Prayer changes things. You find plaques promulgating this notion everywhere. You may have one in your home. Countless sermons have been preached, countless prayers prayed, under this assumption: “Prayer changes things.”

Or does it?

If prayer changes things, how can we believe that God is sovereign and all-knowing? How can we hold that he has his plans all worked out and that these plans cannot fail? If not a bird falls from the heavens without his decree, if we live and move and have our being under his sovereignty, if he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:11), then in what meaningful sense can we say that prayer changes things?

Indeed, that is precisely why some people argue that God must be severely limited in certain ways. They reason something like this: “Frankly, it seems to us that although God is extraordinarily powerful, it is unreasonable to think he is all-powerful, absolutely sovereign. Surely that would reduce the entire universe to a toy, God’s toy. We would lose our freedom; we would become mere puppets, chunks of matter moved around by a despotic Deity. If in that sort of universe we pray, well, we pray only if God has ordained that we pray; if we do not pray, God has ordained that too. In either case it is hard to see how our prayers actually change anything. Certainly there is little point in encouraging people to be fervent or passionate in prayer: your encouragement has been ordained, and if they listen to you and offer fervent prayer that, too, has been ordained. The entire business becomes pretty phony. Surely there is no other reasonable option: we simply have to conclude that God cannot be utterly sovereign, absolutely omnipotent.”

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