If God is Sovereign, Why Pray ? (Part 2)
[Editor's Note: Read Part 1 here]
By Matt Waymeyer
2. Jesus modeled a life of prayer.
A second reason believers should offer prayers of intercession 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 Gospels. 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” (Matthew 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” (Luke 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 (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35; Luke 22:41) or the “High Priestly prayer” of John 17:1? And what believer fails to cherish the fact that Jesus lives to intercede even now on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25)?
In offering prayers of 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 (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35; Luke 22:41). 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’ (Mark 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.
This same principle can be seen in the words of Jesus to Simon Peter in the Upper Room: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). With these words, Jesus tells Peter that He interceded and prayed that Peter’s faith would not fade away and come to nothing. But in the very next verse, Jesus refers to the time when Peter would indeed repent of his sin of denying Christ (“once you have turned again” in v. 32b), thereby revealing that He already knew Peter’s faith would not come to an end. This knowledge, however, did not deter Jesus from interceding on Peter’s behalf.
If the followers of Christ are to be imitators of Him and “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 1:6), we must be characterized by fervent prayers of intercession. Knowing that Jesus prayed as a way of life may not clear up the tension that exists in our minds between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of men, but it should motivate us to imitate the One who clearly saw no disparity between His own prayers and the sovereignty of His Father.
3. God is able to respond to our prayers.
Rather than hindering the prayers of believers, the sovereignty of God ought to motivate them to pray, for “prayer grows from the certainty of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty” (the god who hears, 47). After all, if God does not reign in sovereignty over His creation and is not able to accomplish whatever He desires in and through it, why bother requesting of Him what He is unable to deliver?
To illustrate, if a five-year-old boy repeatedly asks his mother to make it stop raining on a Saturday morning, this may create a precious memory, but in the final analysis the boy’s request is misguided. As much as his mother might like to alter the weather, she simply lacks the ability to do so, and therefore to request this of her makes little sense. But when the children of God come before the throne of grace, they come with the full assurance that their heavenly Father is able to accomplish whatever He is pleased to do, for nothing is too difficult for Him. And this ought to motivate us to pray.
“To be worth praying to,” Hunter writes, “God has first of all got to have the power to do what we ask. Second, he must have sovereignty over creation to do what he wants to do” (the god who hears, 48). For this reason, perhaps the question, “If God is sovereign, why pray?” could be replaced with the question, “If God is not sovereign, why pray?” Believers must come to their God presenting to Him their requests because He has both the authority and the ability to grant what they have requested in their petitions.
In a similar way, Jesus asked the Father to give the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 14:16a), which He already knew would happen (John 14:16b; 15:26; and 16:8); the apostle Paul expressed his fervent prayer for the salvation of the Jews (Rom. 10:1) shortly after he had written that God “has mercy on whom He desires, and…hardens whom He desires” (Rom. 9:18); and Daniel, who knew that the Jewish captivity was to last 70 years (Dan. 9:2), sought the Lord “by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:3) just prior to the completion of those 70 years. None of these prayers were muffled by the intercessor’s understanding that God is sovereign.
Matt Waymeyer is a regular contributor to Expository Thoughts. He is a husband and father of five and an Instructor in Bible Exposition and New Testament at the master's seminary in Sun Valley, CA.