If God is in control of everything, why pray?

Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 115:3

Evening Prayer, Boston Public Library
Evening Prayer

 God’s Greater Glory

God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith,”  by Bruce A. Ware is a book that had a huge impact on my understanding of the value of God’s glory and the relationship of God’s glory to God’s providence (the doctrine of God’s ongoing involvement with all of creation to the end that God’s purposes are fulfilled).

This book helped me see God’s majesty in his providence and helped me resolve much of my long-term struggle with understanding the relationship between God’s sovereignty (God’s exercise of power over creation), human “free” will, and human responsibility

If God is sovereign, why pray?

As you have probably concluded by now, included in my understanding of God is the glorious truth that he is sovereign – he exercises his power over all of creation to the end that he perfectly fulfills his own good purposes.  This is a comforting truth for me for, if God is good, which he is, I am glad that his goodness will prevail – there is no chance that any part of God’s good plan will fail.  In fact there is no chance at all since chance doesn’t exist (Proverbs 16:33).

For some Scripture references that confirm God’s sovereignty see the end of my blog, “Avocado Pits, Family Happenings, & World Events.”

But, if God does all that he pleases to accomplish his own good purposes, why should we pray?

I begin with Dr. Ware and his book, “God’s Greater Glory,” because in it, he gives two reasons. One reason is rooted in God’s self-sufficiency. The second is rooted in God’s sovereignty.  Below is my summary of Dr. Ware’s words regarding the “why” of prayer.

We should pray because God is self-sufficient and knows that we need him.

God doesn’t need anything from us, and we need everything from him (Acts 17:24-25).  Furthermore God already knows everything about us (Psalm 139:1-6, Matthew 6:8). Therefore, God did not institute prayer as a means to fulfill something that is lacking in him, as a means to learn something he doesn’t already know, or as a means to gain a new perspective (Romans 11:33-35).

Rather God instituted prayer as a means “to draw us into close and intimate relationship with him,” p. 186. Through prayer we reveal our dependence on and trust in God. Through prayer we see God as he is – holy, glorious, kind, generous, gracious, compassionate, the Giver and Sustainer, the Savior.  Through prayer we see ourselves as we are – needy, poor, dependent, and in need of mercy and grace.  It is through prayer that we receive God’s mercy and grace for our daily lives.  It is through prayer that we enter the presence of God himself.  See Isaiah 55:1-3a and Matthew 7:7-11.

We should pray because God is sovereign and has ordained that our prayers make a difference.

Through God’s unqualified, total, and complete authority, wisdom, and power –his sovereignty, he is perfectly capable in himself of bringing about whatever he wants exactly as he wants.  From this perspective, ultimately, God does not need or require our contribution, our participation in prayer, or in any other way, to accomplish any of his purposes including our redemption, salvation, sanctification, or anything else.

On the other hand however, though God does not need our prayers to accomplish his purposes, God did chose to design prayer to be the means for accomplishing some of his ends. That is, though he could have done otherwise, God set-up the world so that some of his works would be accomplished through prayer (For some examples see Gen. 25:21; Psalm 106:19-23; 1 Sam. 1:27; 2 Kings 20:5; Luke 1:13; Acts 10:30-32; and Acts 12:5-12.).

What this means ultimately is that our prayers make a difference.  They make a difference because God has decided they would.  So, bottom line, pray …

