A friend on Facebook commented about my post on God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will with this: “Something that I have thought a lot about, if God is sovereign (and I believe that He is), what is the purpose of prayer?” This is such a good question. And I believe I have an answer. This is a multifaceted answer so let me peel it down.
First, let me get something out of the way. Here’s what sovereignty is NOT: A parent saying, “Because I say so!” Sovereignty is not a power struggle; it’s an invitation to enter into safety. It’s not a punishment; it is a place of safety. Our Heavenly Father is not an earthly parent with human motivations. If you view God’s sovereignty through the assumption of His anger, nothing else I say will make any sense.
(A quick reminder here, sovereignty doesn’t release me from responsibility either. Just because God knows what the outcome will be – and everything happens by His sovereign hand – doesn’t mean I might as well lay back and let it happen.)
What’s the Purpose of Prayer
So why pray? Prayer in the face of God’s sovereignty affects me more than anything. Fervent prayer is deeply humbling as well as character building. Fervent prayer has the potential to change ME. In the wrestling, I come to the ring where I can be changed. Prayer refines and defines the choices of my life. If I didn’t know where I was before praying, I certainly will after having to wait for an answer.
Fervent prayer is also relational. Prayer is purposed to perpetuate relationship with the Three Persons of the Godhead. Prayer isn’t to get my way, it’s to know The Way. Prayer and sovereignty are entwined so that I can know the Person of Christ who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.
Like most earthly fathers, our Heavenly Father wants interaction and communication with His children. Fervent prayer is open communication with our Father. This kind of prayer is seeking Him, His face, and His fellowship. Sure, if I am fervently praying for something, I am usually looking for the answer to my prayer more than anything else. I want a supply for some arena in my life. But while I may be singularly focused on an answer, God’s aim is deeper knowledge of Christ.
Does Prayer Matter?
Does fervent prayer move the heart of the King? Yes! Our petitions can affect the outcome. I’m not praying to a lifeless statue; I am seeking Jesus, who has compassion on us and empathizes with our weakness for He faced the same testing. Prayer is not directed towards a stoic entity, even if sovereignty knows the Answer.
Still looking for another reason to pray? God asked us to do it. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV). God asks us to pray, and there are deep reasons why, like becoming the Bride.
Prayer and the Bride of Christ
Prayer is bridal and intended to be deeply intimate. God’s Lordship is never in question but my participation and agreement is His desire. Jesus is Lord but His plan is for our co-reigning. My participation isn’t an exercise in futility or endurance; it’s for love. Prayer isn’t arm-twisting or a needy man’s plea; it’s union. Think about discussions you have with your spouse about life. I’m talking about moments of heart revealing, not just common interaction. It’s as intimate as being known and this is what prayer is for us. Prayer can be yada, the Hebrew word for the intimate knowing of bridal union. Do I take this too far? I think I’m not taking it far enough. The landscape of our world is for KNOWING our Beloved. So how could prayer, discussions, and supplications be for anything less than love?
I know that in our task-oriented, performance-driven world, relegating prayer to the realm of love seems counterproductive. But apart from love we can do nothing! Yes, answered prayer is important, but what’s more important is to know The Answerer. Bowing to God’s sovereignty is a surrender to Lordship. It’s an affirmative statement that we’re on the right team, and that our Commander holds our complete destiny.
The Original Question on Prayer
Back to the original question: If God is sovereign, what’s the purpose of prayer? The purpose is multifaceted, just as I said: one, being changed through the process; two, coming into relationship with God through communion; and three, bridal preparation that we may reign with the King of Glory. And the motivation of prayer is LOVE. I don’t pray to manipulate God; I pray to fellowship with God. I come to know Him through prayer and am known myself. Prayer is a deeply revealing mirror exposing my heart and soul while presenting me with opportunities for transformation. Prayer changes me, even as God’s sovereignty holds me.
If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Philips