In this series, we will consider five reasons why believers should pray in light of the sovereignty of God.
1. God has commanded us to pray.
The most obvious reason to pray is that God has commanded us to pray. This is evident throughout the teachings of both Jesus and the apostle Paul. Jesus taught His disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, introducing the prayer with the words, “Pray, then, in this way” (v. 9). Afterward, He instructed His disciples to be persistent in their prayers (Luke 11:5-13). In Luke 18:2-8, Jesus told them a parable “to show that at all times they ought to pray” (Luke 18:1). And upon arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane, He instructed them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40).
The apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17); he instructed the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6); he charged the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer” (4:2); he wrote to the Ephesians, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf…” (6:18-19a); and he urged Timothy “that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Tim 2:1).
The point is clear: God has commanded us to pray, and our response to this command must first and foremost be one of obedience. Even if we never reach a clear understanding of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of man, the fact that God has commanded it should be enough to move us to pray. When God promised Abraham a son through whom he would become a great nation (Gen 21:12b) and then commanded him to sacrifice that very son (Gen 22:2), Abraham bowed the knee of submission before His Creator and simply obeyed what was commanded of Him (Gen. 22:3-10). The believer who asks the question “Why pray?” must follow his example and do the same.
2. Jesus modeled a life of prayer.
A second reason believers should offer prayers of petition and intercession to God is that such prayer was modeled by Jesus who “would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” during His ministry (Luke 5:16). Jesus’ consistent example of fervent prayer to the Father is evident throughout the gospel accounts. During His ministry in Galilee, Mark records that “in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35). After feeding the five thousand in Bethsaida, Jesus sent the multitudes away and “went up to the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matt 14:23).
On the night before He chose the twelve disciples, Jesus “went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Later Luke refers to a time “while Jesus was praying alone” (9:18), and eight days later Jesus “took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). And who could forget His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:39-44; Mark 14:35-39; Luke 22:41-45) or the “High Priestly prayer” of John 17? And what believer fails to cherish the fact that He lives to intercede even now on our behalf (Heb 7:25)?
In offering prayers of petition and intercession, Jesus was not ignoring or denying the sovereignty of His Father. This is obvious from several of Jesus’ prayers, not the least of which include His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:39-44; Mark 14:35-39; Luke 22:41-45). As Hunter writes, “He knew that by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge he would be put to death by being nailed to the cross (Acts 2:23). He told the incredulous disciples this at least three times…. Yet in Gethsemane, as Mark tells it, he ‘fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him’ (14:35)” (The God Who Hears, 51). In other words, even though Jesus was well aware that His death at Calvary had been preordained by God, He still saw fit to petition His Father that this cup might pass from him.
If the followers of Christ are to be imitators of Him and “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6), they too must be characterized by fervent prayer for themselves and for those around them. Knowing that Jesus prayed as a way of life may not clear up the tension that exists in believers’ minds between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of men, but it should motivate them to imitate the One who Himself saw no disparity between His own prayers and the sovereignty of His Father.