When believers misunderstand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, it can hinder our prayers. The reasoning behind this misconception goes like this:
God sovereignly rules over all things and has His plans and purposes in mind for the universe. Why would our prayers do anything to change His plans and purposes?
Yes, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is a big topic. But I’m convinced this is an easy obstacle to overcome as it relates to prayer. Let’s look at three propositions that can help us.
Proposition #1: God sovereignly governs the world.
Ephesians 1:11 says, “God works all things according to the counsel of his will.” He is sovereign over every molecule and every event of the universe. Nothing happens without His notice, and all that happens only happens because God allows it.
Proposition #2: God calls us to pray.
It would be strange indeed if God commanded us to pray if prayers didn’t accomplish anything. Doesn’t the Bible say that “the prayer of the righteous person has great power as it is working?“
For God to command prayer if it were worthless and powerless would seem an awful lot like Lucy from the Peanuts cartoons pulling back the football right when Charlie Brown goes to kick it. Praise God that He isn’t like that.
This last proposition is how we reconcile these first two truths:
Proposition #3: God has determined to sovereignly use our prayers for His purposes.
To think that God’s sovereignty makes prayer unnecessary or unfruitful fails to acknowledge God is sovereign even over our prayers, and that God has decided in all His great wisdom to use the prayers of imperfect people as a means to carry out His purposes in the world.
On this topic of God’s sovereignty and prayer we can often overanalyze the inner workings of prayer and God’s response. Scripture doesn’t answer every question about the mind and heart of God as it relates to prayer, and in the absence of having the full knowledge that only God has, we must trust God to hear us and work in His way through our prayers.
My contention is that rather than letting God’s sovereignty hinder our prayers, we need to let His sovereignty fuel our prayers.
Think about it. Why would we pray to God if He wasn’t sovereign? If God didn’t have the power to work in us, others, and the world, would He be worthy of our worship or worth praying to?
If the God who created the entire universe by speaking and holds the world together by the word of His power hears our prayers and promises to work out His purposes, why would we not pray outrageously big prayers on a regular basis?
I love a story that Dr. Phil Ryken tells. As a member of a church in Scotland, Ryken observed that fellow church members thanked God for answering their prayers to help Eastern European countries escape Communism and the Soviet empire when the Iron Curtain fell. These church members really thought that their prayers helped in these global events.
Ryken commented that he almost told some that the situation was more complicated than they thought. After all, there were issues of the global economy, the relationships between nations, the threat of nuclear weapons, and the serious defects of communism. He was going to tell them that their prayers alone were not enough to bring down the Berlin Wall.
But he didn’t. He knew that such thinking was not correct and that God does use the prayers of His children to change the history of the world.
Is it not true that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise“? (1 Corinthians 1:27). And is it not true that when you compare God’s children with the world rulers and conquering powers we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us”?
Let’s also not forget that Paul commands us to pray “for kings and for all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2). Why would God command this if He had no plans to use these prayers to change the world?
God is “mighty to do much more abundantly than we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Do you pray as if this were true? No, God is not always going to answer us in the way we want or at the time we want. But when we pray in faith, everything is possible, not because we are so wise or powerful, but because our sovereign God is.
This article is adapted from the free Open the Bible for Leaders course Pray the Bible will introduce you to the benefits of praying the Bible as well as several tools for doing so. The course is designed for personal and small group use. (The course serves as a companion course to my book When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide to Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer.) Watch the course trailer below: