Why Pray if God is Sovereign?

Christian Life & Theology

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If God knows all, why should we pray? What a question! I won’t pretend I have the answer to every angle of this topic. Many of us have wondered this to ourselves in the dark of the night, when God seems silent, or when prayers go unanswered. What is the point of prayer? How does it work? If God discerns when and how He will answer, what role does my prayer play, if any?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of prayer, let’s lay the foundation: prayer is about faith.

David and Saul

I recently finished 1 and 2 Samuel, where we see the stories of David and Saul play out in their well-known Old Testament drama. But in the familiarity of the story, something stood out to me. We get hints of who Saul will become in the very beginning of his story (1 Samuel 9-10) just as we get hints of who David will become at the beginning of his (1 Samuel 16).

I noticed that Saul was extremely concerned with what people thought about him and often acted out of fear (at his own coronation, he hid himself among the supplies and had to be brought out to be anointed king). As time went on, he continued to act in fear of man. The turning point is seen in 1 Samuel 15, when Saul directly disobeys God out of his fear of people:

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. (1 Sam 15:24)

What does this have to do with prayer? Because Saul feared man, man was his starting point for every decision. He made rash decisions and vows without seeking God’s wisdom. David, on the other hand, led a life characterized by prayer. The few times he didn’t seek God’s wisdom ended in chaos and dissension (e.g., Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 11), and taking the census (2 Sam 24)).

Because I’m reading the bible chronologically, I saw how these accounts played out in the long term for Israel. The contrast between these two men challenged me in my view of prayer. It’s not just a duty to be fulfilled; it changes how you live.

Prayer is Communication

If prayer was just about duty, Saul would have fulfilled that requirement. He prayed when he really needed something. But that’s not what prayer is, because Saul’s prayers went unheard. Prayer is communication; it is a conversation with an almighty yet relational God. How amazing! It is a privilege for us to communicate with God, and not just to communicate, but to talk to a God who wants to hear us.

David’s heart was open to the Lord at all times. We see his prayers poured out in the Psalms; he didn’t just call upon God when he needed something, like Saul. He brought everything to the Lord. Because of this, he was a wise, humble, and godly king.

If we want wisdom, direction, and character, we have to start by seeing prayer as more than a means to an end. It should be a lifestyle. God is sovereign, but He delights to listen to our requests, and we even see in Scripture God changing His mind based on the petitions of His saints (Gen 18, Exodus 32-33, Jonah 3:10, Amos 7:6).

Prayer requires humility

Secondly, prayer requires humility. Saul did not pray out of a spirit of humility but a spirit of desperation and greed. God was Saul’s last resort, but He was David’s first stop.

Saul had an elevated view of himself and an exalted view of people. He thought he had life under control… until it wasn’t under control and he needed God desperately. But because he ignored God and denied His sovereignty, placing priority on man’s opinion, Saul didn’t have the wisdom needed to lead the nation rightly. He became paranoid and hasty, making rash vows and decisions that destroyed his kingdom.

When we depend on our own wisdom and refuse to consult the Lord, we’re acting in pride. This is easy to do. I tend to think I’ve got things under control and don’t need to ask for God’s input; and I certainly don’t want to sit still and wait for an answer! But this attitude of giving God the first fruits of our decisions and time is an act of humility. By deferring to God’s sovereignty in prayer, we’re inviting Him into our lives. Only then do we make good decisions.

Prayer a step of faith

Lastly, prayer is faith in God’s character and God’s timing. Yes, God knows everything. He is sovereign. But in His sovereignty, He has given us a will to choose Him or reject Him; to follow and obey, or reap the consequences of living life on our own terms. The Old Testament makes this clear through the lives of people who chose to reject God and worship other gods. When they rejected Him, stopped seeking His face, they removed themselves from His protection and blessing. Even under the New Covenant in Jesus, we can remove ourselves from peace with God by living in sin. And we can live lives of confusion and uncertainty when we do not seek God first.

So when we pray, we’re taking a step of faith. If you’ve been wanting to do something BIG for God, this is it! Take the step of faith by daily asking Him for direction, by inviting Him into your work, college, family, friendships, dating, marriage, and parenting. It doesn’t have to happen in an armchair with coffee. It can happen on your commute, while washing dishes, or at your computer. Don’t worry about the right time and place; simply seek Him.

Prayer cultivates a heart attitude that recognizes God’s sovereignty and appeals to His love. God is relational. Praying to Him is not just about “getting” things, because no positive relationship works that way. Praying to Jesus changes us. It teaches us to listen for His voice and walk by His Spirit – even if our prayers aren’t answered the way we thought.

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