  • Pray for your enemies out of love for them. Matthew 5:44
  • Pray only to be heard by God.  Matthew 6:5-7
  • Pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for daily needs to be met, for protection from evil, and for forgiveness Matthew 6:9-13
  • Pray earnestly for God to send out laborers.  Matthew 9:38
  • Pray, believing you will receive whatever you ask.  Matthew 21:22
  • Pray so that you won’t enter into temptation.  Matthew 26:41
  • Pray so that destructive sprits will flee. Mark 9:29
  • Pray always and do not lose heart.  Luke 18:1
  • Pray at all times that you will have strength to be able to escape destruction. Luke 21:36
  • Pray that God will forgive the wrong intents of your heart. Acts 8:22
  • Pray for fellow believers who are in prison.  Acts 12:5
  • Pray for those God has set apart for a specific work.  Acts 13:2-3
  • Pray for church elders.  Acts 14:23
  • Pray when you are in prison. Acts 16:25
  • Pray for people you will never see again.  Acts 20:36
  • Pray, when you are in danger of perishing, for day to come.  Acts 27:29
  • Pray for the healing of others.  Acts 28:8
  • Pray that you will be able to minister to others.  Romans 1:10
  • Pray by way of the Spirit’s intercession for you when you don’t know what to pray. Romans 8:26
  • Pray for the salvation of Israel. Romans 10:1
  • Pray constantly as you rejoice in hope and are patient in tribulation.  Romans 12:12
  • Pray on behalf of others believers.  Romans 15:30
  • Pray that you may interpret what you are saying.  1 Corinthians 14:13
  • Pray with your spirit and you mind.  1 Corinthians 14:15
  • Pray for those who contribute to your spiritual needs.  2 Corinthians 9:13-14
  • Pray that fellow believers will do right and not do wrong.  2 Corinthians 13:7
  • Pray for restoration.  2 Corinthians 13:9
  • Pray to give thanks for fellow believers.  Ephesians 1:16
  • Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication for the saints.  Ephesians 6:18
  • Pray that love of fellow believers may abound and increase in and with true knowledge and discernment.  Philippians 1:9
  • Pray – with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Philippians 4:6
  • Pray for fellow believers to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Colossians 1:9
  • Pray steadfastly with an alertness and thankfulness.  Colossians 4:2
  • Pray for fellow believers to have many opportunities to speak the Gospel. Colossians 4:3
  • Pray that fellow believers may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.  Colossians 4:12
  • Pray that you will be able to continue ministering to those who are not mature in the faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:10
  • Pray without ceasing.  1 Thessalonians 5:17
  • Pray that God will make fellow believers worthy of his calling and that he may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.  2 Thessalonians 1:10-12
  • Pray that God’s word will move quickly and be honored and that those who take God’s word to others will be delivered from wicked and evil men.  2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
  • Pray for all people. 1Timothy 2:1
  • Pray with holy hands lifted and without anger or quarreling.  1 Timothy 2:8
  • Pray that when fellow believers share their faith their sharing will become effective when others see all the good things in the lives of the sharers – things that are there for Christ’s sake. Philemon 1:6
  • Pray for guests who can minister to you and to whom you can minister. Philemon 1:22
  • Pray that fellow believers, who have a clear conscience and desire to act honorable in all things, will be able to minister to you.  Hebrews 13:18-19
  • Pray if you are suffering.  James 5:13
  • Pray, church elders, for those who are sick.  James 5:14
  • Pray for one another that you may be healed.  James 5:16
  • Pray unhindered as you live with your wife in an understanding and honorable way. 1 Peter 3:7
  • Pray, you who are righteous, expecting God to hear. 1 Peter 3:12
  • Pray while exercising self-control and sober-mindedness. 1 Peter 4:7
  • Pray God will give life to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. 1 John 5:16
  • Pray for fellow believers that all may go well with them and that they may be in good health.  3 John 1:2
  • Pray in the Holy Spirit. Jude 1:20

Further Resources

Dr. Ware is a Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.   You can read more about him here.

Theological Perspectives –“Hands of God and Men”:

Prior to reading “God’s Greater Glory,” my husband and I had, in God’s providence, been introduced to Dr. Ware through his 3-session series entitled “Hands of God and Men (see below).  You can find PDF handouts for all three sessions here.  Note, that the video and audio links no longer work from this page.  However, you can link to the audio sessions using the links below.

If you wonder what your theology is (everybody has an idea of who God is and what he is like – a theological perspective) and want to ponder how it affects the ways you think and talk about God and ultimately live and relate to other people, I recommend this series without hesitation.

Session 1:  Uncertain Hands of God and Men: Providence in Process Thought and Open Theism 
Session 2: Independent Hands of God and Men: Providence in Classic Arminianism 
Session 3: Coordinated Hands of God and Men: Providence in the Reformed Tradition 

God’s Providence:

On page 17 of “God’s Greater Glory,” Dr. Ware suggests the following definition of providence:

God continually oversees and directs all things pertaining to the created order in such a way that 1) he preserves in existence and provides for the creation he has brought into being, and 2) he governs and reigns supremely over the entirety of the whole of creation in order to fulfill all of his intended purposes in it and through it.

C.H. Spurgeon’ sermon titled “God’s Providence”  offers great insight into the concept of providence.

God’s Sovereignty:

On page 186 of “God’s Greater Glory,” Dr. Ware summarizes God’s sovereignty as

God’s absolute authority, wisdom, and power to plan and carry out his perfect will, over heaven and earth, without failure or defeat of any detail or of its overall purposes.

An especially helpful resource on God’s Sovereignty especially as it relates to evil is Dr. John Piper’s extremely interesting and very short (and free in PDF form) book, “Spectacular Sins.”

Free Will:

You can find some great resources explain the differences between the concepts of libertarian free will (arbitrary choices removed from inclination, desire, volition) and compatibilism (God’s control is compatible with man’s free choice OR God is in control of man’s free choice) on the monergism.com site.

I also recommend Martin Luther’s essay “The Bondage of the Will” translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston.