If God is sovereign, and He has everything under control, and “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)” then… why pray? Why try to change the world? God’s in control, right? Why not just sit back, enjoy life, and watch God’s plan work itself out? Well, because we are God’s plan.
Some thoughtful people have brought up a very interesting question as a method of challenging or attacking Christians these days. It’s, “If God is sovereign, then why pray?” What they mean is this. If God controls the universe, and He will ultimately accomplish exactly what He wants to accomplish, then what good will it do to pray if we can’t change God’s plan? Why pray for anything if God’s already decided what will happen? Why pray for someone to get saved if God has already chosen whether or not they will end up saved? Well, it’s a very good question, and I believe it’s extremely necessary to ask this of ourselves in mind of our prayer life and our actions in this world in general.
I struggled with this question recently. I found myself with a list of daring prayers to pray, yet I felt like they wouldn’t really do anything. I knew not to pray with doubt, but I still found myself doubting my prayers’ importance, because I felt like God already had it covered and my prayers weren’t going to change anything. I hated it. I knew it wasn’t right and that it was hampering my prayer life, and I wanted to find the answer to my dilemma. I finally stumbled upon a blog post by John Piper on his ministry’s website, and it gave me everything I needed to know. In discovering this, I realized that John’s answer applies to everything we do; not just praying. Here’s what I found.
If we are to assume that the outcome of our prayer for our neighbor to be saved is predestined by God, then what follows? Well of course, if the outcome is predetermined, then so is the prayer itself, for everything that happens is part of God’s plan. Therefore, since God has promised to answer our prayers (under certain conditions), and He planned that we pray for this person, then we can rest assured that He fully intends to follow up on this plan of His and see that the person is saved. For example, let’s say that all the pastors of the country said, “God’s in control, and He’ll accomplish His plan, so let’s stop preaching and see if people continue to be saved.” We would say that is ridiculous. That’s because it is. We can’t assume that preaching doesn’t matter because God is sovereign and will save who He wants. God’s plan is the preaching, and that is one of the ways He accomplishes His aim to save anybody at all. The same goes for prayer, and in fact, everything.
Does God Answer Prayer?
Of course, this whole idea assumes that God promises to answer our prayer. Not just sometimes, not just if He feels like it, but assuredly. This brings up another important question. Can we know whether God will answer our prayers or not? I believe we can. I believe that there are prayers that God is “bound,” in a sense, to answer. There are conditions that must be met, but we can be confident that God will answer certain prayers. Others He will not, or He at least has no obligation to, such as a prayer for God to give us what we desire for our own selfish gain. Which prayers will He answer, and how, you may be asking? I will answer those questions, but not now. I will include more details on this in another post soon to come, don’t worry.
Also, this idea assumes that God does indeed control everything. I believe this is the case. Verses like Prov. 16:4, Prov. 16:9, Prov. 16:33, and Prov. 19:21 all point to a fully sovereign God. Just reading the Bible in general tells me that my God has the world well in order, and He is not the least bit taxed by holding every little detail in place according to what His plan is. The Psalms speak of His mighty power over all. Just look at the beginning to this popular Psalm.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” – Psalm 139:1-6
Clearly, the Lord knows all things before they happen. But if you say that God doesn’t have complete control over what we do, and He only foresees what we do, then how does the promise of Romans 8:28 hold true? If God doesn’t control our individual decisions, then He ultimately doesn’t control the fate of the universe, and how then does He make everything turn out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? This complication, along with hard evidence for predestination (Eph. 1:1-5, Matt. 22:14, Rom. 8:28-30, Rom. 9, etc.) points to a truly sovereign God. I respect those of you who disagree, because God’s complete sovereignty seemingly contradicts any freedom we may have in our choices, and that issue is a hard one to deal with. I agree that we make real choices, and that we are accountable for our actions. Those ideas are true and Biblical. But I cannot deny God’s sovereignty and predestination. It’s just so clearly spelled out in Scripture. Also, while some people think of God’s complete sovereignty as “bending” our wills to make us do things we’d rather not do, I don’t think that’s a very accurate way of looking at it. I think that if God is the Creator of our wills, then what they want to do is what He predestines them to want to do. I know it’s a bit confusing, but that’s what makes sense in my mind.
Basically, I believe that while we make choices God is working everything out behind the scenes, and we’ll never completely comprehend how it all works together. As the last line in the Psalm above says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” Yes, we have some form of free will. Yes, God has some form of complete sovereignty. Both ideas are true. But we’ll never fully understand how these two work in harmony together. All we can do is learn as much about our Lord as is possible for our weak human minds, and follow Him to the best of our ability until the end of our days.
Besides prayer, this applies to everything we do in life. Whether we’re fighting for a cause, striving for holiness, or tackling what seems “impossible,” we must have the mindset that we are a part of God’s great plan, and we can change things for the better. While God’s doing all the behind-the-scenes work and making everything happen, we get to be a huge part of the performance that plays out all around us! We’re just lost sinners, yet God has chosen us to be the tools He uses to change the world. That’s pretty exciting if you ask me.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t matter or you can’t do great things. Don’t let yourself believe that your prayers are hopeless. Just because God has it all worked out doesn’t mean that what we do as Christians doesn’t matter. Our actions ultimately are God’s plan, and what we do today makes all the difference as to who we are and how we affect the world tomorrow. Also, remember that we’re only given today. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past, and we can’t live out our future right now. But we can do what God asks of us today. Let’s follow our glorious King and strive to serve Him, and let us always keep on our minds that we never have to worry about being excluded from His great battle plan; we are at the very center of it.