If God Is Sovereign, Why Should I Pray?
When it comes to prayer, there are two things that come to mind for most Christians: 1) prayer is a critical and central part of the Christian life, and 2) prayer is the most neglected part of the Christian life. Ironic, isn’t it? We know that it is important, yet we forget about it the most. It’s just like gravity: we never think about it, yet if the gravitational pull on our planet were any different, life here would cease to exist.
So why is prayer such an abandoned practice for the believer? There will be seasons where we “rededicate” ourselves to spending more time in prayer, but then it is quickly replaced by work, family, and the constant progression of busyness. And then we start over by asking ourselves the above question, and again, “rededicating” ourselves to prayer. Not exactly the prayer life we want (or should) have.
A good portion of this can be a misunderstanding of prayer. Some time ago, I received an email asking about prayer, specifically, “why is prayer necessary?” While that may seem like an outrageous question, I was glad to address it. As someone who firmly believes in the sovereignty of God (and the church said, “amen”), this can be a difficult concept to grasp; if God is sovereign over all things, and since He knows the past, present, and future, why is prayer important? So to that question (and that email) I offer three principles to prayer that I hope will provide some clarity.
First, the ultimate and primary focus of prayer is worship. This is to say, when we pray, we are mainly worshiping. When we come before God in prayer, we are essentially demonstrating that God is the one we turn to in times of need, and He is the one we thank in times of joy. I love the hymn lyric that says, “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.” David, in Psalm 86, declares this same idea; “For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good…and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.” By understanding our complete dependence on God, and recognizing that He is over all things, we become worshipers of God. Prayer is simply one expression of that worship.
Second, prayer is communion with God. “Communion” in this sense does not mean the elements of bread and juice as we typically understanding it. Instead, it is the idea of a close relationship with God. When we pray, it is as if we are speaking with God on the level that a child would speak to their father. Paul explains this clearly in Romans 8:15: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our relationship with God is one of closeness, and as such, God is not aloof from us. That is why Jesus starts the Lord’s prayer with the words “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). He is not a distant being who rules in obscurity. God is our Father, and thus we have close communion with Him. As believers, we have been justified by the blood of Christ, and so we can approach God with confidence (Hebrews 4:14–16), knowing that we have been adopted as sons and daughters into His family (Galatians 4:6).
The final principle of prayer is that it aligns our will with God’s will. When we pray, we are seeking God’s will in whatever the circumstance may be, understanding that God’s will is much better and higher than ours. The result is that when God answers prayer (possibly in a different way than we were hoping), we learn that He knows best, and thus we are aligning our will with His. Again, in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus states, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10). In Isaiah 55, God says that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
This can be the toughest pill to swallow. Sometimes (dare I say oftentimes), God answers prayer in a way we did not expect, which can be hard. Maybe He is saying “No” to your desire for a different job. Or maybe God has closed multiple doors on relationships that you would have enjoyed. It is not that those are necessarily bad things. Rather, they may not be God’s will. When we pray for these things and God answers in a different way, we must learn that God has a plan for us that is better than our own plan, and so we submit to His leading. Through prayer, we grow to recognize God’s desire for us, and thus we align our will with His.
This sparks an additional question. Does God change His mind through prayer? There are times when it seems God is saying no, but then later He opens the door for that prayer to come to fruition. So did He change His mind? No, but He changes us.
Here is one way to illustrate that. A father determines that he will buy his daughter a car when she is 16 years old. When she turns 11 years old, she starts asking about it. “Dad, can I please have a car? They are so shiny and cool!” At that time, the father graciously (yet firmly) says “no.” He knows that she cannot even reach the pedals yet! Then, when she turns 14, she asks again, only this time she really, really wants it; “Dad, please, please, please can I have a car? All my friends are getting one!” Again, the father says no. She may be taller, but she hasn’t matured enough to handle it. After a couple of years when the daughter turns 16, she asks again for a car, but her perspective has changed. She realizes the responsibly that comes with driving, and that having a car is a privilege. Amazingly, the father says yes! Did he change his mind? No, but he knew that she needed to grow before she could have a car. God’s will could be understood in a similar way. It is not that God changes, but rather, it is that we grow to understand His will better.
So, what is the purpose of prayer? It is worship to God, communion with God, and it aligns our will with God’s will. As we pray, we are being sanctified in our understanding and love of God, recognizing God’s sovereignty, His compassion, and His will for us. It is not just a few minutes with your eyes closed and your head bowed; it is a glorious act of God to bring us closer to Himself.