Approaching the subject of prayer from the perspective of explanation—what prayer actually is, why prayer exists, and why it is possible at all—is much more encouraging than merely hearing exhortations to pray, because instead of focusing on ourselves, we focus on God. Thinking about what God does and who God is, is always far more encouraging than thinking about ourselves, about what we aren’t, about what we don’t do and what we should do more of.
So far, we have seen that we pray, fundamentally, because God is a speaking God. God calls out to us, and we answer. Despite our rebellion and infidelity, God did not keep silent. He called out to us supremely in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we answer him audibly by faith. We pray. We call God our heavenly Father only because we have been adopted into his family; we have become sons of God through the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our hearts, and we share that unique privilege of access at any time to the Father’s presence. Like the son of the president, we too, as sons of Almighty God, can enter unhindered, as it were, into the Oval Office of heaven to be heard, no matter how many “Do not disturb” signs there might seem to be on the door. We pray because we are sons of God in Jesus Christ.
A third reason we pray explains why our prayers can be meaningful and effective and purposeful in both time and eternity: we pray because God is a sovereign God.
The Logic of God’s Sovereignty
The logic of God’s sovereignty—at first you might think that doesn’t sound right, because it often seems to people that God’s sovereignty is actually a problem for prayer, not a reason for prayer. Christians often say things like, “Well, look, if God is really sovereign, if he knows all things, and if he’s predestined everything, then why should we pray at all? What’s the point of praying if God decides and controls absolutely everything? I can’t see the point of praying to a sovereign God.”
Well, let me just turn that around for a moment and put the matter another way. What would be the point of praying, of asking God to do things and make things happen, if he didn’t decide and control all things, and if he wasn’t absolutely sovereign over every power and authority in this universe and every other? What would be the point of praying if God couldn’t do the things we ask? If that were the case, then there really wouldn’t be any point at all, would there? Prayer to a God who wasn’t truly sovereign would indeed be a pointless exercise.
There is no point in lobbying the gardener at 10 Downing Street for a change in the law. He doesn’t have any influence. Nobody donates money to be able to sit next to that gardener at a special dinner. But people do expend a lot of energy to get access to the occupant of “Number 10,” the prime minister, and his government, precisely because in governing the nation, along with his cabinet ministers, he has sovereign power and authority to do things. Everyone knows that, which is why people want access to him. So it is with God.
The early church knew that perfectly well, which is why they prayed as they did in Acts 4. They were faced with the united opposition of all worldly powers, but they prayed to a sovereign God. Acts 4:24 tells us, “They lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord . . . ,’” which means he is the God who “made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” and the God who spoke through the prophets long ago about exactly what was going to happen in the future, including the words of the psalmist David quoted here in Acts. The Bible reports, as the most natural thing in the world, the church offering urgent prayer petitions to a wholly sovereign God, who will nonetheless do “whatever your hand and your plan . . . predestined to take place” (v. 28).