“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7–8)

You do not believe in the biblical concept of God’s sovereignty if you do not pray. Without prayer, your belief is in fatalism, not sovereignty. We must remember that sovereignty speaks of God’s authority, power, and ability to effectively rule over His creation (Psalm 115:2; 135:6; Ephesians 1:11; Acts 17:26), including the hearts and minds of people (Proverbs 16:1, 9; Jeremiah 10:23; Philippians 2:12-13). Sovereignty is personal, not fatalistic. It reminds us that reality is governed neither by chance nor fatalism, but rather is directed by a holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, and yet a personal and gracious God who Christians know intimately as Father (Matthew 6:9-13).

God reveals His specific sovereignty as thoroughly compatible with human responsibility (Genesis 50:19-20). The reality, culpability, and responsibility of human choices in no way negate the truth that God is in control (Leviticus 20:7-8). His sovereignty in no way contradicts any of His other perfections. God’s sovereignty, for instance, does not contradict His appointment of ordained means (Acts 18:9-10). In the economy of God’s created order, He has ordained means to be used for certain ends. Prayer is an ordained means, to be used with the same weight of raw necessity as the preaching of the gospel for salvation.

In answer to the question, “Why pray if God is sovereign?,” I ask, “Why do anything if God is sovereign?” The same truth applies to both and the right answer—the biblical answer—is that God’s sovereignty does not relieve man of responsibility—both are true and necessary (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).

The unstated logic of many runs like this: “Why pray if God is sovereign? If He is in control, then way bother praying?” I think the harder question to answer is: “Why pray if God is not sovereign?” Is it more logical to pray to a god who is not sovereign, who is incapable of ruling all things and directing the course of history? The really illogical and futile position is to pray to a deity that cannot truly answer.

Prayer presupposes that God is sovereign. Otherwise we would have no hope, no comfort, no assurance, and really no reason to trust that God is able to answer the cries of our hearts. Why should we have faith in God to answer our petitions if we do not believe that He is sovereign to answer them with authority and power? Such would be on a level of petitioning a car manufacturer to change the way people drive. Sure, they made the car, but they cannot rule how people drive what they made. The car manufacturer is a creator but not sovereign over its creation. God is both.

God’s sovereignty should encourage rather than discourage prayer. In fact, the very impetus for crying to God and not another human being is because God is sovereign over all things. As one Puritan said, “As prayer without faith is but a beating of the air, so trust without prayer [is] but a presumptuous bravado. He that promises to give, and bids us trust his promises, commands us to pray, and expects obedience to his commands. He will give, but not without our asking.” Far from negating our responsibility to pray, God’s sovereignty grounds prayer in the almighty majesty of God Himself—it makes much of God as the one who has all power to accomplish all good

For more on this topic, listen to our messages on Christ’s model prayer from our sermon series, “True Religion”.