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If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?

If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?

Exploring the Relationship Between Prayer and God's Divine Plan

Mitchell Leach

Community Pastor

Peace Church

Published On:

February 9, 2024

Since I have become convinced of God’s ultimate power to rule over all of the events in history, the present, and the future, I’ve struggled with prayer. And I know I’m not alone. I know many Calvinists who struggle to pray because we believe that God not only knows what is going to happen but that he has planned it.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, "Of Providence" articulates the belief that God, in His providence, ordains not only the outcomes of all things (the ends) but also how these outcomes are achieved.

If God controls all things, and God doesn’t change (Hebrews 13:8), why should we pray?

It is a Biblical command

One of the clearest reasons why we should pray is simply because God asks us to pray (Matthew 6:6, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Whether or not prayer is effective (and it is effective), we are called to be followers of Christ. The question shouldn’t be “Does prayer change things?” But rather “Is Jesus God?” Because if he is in fact God, then what he says goes. Questioning God on whether his commandments make sense to us is a grievously offensive practice. In doing so we (as finite creatures) are inferring that we — somehow — have a better perspective than God (an infinite and eternal being) on not only what is good and righteous but on the outcomes of history.

God is our Father

Another reason is that God wants a relationship with his people. We are called to pray to the first person of the trinity, God the Father. This Father-like language is used throughout scripture on purpose because it communicates that God is a relational God and wants to know us and be known to us.

If you have children think about what is happening when your child asks for something. They are showing — on a surface level — that they want a relationship with you, even if that’s simply out of their own need. We as parents could try to supply everything our children need without them ever having to ask. But that’s not a relationship that’s a vending machine. When our children ask for good things it’s a delight to meet their requests. It’s also a delight when they actually ask for a bad thing so we can stop it before choosing to give the dog a haircut.

God on a more infinite scale loves to answer his children’s requests for good things with joy. He is our benevolent Father who not only wants to bless us but to commune with us as well.

God uses the means

The rationale that provided the biggest breakthrough for me was that God uses our prayer in his sovereign will to accomplish the ends he desires.

In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge discusses the efficacy of prayer within the context of divine sovereignty, stating, “But it is certain that the Scriptures teach both foreordination and the efficacy of prayer. The two, therefore, cannot be inconsistent. God has not determined to accomplish his purposes without the use of means; and among those means, the prayers of his people have their appropriate place.”

Hodge highlights that prayer, like any other means, is appointed by God and works within His sovereign plan.

But honestly, many theologians have said a lot about prayer, so let’s look at what scripture says.

1 John 5:14-15 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

What John is saying in this verse is that God will give us what we ask for when it aligns with his will and that he hears and responds to our prayers. Again this verse shows that God isn’t changed by our prayers, but how he acts does.

Our prayer never changes the end result of how God will act in redemptive history. Nor can we pray hard enough for God to change the result of God’s plan in and for our lives.

In John Frame's third volume on The Theology of Lordship, he says, “God ordains prayer as a means to change history. There are things that happen because of prayer, and things that do not happen because of no prayer.” He goes on to say “Now of course prayer doesn't change the eternal plan of God. But within that eternal plan, there are many plans for means and ends.”

Frame’s view of prayer could be summed up like this, God has an overarching plan for us, yet he has designed our prayer into how his will is enacted.

Prayer is for us

As we pray we have the privilege of coming before the most powerful being in the universe to not only ask for things, but praise him, to confess, and thank him for all he has done. The amazing part of this reality is that God desires to hear about the triviality of our lives. As we encounter God in prayer it has the power to change us.

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