Sometimes we don’t know what to pray for. Sometimes we don’t know what words to use. Sometimes we don’t know enough details about a circumstance to pray effectively (we think). But, perhaps a thought that creeps in the back of our minds the most about prayer is this: why?
Let me reveal a little more of my hand on this one. It should be no surprise to you that I believe the Bible when it says that God is sovereign over all things, and I truly do believe that all things really does mean all things (go ahead, click the link). So, if God is sovereign over everything from quarks to galaxies, life and death, salvation and damnation, why pray?
Good question. I think God, in His Word, has revealed a few reasons why we, His people, need to pray even though He is sovereign in all things. Let’s examine a few.
(1) Why should we pray? The simplest reason I can think of is this: We are commanded to. Paul commands the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” I once saw a bumper sticker that read “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” That’s fair enough, but I think this bumper sticker would be better, “God said it. That settles it.” Now, God commands us to pray. That should settle it.
(2) Another reason why we should pray is that Jesus did (Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:31-34, 39-46; John 11:41, 17:1-26). Jesus prayed, and if He is the image we are being built up into, then it would only follow that we would pray too. Another way to think about this is that Jesus is God, why would He need to pray? That may befuddle us, but that is not Jesus’s problem, that is the problem of our finite minds. While you are trying to figure out why the sovereign God of the universe, who took on human flesh, prayed, maybe you should pray for some understanding.
(3) A third reason for praying is that it does something. Prayer does something. We are told that Jesus prayed for Peter, because He knew Satan would sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31-34). Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. We know how the story goes: Peter denies Jesus three times, his faith falters. However, Jesus says that He prays for Peter that his faith may not fail. And when Peter turns to Christ again, he is to strengthen the brothers. So, Jesus knows that Peter will deny Him, but He does not pray that Peter won’t deny Him. He prays that Peter will repent. He prays that His faith will not be destroyed. He prays for Peter to overcome, and he does. This should encourage you because Jesus is doing this for His brothers and sisters even today (Hebrews 7:25).
Another example of prayer doing something comes from Daniel. Daniel is in prayer confessing sin and pleading with God, the angel Gabriel shows up to him and tells him, “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly loved” (Daniel 9:20-23). Gabriel then shows Daniel a vision. The item of importance for us is that at the moment of Daniel’s prayer, the Lord sends forth His angels. Again, prayer does something. When you are sitting there pondering how a sovereign God uses our prayer to accomplish His will, pray for understanding, and be humbled.
(4) A fourth, and by no means final, point is that prayer changes you. I think of Abraham speaking with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:22-33). Again, God is sovereign and knew from eternity past that He would bring destruction upon these wicked cities, so why does the Lord confer with Abraham? Well, let’s back the train up a minute. What was God’s promise to Abraham? Oh yeah, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). So, Abraham is to be a blessing to the nations, but how? Well, here we are standing before Sodom and Gomorrah and we have Abraham pleading with God to spare His judgment of pagan nations. In other words, God is using Abraham’s prayer to change his heart, to make him feel for the nations. God is showing Abraham His heart for the people, so that Abraham thinks God’s thoughts after Him. God’s plan to judge these cities was not changed, His decrees stand because He is the just Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25). However, Abraham’s heart was changed. The prayers offered on behalf of the wicked changed Abraham, not God. This is important for us. When we pray before the face of a sovereign God we are being changed. We are aligning our thoughts after His thoughts.
So, there are four reasons why we should pray. Not exhaustive, but hopefully helpful. You should also think about getting this book (and reading it of course) A Call to Spiritual Reformation.