By Aubrey Coleman
Staff Writer for The Daily Grace Co.
There are so many questions we can ask about prayer, and it shouldn’t surprise us because prayer is a profound and wonderful privilege and mystery! The Creator of the universe in His infinite wisdom and goodness is calling His created people, sinful and limited in every capacity, to continually come to Him in prayer for things we want and need.
But as we consider God’s sovereignty, meaning that God is the supreme authority, knowing all, working in all, and allowing nothing to happen outside of His good and perfect will, we might question what good our prayers are. If He already knows what is best for our good and the glory of His name, what purpose do our prayers serve? If God has already planned and prepared all things to be before the foundation of the world, do our prayers even change anything? These questions are important to laying a foundation for a theology of prayer, and we are best helped in understanding by looking to God’s Word.
First and foremost, God commands us to pray, and He gives great detail to how we should pray in Scripture. In the most simple way of saying we are commanded to pray, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “…pray constantly…” We must pray. Praying occasionally is not enough—we must pray continually and with regularity. John 15:7 says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” When we pray, we are instructed to pray for what we want. Yes, you are reading that correctly! We don’t know the will of God, and we can’t possibly try to decipher it and formulate our requests to be perfectly in line with it in prayer. Therefore, we can’t guess the outcome of our prayers and pray in a way that we know will be answered. Instead, we are called to pray and ask for our wants and desires, entrusting them to the Lord for him to answer as He sees fit. As the Word abides in us, our hearts and thoughts will be shaped to desire what God desires, and our hope in the outcome of our prayers will be shaped by an ultimate trust in God’s provision and care for our lives. This gives us the freedom to make requests to God without restraint, knowing that He will answer them for our good and His glory.
Another place in Scripture reminds us that if we don’t ask for things in prayer, we may not receive them. James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” There is a direct connection between our asking and God’s giving. Therefore, if we do not ask, assuming because God knows and will give us what we need, we might not receive. Our asking is purposeful in His giving. We are also told in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” We can be assured that our prayers are powerful and do accomplish things.
Lastly, and likely the most important thing for us to remember, is that God’s sovereignty extends through our prayers. Meaning, our prayers are part of His plan and purposes. He uses our prayers to accomplish what He has already willed to happen. Consider when Jesus prayed for Peter and his repentance in Luke 22:32 saying, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when (not if) you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This prayer takes place before Peter denied Jesus, and yet Jesus was already praying for His repentance. God had planned for Peter to deny Jesus, and Jesus knew that all along. God not only planned for Jesus to pray for his repentance but also to lead Peter to repentance— and He did!
God has woven his plan into our prayers. God doesn’t make His plans and then sit around hoping that people will pray them into existence. Instead, in His plans and purposes, He also plans the prayers of His people to accomplish His good and perfect will. He involves us in His work. This is a joy and a privilege! Consider the examples of this in your own life. Maybe you’ve prayed for someone’s salvation to see God eventually save them! Your prayers were included in God’s plan for drawing that person to Himself. Maybe you’ve prayed for financial provision in a difficult season, and you were welcomed with a generous financial gift from a friend! Your prayer was already woven into God’s plan to provide for you in that way. God is perfectly capable of accomplishing everything without us, yet in His abounding and gracious love He invites us in to experience His power and provision with a front-row seat.
I will leave you with this final quote from Jerry Bridges: “Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He can answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of trust.” Our original question is transformed by a biblical understanding of prayer. It is not despite God’s sovereignty that our prayers matter but precisely because of it.