew the all-sufficient grace of an absolutely Sovereign God (2 Corinthians 12:10). Neither do these verses indicate that we should be content with what we have and not worry with prayer. Such a thought runs contrary to the express teaching of our Lord “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
We’ve already noted that prayer is a multi-faceted subject, the scope of which cannot be fully expressed herein. But we can say that the attitude of prayer is very much an important aspect; and that the proper attitude of prayer is one of contentment, as “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). This is a two-prong condition which aptly expresses the proper attitude of prayer. But what is required to affect “godliness with contentment”?
We are looking at the proper attitude of prayer in regard to the absolute Sovereignty of God. Our text tells us that man’s heart – the very seat of his desire – has many devices; but the counsel of the Lord is the overriding factor in every situation. Such a view of God’s Sovereignty has the potential to cause one to despair and be frustrated in their prayer life if the wrong attitude is taken toward God. Far from being an indifferent tyrant, God’s works are expressions of His fixed love of purpose. His Will is the instrument of His Love.
So “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The answers to our prayers are included in the “all things” that “work together” for our good. The Love of God toward us mitigates (alleviates) His actions in accordance to His Divine Purpose. To put it in simpler words: God has purposed to love us. And so His Purpose – His Will and Counsel, which “shall stand” – is to express His Love. This He does in the answers to our prayers.
As we’ve identified, the proper attitude of prayer is to be one of contentment; we also noted that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” In order to understand this two-pronged condition, we must know that contentment does not necessarily imply satisfaction, as though one has no needs or that his requests are not legitimate. Rather, contentment looks to the Lord’s provision as being all-sufficient. Such an attitude in prayer says, ‘Lord, you know better than I.’
But the godliness prong of this condition goes further, to address the matter of the heart’s devices. Naturally “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). When we consider the many devices of man’s deceitful heart, we can certainly agree that our best interest is not in the free and unfettered reign of a desperately wicked heart. In order to affect godliness, then a new heart must be obtained.
As we said earlier, the heart is the seat of the desires. Man’s desperately wicked heart has desperately wicked desires. Its devices are calculated to act upon those wicked desires. Its affections are corrupt, perverted, twisted. But through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, God creates in us a new heart with new desires and affections, which we are to set on “things which are above” (Colossians 3:1). When our delight is in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalms 37:4).
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Godliness entails acting according to the Nature of God. This means we must be made partakes of His Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). Then we will desire the things of God; we will seek after His righteousness; our attitude in prayer will be one of contentment, as we trust His perfect provision for our needs. When we view with assurance the absolute Sovereignty of God; we can rejoice that, although man’s heart has many devices, the loving counsel of the Lord shall stand.