I’m currently in a six month eldership process at my local church. This series is taken from questions asked during the process.


A group of people are talking and invite you to answer a question they have been trying to figure out. The question they are trying to answer is what role does prayer have in the Christian life if you preach the sovereignty of God? What would be your answer for them?

This is actually a great chance to teach on prayer. I would first be thankful that I’ve been invited to answer this question. The scarier thing would be if people privately question prayer in light of God’s sovereignty, don’t pray, and never tell anyone.

I would try to gently show the group the direction they are heading. If you follow the logic they are saying, “God, since I now know that you are totally in control I’m not going to pray anymore. Previously, I thought you weren’t completely in control so I thought you needed my help. Prayer was me throwing you a bone, helping you out.”

Hopefully, at this point they would be laughing and realize how silly that sounds by thinking God’s sovereignty rules out prayer. I would then probably spend most of my time focusing on how Jesus seemed to pray more than any of us today. Have any of us spent multiple all-nighters praying?

If there was any human being on the planet that didn’t need to pray it was the 2nd person of the Trinity. Yet Jesus, who obviously shows us He is all-knowing, still prays all the time.

Prayer is not us helping out God, letting Him know what’s going on…prayer is us submitting our life to God. It is a tangible way for us to commune with God. Prayer is not necessary for God to know what’s going on, but it is necessary for us to know and live situation-by-situation with our God.

How would you have answered this group?

    19 replies to "Elder Questions: Why Pray?"

    • William

      I just posted but it never showed up
      So I’ll just post the last bit.
      Mother Theresa when asked what she says to God when she prays responded ‘I listen to Him’
      When the interviewer asked ‘What does He say?’
      ‘He listens to me’ came the reply.
      The point is that praying isn’t about us getting stuff. but communion with the creator of the universe ought to be pleasure enough.

    • michael swieczkowski

      First, the all knowing God of the universe tells us to pray. He expects us to pray. Second, we have communion with our Father when we pray; which benefits us even if we don’t “feel” like it does. Third, Godly attributes are worked out and as such require effort, actually doing something. I benefit when I practice what the bible instructs in spite of my emotional attachment to those things I do. By the way, I struggle with my prayer life, my devotional life, and more.
      One last thought. Prayer is not about what God can do for me, it is more about what God can do through me when I am obedient and humble.
      So from a 5 point Calvinist theologically, there ya have it…
      Thanks for reading my post.

    • a.

      same reason as for any obedience… love, trust, joy

      counted as incense, golden bowls full, going up before Him; they are faith working thru love and provide the incomprehensible, all surpassing peace of God to guard hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

      they can teach abounding love in real knowledge and all discernment so that things we approve are excellent

      they show our delight in the Lord, used by Him to give us our hearts desires, that He may delight in our way, for the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs and corrects his steps, for we know that a man’s way is not in himself

      asking in Jesus name by His word and Spirit, He gives so that our joy may be made full and so the Father may be glorified in the Son

      (from various scriptures)

    • William Orris

      In eternity past Gods perfect will was done. In eternity future all of those saved and God will experience Gods perfect will. Now, during time the only place Gods perfect will is done is in heaven….unless we pray, bind that which should be bound and loose that which should be loosed, basically not dictating to God how to do something but declaring that we want His “will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven”. Once we pray in this manner and direct him, command him (Isa 45:11) to exert his will, not ours we will understand a powerful prayer concept.

      Prayer is for personal and devotional needs and it is the vehicle for bringing Gods will to bear here on earth and should not be just some nice sentiment tacked on the end of a prayer but should be the body and essence of our expression to Him.

      This truth, this principle can be seen that while heaven wanted the children of Israel to prevail, Moses must have his hands raised (a sign of personal surrender). When he lowered his hands the enemy won, clearly showing that when we want God to prevail we must surrender so that He gets all the glory.

      We are to bind and loose here on earth and when we bind the powers of darkness that surrounds a situation and loose the hands of God to deal with that situation (leaving the methodology / timing to Him) we can then expect that He desires to do much more than we can ever ask or think.

      May God help us all in this regard to bring His kingdom and will to earth through prayer.

    • William

      @William Orris
      So if I am reading this right, are you saying that God is ‘stuck’ or hands tied as it were until we verbally command things to happen?
      I am fairly new to this William Orris so please forgive me if I am wrong, but are you advocating word of faith or something such as that?
      Do your ideas fall into a recognised, classifiable area of theology?
      your namesake

    • William Orris


      I believe that what I’ve expressed is scripture based. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

      In addition, Jesus said that earth acts first and heaven responds by telling us that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew18:18)

      In the initial article the issue as I understood it pertained to the value of prayer if God is sovereign. Indeed he is, however he introduced free will and that creation limited him and now for time only his will must be sought by us fallen creatures via the avenue of prayer. He knows our needs and wants us to come to him, however when we leave personal prayer, devotional prayer and enter the world of intercessory prayer we are now stepping into a territory that only He is an expert in but has ordained that we functioning as intercessors command if you will that he do what he wants to do here on earth. Again, if Christ guided our thinking to solicit God in prayer that his kingdom come, his will be done here on earth, God must have limited himself to wait on our prayer for that to happen, to be asked back into his fallen creation.

