The Bible tells us many times that God hears our prayers. Does that mean that God knew that we would pray and what we would pray for?
Prayer is a means by which we draw nearer to God. God states that we should pray for the following reasons:
1. That the Lord God Himself should be honored through worship. (Isaiah 57:15; Jonah 2:9)
2. For our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. (Psalms 116:1)
3. For our seeking from Him the things which we are in need. (James 4:2)
But here (reason #3 above) a difficulty to some presents itself. If God has foreordained, and given that ordaining decree
, God knows what will happen before it happens, what is the use of prayer? If it is true that God is sovereign, that is "of Him and through Him and to Him are all things
" (Romans 11:30), then why pray?
Prayer is to acknowledge that God does know of what we are in need. Prayer is not required to inform
of God with the knowledge of what we need, but is designed for us to confess to God of our sense of need. In this, as in everything, God's thoughts are not like our thoughts. God requires that His gifts should be sought after. God desires to be honored by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing upon us.
However, the question still remains, If God is sovereign, ordaining everything that will happen, and regulating all events, then isn’t prayer a profitless exercise?
One sufficient answer to these questions is that God admonishes us to pray, "Pray without ceasing
" (1 Thess. 5:17). And again, "men ought always to pray
" (Luke 18:1). Moreover, the Scriptures declare that "the prayer of faith shall save the sick
," and "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much
" (James 5:15-16); and Christ, our perfect Example in all things, was foremost a Person of Prayer. Thus, it is evident, that prayer is neither meaningless nor valueless
. But this still does not remove the difficulty nor answer the question: What then is the relationship between God's Sovereignty and Christian prayer?
To begin, I would assert from the teachings of Scripture that prayer is not intended to change God's purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means
He has appointed for their accomplishment. God has elected certain ones to be saved, but He has also decreed that these shall be converted through the preaching the Gospel. The Gospel, then, is one of the appointed means
for the working out of the eternal counsel of the Lord; and prayer is another. God has decreed the means
as well as the ends
, and among the means
of God is prayer. Even the prayers of His people (along with the fact that these prayers would be lifted up by the free will of the ones praying) are included in God's eternal decree. Therefore, instead of prayers being in vain they are one the means
through which God actualizes His decree.
That prayers for the execution of the very things decreed by God are not meaningless is clearly taught in the Scriptures
. Elijah knew that God was about to give rain, but that did not prevent him from at once taking himself to prayer (James 5:17-18). Daniel "understood
" by the writings of the prophets that the captivity was to last but seventy years, yet when these seventy years were almost ended we are told that he set his face "unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes
" (Daniel 9:2-3). God told the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
” (Jeremiah 29:11-12).
Here then is the design of prayer
: not that God's will may be altered (for it cannot), but that God's will may be accomplished
in His own good time and way that He has decreed it to be so. It is because God has promised certain things that we can ask for them with the full assurance of faith. It is God's purpose that His will is brought about by His own appointed means
, and that He may do His people good upon His own terms, and that is, by the 'means
' and 'terms
' of entreaty and supplication. Did not Christ know for certain that after His death and resurrection He would be exalted by the Father? Of course He did. Yet we find Christ asking for this very thing in John 17:5: "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
" Did not Christ know that none of His people could perish? Yet He sought God the Father to "keep
" them (John 17:11).
It should be remembered that God's will is immutable, and cannot be altered by our pleas
. When the mind of God is not toward a people to do them good, it cannot be turned to them by the most fervent and troublesome prayer of those who have the greatest interest in Him: "Then the LORD said to me, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!
" (Jeremiah 15:1). Similarly, the prayers of Moses to enter the Promised Land are another example.
So, in summary, we have the answer, namely, that our prayers are in the ordaining, and that God has as much ordained His people's prayers as anything else He has ordained, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. God decrees that we should pray—we pray; God decrees that we shall be answered, and the answer comes to us.