Prayer and The Sovereignty of God
Many questions are raised when the topic of God’s sovereignty and prayer are mentioned in the same sentence together. These questions are the direct result of any extended thought on the fact that God is sovereign, and yet we, as mere humans, can pray to God and be answered by him. The many broad sweeping statements in the Bible made by Jesus regarding prayer, are perhaps the most confusing at first glance, “Ask, and it will be given to you…For everyone who asks receives” (Matt. 7:7-8).
Initially, this might not cause anyone to lose any sleep, but then the difficulties begin when a person tries to synchronize the simple truths about prayer in the Bible with the powerful, overarching statements about God’s sovereignty such as found in Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” One can not but help to wonder how God’s sovereignty and prayer practically fit together. But we must be careful as we proceed to look into these topics for as C. S. Lewis reminds us, “Prayer is not a machine” (C. S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, p.10) but rather is born out of our relationship with God, not from knowing information about him, but from knowing him (C. S. Lewis, p. 7). In order to set the stage for a discussion of some practical principles about prayer that come out of the truth that God is sovereign, we will first give basic definitions of both prayer and God’s sovereignty.
A Basic Definition of Prayer
Prayer is simply converse with God. Or as John Bradford expressed it, “Prayer is a simple, unfeigned, humble, and ardent opening of the heart before God; wherein we either ask things needful, or give thanks for benefits received” (John Bradford, “Godly Meditations on the Lord’s Prayer, Belief, and Ten Commandments, with other Exercises”, The Writings of John Bradford, I, 111). There are many ways that prayer is referred to in the Bible. It is sometimes described as “calling on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26), “entreating the Lord” (Ex. 32:11), “pouring out one’s soul to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15), “praying and crying out to heaven” (2 Chr. 32:20), “seeking and imploring the Almighty” (Job 8:5), “bowing one’s knees to God” (Eph. 3:14).
A Basic Definition of God’s Sovereignty
Essentially the sovereignty of God refers to the fact that “He has absolute authority and rule over his creation” (James Montgomery Boice, “The Sovereign God”, Foundations of the Christian Faith, I, 149). In Scripture, God’s sovereignty is sometimes referred to “his rule over all” (1 Chr. 29:12), “his being God” (Ps. 46:10), “his kingship over the earth” (Ps. 47:7), “his possessing all authority” (Matt. 28:18), “his having working all things after the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). In order for God to be sovereign he must be all-knowing (Ps. 94:11; 139:4, 1 Jn. 3:20), all-powerful (Gen. 18:14, Heb. 1:3, Rev. 4:8), and totally free (Ex. 33:19, Rom. 9:20-24). God’s sovereignty is really to speak of the “Godhood of God…to declare that God is God” (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 23) and that there is no other (Deut. 4:35; 39, Isa. 45:5; 22, Joel 2:27).