“Why should I pray if God already knows what is going to happen?”
A question that, I’m sure, many of us have pondered at different times and for many different reasons. At its core, however, this question is wrestling with the felt tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. If God is truly sovereign, then He will accomplish His purpose, whether I pray or not… won’t He?
God is completely sovereign, seen time and again throughout the Scriptures (Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4; Acts 4; Eph. 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 6:15-16). As God has planned, “so it will be… so it will happen” (Isa. 14:24), there is nothing that happens outside of His purpose. And yet, within His glorious and sovereign plans, we see God use sinful and broken people to accomplish His will. So could it be that, in His sovereignty, God also chooses to use the prayers of His people to accomplish His purpose?
God is sovereign, so He ordains the ends, and also the means. He governs all events that occur within this universe, and the methods in which those events come about. Throughout the Bible, God seems unafraid to unite His sovereignty alongside the prayer of His people (Exo. 15; Num. 11; Josh. 10; 1 Sam. 1; 1 Kings 18-19; Jonah 2; Acts 12). In fact, when God makes and carries out His plans, it seems that He plans for us to pray (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17). God makes the humble, dependant prayers of His people, the instrument of what He does in the world.
Prayer does change things. But prayer also changes us.
The first three requests within the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6) focus on the glory of God- that is named will be “hallowed” or praised, and “your kingdom come, your will be done”. Because God is sovereign, His will shall be done regardless… I wonder though, if in this Jesus is inviting his disciples (and us too) to align their unreliable will with God’s unwavering, sovereign will. Praying that God’s ‘kingdom come’ and His ‘will be done’ involves leaning into His sovereignty. It involves asking boldly that God will keep His promises, trusting that He will act. The rest of the Lord’s Prayer involves bringing petitions before God- for daily, physical needs, as well as our spiritual needs. As we bring our petitions or requests before God in prayer, we are led to entrust all aspects of our lives to be completely under God’s good sovereignty.
So why should we pray if God already knows? As A.W Pink put it, “Here then is the design of prayer: not that God’s will may be altered, but that it may be accomplished in his own good time and way” (The Sovereignty of God, pg. 172). Prayer changes things and us, committing everything to His faithful sovereignty.