Why Should We Pray if God is Sovereign?

“Why are you yelling at the television?”
It was a good question. I suppose managing the Kansas City Royals from the comfort of my couch doesn’t actually have an impact on the game. Yet, here I am, telling the players—rather passionately—how they ought to be playing the game. So why do it? Why yell if it doesn’t actually change the game? I suppose some might ask a similar question about prayer.

Since God is in control of everything and things are already ordained, then why should we pray? Here are at least 7 reasons:

1. Because God commanded it

We pray for the same reason we do many things in the Christian life, God commanded it. In Colossians 4:2 we are told to be “devoted to prayer”. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 raises the bar even further, that we should “pray without ceasing”. In Luke 18:1 Jesus told his disciples to “always pray” and “not lose heart.”

My children may not know all the reasons why I tell them to make their bed or clean their room. To them it might feel absolutely unnecessary since they’ll have to do it again the next day. It might feel pointless, but they do it because I’ve told them to.

2. Because Jesus prayed consistently

Throughout the Gospel accounts we see Jesus consistently praying. Certainly this should tell us something about the nature of prayer. We don’t get the idea that Jesus’ prayer was merely checking a spiritual discipline off his to do list. Prayer for Jesus seems to be a passionate act of communing and relating to His Father. Prayer was a necessity for Jesus. Even as a boy he informed his family that “he must be in [his] Father’s house.”

If prayer was a necessity for the Son of God, who knows better than anyone else the sovereignty of God, then certainly it’s a necessity for us as well.

3. Because prayer isn’t only supplication

When we ask, “If God has already planned everything why bother praying?” we are exposing our unhealthy view of prayer. Prayer is not merely asking God for things. RC Sproul says it well:

The question assumes that prayer is one-dimensional and is defined simply as supplication or intercession. On the contrary, prayer is multidimensional. God’s sovereignty casts no shadow over the prayer of adoration. God’s foreknowledge or determinate counsel does not negate the prayer of praise. The only thing it should do is give us greater reason for expressing our adoration for who God is. If God knows what I’m going to say before I say it, His knowledge, rather than limiting my prayer, enhances the beauty of my praise. (Source: Ligonier Ministries)

4. Because prayer exposes our hearts

At its core, prayer is the cry of a helpless child to an all-powerful Father. It is a reflection of our complete dependence upon our Father. The Lord’s Prayer makes this obvious as we pray even for our daily bread. This means that prayer is a barometer of our heart. John Piper asks these cutting questions:

Do you seek the Lord earnestly and often in secret for deeper knowledge of Christ, for greater earnestness in prayer, for more boldness in witness, for sweeter joy in the Holy Spirit, for deeper sorrow for sin, for warmer compassion for the lost, for more divine power to love? Or is the coolness and perfunctoriness of your prayer life Exhibit A that you are spiritually self-satisfied and lukewarm?

5. Because God uses prayer

Many faithful Christians disagree about the exact ways in which God’s sovereignty and human responsibility go together. Yet, no orthodox Christian would disagree with the statement that “God saves sinners”. We know that God is sovereign in our salvation. And yet Romans 10 proclaims that not a single person will be saved apart from the proclamation of God’s Word. God has ordained the means by which people will call upon the name of the Lord. It is the same way with prayer. God has ordained that the means by which he will accomplish certain things is through prayer. As Sam Storms said, “We must never presume God will grant us apart from prayer what he has ordained to grant us only by means of prayer.”

6. Because it opens our eyes to God’s work

Maybe it’s as simple as the Blue Car Syndrome? Blue Car Syndrome is the name for the experience of buying a new product and then suddenly noticing it everywhere. The number of people buying that make and model of car may not have increased, but your awareness certainly has. I’m convinced prayer has that same effect. God has consistently been working in the world, but prayer gives us eyes to better notice his activity. By praying for things, we become more aware of God’s activity.

God does not need our prayers, but we do. Romans 8:26 tells us that, “we do not know what to pray for as we ought.” Yet the Spirit intercedes for us as we pray. Often what happens is that our eyes are opened to the ways in which God is working in the world. The Psalmists consistently pray that God would open our eyes to see things rightly.

7. Because God is sovereign

Though it seems counterintuitive, the sovereignty of God is actually the reason why we pray. Think of it this way: If God wasn’t sovereign why in the world would we pray? We pray because we know God is sovereign, and he has the power to work things according to His will and plan. Therefore, we pray with boldness, knowing that God is in control. Consider the prayer of the early disciples in Acts 4. In Acts 4:24-28 they speak of the sovereignty of God in the world, especially in the crucifixion of Jesus. Rather than discouraging their prayers, this truth actually empowered them to pray for boldness in continued witness. Rather than being a hindrance to prayer, the sovereignty of God is actually the fuel for passionate praying.

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