When we begin to learn about God’s sovereignty, the temptation is to turn into the “frozen chosen” who use God’s power as an excuse to be lazy. If God is in total control of everything, why pray at all?
Certainly this is a multi layered question that could be talked about endlessly in the theological classroom. The more pressing concern is when the idea of God’s sovereignty hinders your prayer life in a very negatively practical way. This is not what God wants.
So to answer the question, “Why pray if God is Sovereign?”, perhaps a counter question will help us see the Bible’s answer: “Why would you pray if God wasn’t sovereign?”
God’s Sovereignty Is Why Prayer Makes Sense
God’s sovereignty is not a reason to pray less, work less, evangelize less – God’s sovereignty should motivate us to do all of these things more. Because he is all powerful, we step out in faith. If God wasn’t all powerful, putting our faith in him would make no sense.
People ask “Why pray if God is sovereign?” because the common response to learning about God’s sovereignty is to feel like a mindless robot with no freedom. A God with complete control seems oppressive. But God wants us to feel the opposite. The Bible nowhere says that because God is sovereign man is not free. Again, the opposite is true. Because God is sovereign, man can be free.
When God saves us through the gospel, he doesn’t violate out freewill. He sets our will free. We are slaves to sin until Jesus sets us free (Romans 6:20-23). When Jesus sets us free, then we freely choose to follow a new Master. Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Because Christ has set us free, now we must willfully choose to live free, actively choosing not to allow ourselves to live under a yoke of slavery. Just because Christ has set you free doesn’t mean you are living free. According to Galatians 5:1, that’s your choice to make.
The biblical truth of God’s sovereignty should not deflate your prayer life and cause you to pray less, it should cause you to pray more. Again, if God was powerless to do whatever he wanted, why pray at all? Prayer to God would be foolish if man was in total control.
Praying is a confession that you do believe in the sovereignty of God. So if you find yourself struggling to pray, perhaps it is because you have overemphasized the power of man and underemphasized the sovereignty of God to move on your behalf.
Prayer Is a Confession of Your Belief in God’s Sovereignty
In J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, he addresses the logical roadblocks that occur when we embrace God’s election and then struggle to see the point of evangelizing. The common thought is “If the only way to be saved is to be chosen, then who cares if we tell people about Jesus anyway?”
Throughout Packer’s book, he makes the point that God’s sovereignty is not a reason to evangelize less. It is the reason to evangelize more. I’ll let you read it on your own to hear his full arguments, but how he begin this book relates perfectly in answering the questions, “Why pray if God is sovereign?” The opening lines of his first chapter state:
I do not intend to spend any time at all proving to you the general truth that God is sovereign in His world. There is no need; for I know that, if you are a Christian, you believe this already. How do I know that? Because I know that, if you are a Christian, you pray; and the recognition of God’s sovereignty is the basis of your prayers. In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already, and all the good that you hope for in the future. This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. . . In effect, therefore, what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of his God.”
A Lack of Pray Is Your Confession of Disbelief in God’s Sovereignty
Let’s take Packer’s point a step further. If prayer “is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty,” is it not safe to also say that a lack of prayer is to confess our unbelief of God’s sovereignty and a belief in our own power? Our beliefs about God will manifest in our prayer life.
In Matthew 6:7 when Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, the first line in the prayer is “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus is seeking to remind us that we should pray because our Father is reigning over the earth, able to bring about whatever he wills as he sits on his throne in heaven. “Our Father” is an intimate term, motivating us to pray because of God’s fatherly love for us. But the next phrase, “who art in heaven,” shows God’s supremacy, motivating us to pray because of God’s authority as the Preeminent King over all of his creation. Both facts, God’s love and sovereignty, should motivate us to pray.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus then says “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Jesus’ prayer would make no sense if God could not actually bring about his will and his kingdom whenever he wanted to do it.
Why Pray If God Is Sovereign?
In conclusion, “Why pray if God is Sovereign?” sounds like a logical question, but it is not a biblical question. The Bible logically points to a very different response to the sovereignty of God and prayer. Rather than praying less because God is sovereign, the Bible points out that the sovereignty of God is the only reason you should pray at all.