If God is Sovereign why pray? If God does all that he wills, do our prayers actually matter?

When we become true believers in Jesus Christ we begin to desire to pray. Prayer becomes something more real and tangible because we become certain that God actually hears us and will answer. We thirst and hunger for constant contact with our heavenly Father through prayer. We thank Him and express our needs and desires to him.

A Dilemma

As we mature in our Christian faith we start to understand that God is sovereign over all things, including our life. This helps us to cast all of our burdens on Him and experience peace knowing that the sovereign Lord of the universe is in the driver’s seat. Yet, at the same time, this truth can make us feel like our prayers are less valuable or powerful. We still may pray, but don’t really persevere in prayer; we just make our requests known but then conclude that God will take care of it in the end anyways.

How do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and our prayers? 

The Bible is clear about the fact that our heavenly Father is the Lord of the universe. He is the sovereign King of all things. He guides and governs everything in the world according to His will. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Ps. 115:3). On the other hand God says “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Our prayers cause things to happen because God actually hears them and answers (1 John 5:14-15). 

Prayers Matter despite the fact that because God is Sovereign

Jesus Christ had the clearest understanding of the sovereignty of God, for he was God and knew his Father. “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37). Yet at the same time He had a high view of prayer, which was evident in his practical prayer life. After long tiresome days he withdrew to desolate places and prayed (Luke 5:16). He taught his disciples that “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).

The sovereignty of God does not make our prayers ineffective; on the contrary, the very fact that God is sovereign is a guarantee that our prayers have power. Prayers are the means by which God achieves his sovereign plans. In the plan of God, from eternity past, God decided that His sovereign will would be fulfilled through our prayers. 

We can illustrate it this way: the CEO of a company desires to impact the community with his product, but he accomplishes that desire through his employees. How? Through each individual employee performing their tasks: answering the phone, designing the product, marketing it. All of these work together to ultimately achieve the CEO’s vision. 

God’s plans it is a lot more complicated, but the concept is very similar. God achieves his sovereign plans through various means, like us sharing the gospel, putting off and on Christlikeness, and praying. Prayers are very, very important because they are the means by which God actually achieves his sovereign plans. People are saved through prayer; the world is changed through prayer, and God builds his church through prayer. Prayer is important because our sovereign God works through it.

An Example

In Acts 27, we see a very clear example of the relationship between God’s sovereign will and our personal choices. Paul is a prisoner heading to Rome by ship to appeal his case to Caesar. During the voyage they experience an awful storm for many days which causes them to lose all control of the ship and any hope for survival. Paul stands up and says “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar” (27:22-24).

A few days later some of the crew thought that they were nearing land and “seeking to escape from the ship,… had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow.” But Paul said “to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be savedThen they cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go back into the sea.” At the end of the story all of them are saved on an island. 

Notice that Paul told them initially that God himself guaranteed that everyone will be saved and no one will parish. But later, as people were attempting to escape, Paul tells them that if they don’t stay on the ship they cannot be saved. Did Paul contradict himself? Why was Paul so worried about anything? Shouldn’t have he relaxed and enjoyed the ride because God will save everyone anyways. No, that is not how God works. God preserved their life through them staying on the ship; that staying was the means by which God’s plan was actualized. 

In the same way prayers are the means by which God achieves his sovereign plans. If we won’t pray, things don’t happen, but if we pray, they do. So pray! Pray a lot! Persevere in prayer. Pray constantly and know that God will hear and answer!