“Good luck! I’m praying for you!” You ever heard that one? I noticed the peculiarity of that phrase a few years ago for the first time, and the incongruity has struck me every since. To wish someone “good luck” is to invoke the notion of chance or fortune, the blind determination of fate. The view is an old one that’s been with us at least as far back as the Romans’ worship of the capricious goddess Fortuna. On luck, there is no dependable rhyme, rhythm, or order to the universe. It just works out for you, or it doesn’t. You have “good” luck or “bad” luck.
Prayer, on the other hand, presupposes the providence of God. For the Christian, to pray is to believe in a fatherly God like the one Jesus talks about, who hears and orders the world according to his own good plan, for the blessing and benefit of his children. Prayer and luck are incompatible ideas. Again, Calvin shines a light on things:
That this difference may better appear, we must know that God’s providence, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous happenings. Now it has been commonly accepted in all ages, and almost all mortals hold the same opinion today, that all things come about through chance. What we ought to believe concerning providence is by this depraved opinion most certainly not only beclouded, but almost buried. Suppose a man falls among thieves, or wild beasts; is shipwrecked at sea by a sudden gale; is killed by a falling house or tree. Suppose another man wandering through the desert finds help in his straits; having been tossed by the waves, reaches harbor; miraculously escapes death by a finger’s breadth. Carnal reason ascribes all such happenings, whether prosperous or adverse, to fortune. But anyone who has been taught by Christ’s lips that all the hairs of his head are numbered [Matthew 10:30] will look farther afield for a cause, and will consider that all events are governed by God’s secret plan. And concerning inanimate objects we ought to hold that, although each one has by nature been endowed with its own property, yet it does not exercise its own power except in so far as it is directed by God’s ever-present hand. These are, thus, nothing but instruments to which God continually imparts as much effectiveness as he wills, and according to his own purpose bends and turns them to either one action or another.
–Calvin, Institutes 1.16.2
Or, to put it another way, the practice of Christian prayer assumes with answer 27 of the Heidelberg Catechism that:
The almighty and ever present power of God by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.
The point is you have to choose: either unpredictable Fortuna or the good hand of your Heavenly Father; either “good” luck, or a prayer to the God of Jesus Christ who upholds all things.
Soli Deo Gloria