If God is Sovereign, Why Do We Pray?

          If God, who is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time), and omniscient (all knowing), why then do we need to pray? What could we possibly tell God, or ask from Him, that He does not already know? In Isaiah 65:24 God says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (NIV).

          Remember the story about how Abraham sent a servant to look for a wife for his son, Isaac? In Genesis 24, it records for us that Abraham sent his servant to look for a wife from his home country, from among his relatives. The servant had to bear a very heavy responsibility. How was he to know who was the right one for Isaac? So he prayed. He prayed specifically for a woman to come to the well where he and his entourage were waiting and that if he asked her for a drink of water, she would not only agree, but also offer to draw water for his camels. These actions would be God’s confirmation to him that that woman would be the right one. Verse 15 tells us that before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with a jar on her shoulder and made her way to the well, and as the account goes, everything was fulfilled according to the servant’s prayer. It is quite clear that God had already started answering the prayer even before the servant had completed his request!

          So if God already knows and acts according to His will, why then does He still want us to pray?

          Going back to basics as good Reformed Presbyterians, we do hold strongly to the fact that God is always sovereign. His knowledge is perfect, and He is immutable. But some may point out that there are many places in the Bible that recorded that God repented, relented, or changed His mind (for example Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; 1 Samuel 15:35). These are what some scholars term as anthropomorphism, that is, God relating to us in human terms. Indeed God is not like us and He never makes a mistake such that He should repent. His will is always perfect and He has no Plan B, no contingency plans – He knows nothing contingently. So does prayer change God’s mind? The answer has to be “No”! What would God be if He could be influenced by our prayers as though we could come up with a more excellent way than He could and to tell Him what to do?

          In his article titled, “Our Father…”, R.C. Sproul[1] suggests that we should ask the question of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our prayers in a slightly different way: “Does prayer change things?” To this question, the answer has to be a “Yes”! James 5:16 tells us that, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). So what does it mean to say that our prayers are effective? Sproul argues that the purpose of prayer is not to change God, because He does not need changing, but it is to change us. Prayer is a privilege given to us as His beloved children – a special and direct communication link with our Sovereign Lord available 24/7. With that privilege comes the right to address God as Abba, Father. So time in prayer is meant to be a two-way channel, and as we commune with God, as we listen to His voice through His Word enlightened by the Holy Spirit (in our own Bible Study, preaching etc.), and people that He brings into our lives or other means, and we gradually change, our wills become aligned to His because we love Him and want to obey Him.

          As our wills become aligned to God’s, He brings us in to participate in His work through our prayers – our prayers become effective because God chooses to effect His ordained and sovereign will through our prayers. Sproul puts it this way: “God not only ordains ends, He ordains the means He uses to bring about those ends”. Indeed He empowers our prayers so that after we pray, we can step back and watch Him unleash His power in and through our prayers.

          As I reflected on the above discussion, I see a pattern which God has consistently chosen to work through His people all through history. I see a Holy God, choosing Mary, a sinner like any of us, to deliver His holy and perfect Son. I see the God who created the universe choosing fallible human authors from varied walks of life and educational backgrounds to deliver His infallible and perfect Word. And now, the Almighty Sovereign Lord, chooses to ordain us, His weak and faltering children, to unleash His infinite power to bring about the establishment of His kingdom!

          Brothers and sisters, God does not need a Mary anymore because Jesus has already been born, and He does not need authors for His Word anymore either because the Bible is already completed. But He invites us today to join our hearts with His through prayer – this is a privilege we must not miss out on!

          Finally, as Sproul wrote: “We pray expectantly and confidently, not in spite of the sovereignty of God, but because of it. What would be a waste of time and breath would be praying to a god who is not sovereign”.

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

 

Elder Aaron Tan

 

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