      I apologize for my limited ability to clearly communicate this truth.

    • Luke

      As the article says,

      “Prayer is not us helping out God, letting Him know what’s going on…prayer is us submitting our life to God. It is a tangible way for us to commune with God. Prayer is not necessary for God to know what’s going on, but it is necessary for us to know and live situation-by-situation with our God.”

      God knows what we need before we ask (and indeed knows what we cannot even put into words – Rom 8:26). God doesn’t need prayer; we do. Prayer is submission to God – a plea for help with something we cannot handle on our own.

      I’d also say that it’s well within God’s sovereignty to decide that he’ll help only those who ask.

    • Missy M

      I believe that the mistaken view of divine sovereignty being one of control instead of rule leads to the understandable but errant logical end of asking this question.

      Romans says God works all things for the good of the believer. That word is “synergize” meaning many things do as they will, God not controlling them (though control of a matter is part of his rule at times but not absolutely or always as ruling is absolute and always) but God indeed ruling in and through them to accomplish his will.

    • theoldadam

      Some good thoughts on ‘prayer’ from the late Dr. Alvin Rogness:

      Why Pray?

      All sorts of reasons can be found for the futility of prayer. Why pray to a God who already knows what we need? He loves us, his children the world over, even when we ignore him. Certainly he cannot withhold his blessings until we remind him or press him. There have been times when I have thought that he has told us to ask for all sorts of things, even trivial things, because he wants us to talk to him. After all, it would be strange for members of the family never to communicate at all with their father.

      So I pray. I ask for health for myself and for my dear ones. I have along and assorted
      catalog—safety, security, guidance. On a Sunday morning I join the prayers of the congregation: “defend thy church…give it pastors according to thy Spirit…preserve our nation in righteousness and honor…sanctify our home…comfort all who are in sorrow and need….” I assume that God wants all these values for us long before we ask for them. I also assume that he will not, in some sort of pique, let these blessings lie in his celestial warehouse undelivered unless we ask for them. Yet we pray.

      There are other difficulties. We pray for health, and health ebbs away. We pray for safety,
      and a dear one is struck down in the streets. We pray for the end of war, and wars grind on.

      I dare not put limits on God. What he may do or be able to do in the wake of my prayers, I
      leave to him. A friend of mine, more cautious than I, said, “Prayer does not change things; it changes you.” Of course it changes me. I am in God’s presence when I pray, and am therefore exposed to him and to the powers that surge from him. But I must disagree with my friend. I believe that in some mysterious way prayer also changes things—maybe the chemistry of the body, the hearts of people I pray for, the turn of events, even the shape of history. How this can be, I cannot know. But God has invited me to pray; in fact ordered me…

    • theoldadam

      (cont. from above comment)

      …to pray.

      He has assured me that I can dial him direct, and the line will never be busy. The more we pray, the more likely it is that we will spend more time thanking him than requesting favors from him.

    • Ben Thorp

      To use the sovereignty of God as a reason for not praying shows up a basic misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer, that is it implies that the purpose of prayer is make stuff happen. But that’s not true, whether you’re Calvinist, Arminian or an Open Theist.

      (Basically – I agree with the last paragraph and many of the above comments 🙂 )

    • JB Chappell

      It is a misunderstanding of prayer to say that its purpose is to make things happen? While I’ll readily admit that there can be other purposes to prayer, there is no shortage of scripture pointing to prayer as a catalyst. According to Jesus, we need only ask for things in His name in order to get them (oops). According to Jesus, certain demons only come out with prayer and fasting. According to James, the prayer of a righteous man is effective. And lest we think this is effective “communion with God”, the context here is healing the sick. In fact, I would argue that pretty much any example of prayer in the Bible is an example of *petitionary* prayer, expressing a desire/request to make something happen. And there are no shortage of passages that make it very clear that what we ask for *IS* supposed to be granted.

      So it should be pretty clear that a question such as this does not arise (necessarily) out of some misunderstanding of prayer or even of Calvinism. Rather, it is a rather legitimate question acknowledging the tension between what is written, what is theorized, and what is experienced in life. It should be pretty clear upon reading scripture that if one were to ask the apostles, “why we should we pray?” the answer would not have been “because we’re told to!”. Rather, it would have been “to heal the sick!” or “to cast out demons!”, etc. The fact that one would essentially gloss over all of this in answering this question would, seem to me, only deepen the doubts that are implicit in the question.

