* Matt pastors Community Bible Church in Vista, California. He is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, and a periodic contributor to Pulpit.
The story is told about a small town in the south. For many years, this town had been “dry” in that no alcohol was ever sold or served there. But one day a businessman in the area decided to build a tavern. In response to this new tavern, a group of Christians from a local church became concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. Shortly after the prayer meeting that night, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.
In the aftermath of the fire, the owner of the tavern sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible for his loss. But the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. After his initial review of the case the presiding judge began the trial with an official statement. He said: “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer, and the Christians do not.”
It is very easy to dismiss the power of prayer, isn’t it? It is very easy to drift into thinking that prayer is a nice sentiment, but in the end, a waste of time because it doesn’t really make any difference anyway.
For some people, this kind of dismissal arises from unbelief and doubt that God really can answer prayer. For others, however, the question that paralyzes their prayer life is this: If God is sovereign, why pray?
In other words, if God will simply do what He wants to anyway, why offer prayers of petition and intercession? Why bother requesting that God do such and such when everything has been ordained by Him beforehand? If prayer consists of pleading with God to change His eternal purposes, isn’t such an undertaking feeble at best and arrogant at worst?
Although there are no easy answers to these questions, Scripture is not silent on this issue. My purpose here is to examine the Bible’s teaching on the sovereignty of God and the prayers of man with the goal of answering the question, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” This will be done by briefly defining what it means that God is sovereign and then by offering five answers to the question of why people should pray.
God Is Sovereign
When people make plans, it is not uncommon for those plans to fail or to be thwarted in one way or another. In contrast to His creatures, however, Almighty God always brings about that which He has purposed. In a word, God is sovereign.
This truth is perhaps most clearly seen in the words of Isaiah 46:9-11, where God demonstrated His superiority over the Babylonian idols by declaring:
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.
In this passage, God indicates that He both purposes what He desires to happen and then actually brings those purposes to pass. In other words, God providentially brings about in time and history what He has sovereignly ordained in eternity past. As the apostle Paul writes, God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11).
The truth of God’s sovereignty over His creation is taught throughout Scripture. The psalmist declares, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps 135:6; cf. 115:3; Dan. 4:35); Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand;” and Proverbs 21:1 states, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” As W. Bingham Hunter writes, “From a biblical perspective, your world-history book should be prefaced with 2 Kings 19:25: ‘Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In the days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass’” (The God Who Hears, 49).
(To Be Continued Tomorrow)