Why pray?

“If God is God and in control over all things, then why do we pray?  What good is prayer?  What does prayer do?” These are common questions I’ve heard many times, from different people.  We can be confident to know God is in control, He has commanded us to pray, and He works through our prayers.

God is sovereign.  He is the king that sits upon His throne. He knows the beginning from the end (Psalm 90:2) and is in control of all things.  Ephesians 1:11 says He works all things according to the counsel of His will.  Proverbs 16:33 says dice may be thrown but every decision is from the Lord. Charles Spurgeon explained it this way, “Every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of leaves from a tree is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”  There is nothing outside of God’s control.

Yet we’re commanded to pray and encouraged to pray.  God’s people of the Old Testament prayed, Jesus modeled and taught on prayer and even prayed Himself.  Paul gave instructions on prayer.  It is expected that God’s people will be praying.  Prayer expresses our trust, faith, adoration, praise, and dependence on God. Not all prayer is asking things of God, though; He is not a “cosmic PEZ dispenser” or “genie of the lamp” to give us whatever we ask. Our prayers include asking as well as praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and confession.  Much of our prayers are to change our own lives, deepen our relationship with Him, and move us closer to Him.  He is our heavenly Father who knows what we need and how to give good gifts.  Prayer is the life-blood of relationship and communication between God and His people, and it is through prayer He and His people grow closer together and “get things done” for His glory and purposes.

That’s how these aspects fit together.  Through the Holy Spirit working in us, prayer comes from God, and He works through the prayers of His people.  God ordains that prayer would happen, just as God ordained His Word goes forward through preaching, teaching, and conversations we have with unbelievers.  God can do anything any way He wants, He is not dependent on man to accomplish His purposes, but He works with His people through prayer.  We can have confidence in praying the Scriptures, “according to His will” (Matthew 6:10, Romans 8:27, 1 John 5:14-15).  God works in His people, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and He equips His people with everything good that we may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, amen (Hebrews 13:21).  That includes our prayers.

Scholar and theologian Don Carson summarizes God’s role and ours in prayer: “Both God’s sovereignty and his person-hood become reasons for more prayer, not reasons for abandoning prayer. It is worth praying to a sovereign God because he is free and can take action as he wills; it is worth praying to a personal God because he hears, responds, and acts on behalf of his people, not according to the blind rigidities of inexorable fate.”  As we pray, we can be confident to know God is in control, He has commanded us to pray, and He works through our prayers.