    • Lee James

      My answer:

      Well first of all, “prayer” in this question seems to mean “requests”. But prayer isn’t requests! If the only time my wife ever spoke to me was to ask me for something, what kind of marriage would that be? Prayer is worship and blessing, mixed with reverence, submission and dependence. To those who are born again, prayer is an expression of our overflowing love for our Lord, combined with requests.

      So instead of “Why pray?” the question should be “Why ask Father for anything?”

      The answer is pretty simple. Because we need help! We need lots of things, day by day, moment by moment. Would God give anyone anything if they didn’t ask him for it? Why should he? Why would he?

      Yes, many of our blessings are things we never SPECIFICALLY asked for, but this is still a response to our first turning to God and asking for his blessing on our life. As a general rule, though, we get what we ask for. Can we really expect God to routinely do things for us that we never asked him for?

      Consider: what is the crucial difference between the World and the Church? It’s that we have asked God for help, while the World has turned away and not asked for help. And if they don’t ask for help, neither will he help them.

      Of course, ultimately, God is sovereign and at a higher level beyond our awareness it is his decision who is given faith and brought to life. He called us into a relationship with him, but not into a passive relationship; the nature of the relationship God wants us to have is one of active dependency on him.

      A husband “calls” his wife by proposing to her. But just because it was the groom who chose his bride, that doesn’t mean there can be any relationship without the bride responding in love, fellowship and dependence on her husband.

      One final note: if all the saints said “God is sovereign so I don’t need to do anything” then we would have no Church and no Bible.

      God bless 🙂

    • Clark Coleman

      A lot of people in these sovereignty discussions seem to assume that, if path A and path B are possible in the future, that God always has a definite preference between them. Is it not possible that God’s sovereign will can be accomplished along either path, and that God allows human prayer to influence which path is chosen? Sometimes God will have a definite preference and will not answer our petitions, often for reasons we don’t understand. At other times, He could answer our petitions because both Path A and Path B fit into His will. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Paul said. If Paul’s converts were praying fervently for Paul to live longer so that he could guide them, is it not possible that God grants their petition? If they do not fervently ask for Paul to live longer, then perhaps God could decide Paul’s future based entirely on God’s will without consideration of human petitions, and we don’t know (or understand) what that means in terms of Paul’s longevity. This is just one example of a general principle. Who says that God has always already decided that Path A MUST be taken?

    • JB Chappell


      Two things: 1) for many, God must be in control of everything to be “sovereign”. I’m not saying that is correct, only explaining why many think this way.

      2) I’m not sure how comforting it would be to understand that the things which your prayer can influence are those aspects of life that don’t really affect His plan. And if my mother dying a protracted, suffering death as opposed to a quick one fits into His plan either way, why wouldn’t a good God just go ahead and make it quick?

    • Clark Coleman

      JB Chappell:

      #1 I understand that this is the case. It is unfortunate and not supported by scripture and sound reasoning, but that is another discussion, I guess.

      #2 “… don’t really affect His plan” is an imprecise formulation. It is not the same as saying that God can accomplish his plan in multiple ways. If Paul had been executed at the end of his first imprisonment rather than his second imprisonment, God could have accomplished His sovereign will in the early church in another way. Having to do things in a different way means that Paul’s death does “affect” God’s plan; it does not “thwart” God’s plan.

      As for questions of human suffering, that would require a lengthy discussion. My views are quite different from most Christians. I believe that God can and does intervene miraculously in human affairs, but the miraculous interventions are not necessarily commonplace. Most of my prayers of petition request strength, encouragement, comfort, forgiveness, etc. for myself and for others. Some would say that I should be asking for mountains to move, for the dead to be resurrected, etc. As I said, a long discussion.

    • JB Chappell

      Agreed that this issue obviously requires extensive discussion. I also agree that “doesn’t really affect his plan” is imprecise, but I think the spirit of it is clear enough and correct. If I can implement my plan numerous ways because there are non-negotiable events that will happen because I control them, and other events that are subject to change and I can adapt to them, then *really* those fluid events are not affecting my plan, just affecting the minutiae of implementation.

      In a sense, one can see then how a completely controlling God *might* be comforting, as even the minute aspects of your day (i.e. the hairs of your head) are planned by God. And even the suffering might have some redeeming quality somewhere down the line. Of course, much of this comfort is undone by other complicating factors that many don’t like to think about.

    • Clark Coleman

      Just one more thought: Your suffering can be redeemed by God after the fact, even if He does not plan it and cause it a priori.

    • JB Chappell

      Yes, that is true. However, it might be more comforting to think of it in terms of God planning it that way all along, as opposed to God reacting to a bad situation He didn’t intend. That is completely subjective, however; some will like it one way, others another. But of course what we should be more interested in is what is more likely to be true.

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