This is a question I used to struggle with quite often, and one that I still hear from people now and then. As we come to understand that God is sovereign, having ordained the end from the beginning, that nothing surprises God but works according to His design, why then do we pray? What good does our prayer do, what purpose does it serve?
There really is no quick and easy answer to the question of, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” Well, there is and there isn’t.
The quick answer is, we pray because God commands us to pray. Throughout Scripture we are told to pray to God and to seek His face. For example:
Colossians 4:2 “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
Philippians 4:6–7 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Isaiah 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
The long answer is a bit more involved, but it really comes down to what the purpose of prayer really is.
Prayers aren’t just about asking for healing for those who are sick, or asking God to help us in our times of need. Ultimately, prayer is meant to bring God glory and honor. As we pray to God, we are acknowledging that He is God and we are not. We are acknowledging that He is the one who provides for our every need, even though we work and save and budget and plan. We are submitting ourselves to His will, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is going to be done, praying for it to be done is saying “help me to accept and delight in your will, and to work according to it.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that prayer is, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
Prayer is a means of communication. We hear God speak to us in Scripture, and we speak to God in prayer (silent, spoken, and even sung prayers). God knows everything about us, but still delights in our coming to Him in prayer, and is honored by it.
I would like to think I know my children pretty well, I’ve known them since before they were born. And I usually know what they want and need long before they do, and even know what they really need when they ask for something they want. Still, I love it when they come to me and want to talk, and ask for their needs to be met. This is, in some way, what prayer is like. Our heavenly Father knows us better than we do ourselves (Matt 6:8), and knows what we need long before we speak it, but God is honored, glorified, when we seek Him in prayer.
Finally, prayer does change things. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). God is sovereign, He has a plan for all things. And God often uses prayer to work out His sovereign plan.
Say you’re praying for a friend to be saved. As you pray regularly for your friend, God will be working in you to make you more willing to share your faith, to invite them to church, to live in such a way that they would see the faith in you. This is one way that prayer changes things.
Prayer also changes our perspective on events. Rather than seeing a crisis as hopeless, prayer allows us to see God’s hand moving in every situation, either to save us mightily, or to give us hope in the midst of suffering.
Ultimately, prayer, as in every means of grace, brings glory to God, the giver of all grace, even as it blesses the one who prays. As we pray, seeking the face of God as the source and fount of every joy and delight, every need and desire, His name is honored, and our spirits are strengthened, “and my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).
This is why we pray to our sovereign God.
Grace and peace,