Prayer Lesson 4: Prayer and the Sovereignty of God

Below are statements found in a brochure regarding a national “Fasting and Prayer” conference[A1] .

“Through the process of intercession and prayer, there was enough power in this room to move the hand of God.” Dr. Thomas Trask, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God.

“I know that when we pray and fast, it gets the attention of heaven, and God moves in and with His people” Dr. Jim Henry, President, Southern Baptist Convention.

These statements blaspheme God. They treat God as if he is a puppet (”[our prayers] move the hand of God”) and as if He were sleeping on the job (”[our prayers] get the attention of heaven”). To say that the will of man moves the hand of God and causes Him to move in with His people is what one writer calls, “rank infidelity.”[1]

God is sovereign and we must respond to Him as such. When we say that God is sovereign, we mean:

  • He rules over all things

He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations – let not the rebellious rise up against him. (Psa 66.7)

  • He has decreed that we exist and all the events of our lives are a result of that decree.

“The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s; upon them he has set the world. (1Sa 2.6–8)

  • He determines the placement of every molecule, and the rotation of every planet.

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. (Job 26.7)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, (Psa 8.3)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Col 1.16–18)

  • He decreed the day of our birth and death.

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:10

There is no doubt that God is sovereign and every event of our lives is under His control. This doctrine has major implications for prayer. If our God was not the sovereign God, our prayers would be ineffective. We would be like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, praying incessantly to a god who cannot use our prayers. However, since it is quite clear that our God is sovereign, we have great comfort because He decreed our prayers and will use our prayers to accomplish His perfect purposes.

As one author states, “Every problem in prayer is traceable to a misconception about God.”[2] Another wrote: “Perverted notions about God soon rot the religions in which they appear.”[3] Those who deny God’s sovereignty will find that their prayers are hollow and ineffective.

Effective prayer is rooted in our dependence on our sovereign God!

We must pray because we are needy people who depend on our sovereign God

Consider the word “prayer.” The very fact that one prays means that he admits, consciously or unconsciously, that he is needy. He knows he is a creature who needs God.

Recent events[4] in America have shown this to be true. All across our nation, people, religious or not, have been praying that God would “bless America.”

The Bible records for us many individuals who have both recognized God’s sovereignty and their need to pray.

Nebuchadnezzar, prayed because He was needy and depended on the sovereign God (Da 4.34–37)

King Nebuchadnezzar became very wealthy. One day while walking on the roof of his palace, he noticed his acquisitions. He bragged to himself (with others possibly standing by) “Look at what I have done. I am a great king!” At that very moment, God took all of this away from him, caused him to become like an animal and live in that state for seven years. God will share His glory with no one!

In Daniel 4, we read that Nebuchadnezzar finally admitted that he was a needy person and no longer sovereign in his life.

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Dan 4.34–37)

The early church prayed because they were needy and depended on their sovereign God (Ac 2.42, 4.21–24)

Early church believers were known to be praying people. From the earliest days of the church’s existence, prayer was a part of the believers’ worship:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Ac 2.42)

This verse provides for us some of the elements of an ideal church.[5] From the beginning of the establishment of local churches, prayer was one of the fundamental elements. This verse does not detail all of the fundamental elements of a church, but it does detail some of them.

Theoretically, if a group of believers gathered together, sang, preached God’s Word, but did not pray, it could not be considered a New Testament church.

Prayer was essential to the survival of this new church and for the mission of the church to expand. They faced many threats and needed God’s sovereign protection and power to continue.

Turn to Acts 4, only two chapters later, we find the church engaged in prayer to their sovereign Lord:

21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old. 23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. (Ac 4.21–24)

If you continue reading the book of Acts, you will find 28 more references to the early believers praying.

How then do we pray to our sovereign God?

We are to pray according to God’s revealed will

God’s revealed will is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

Scripture reveals to us many things about prayer:

  • For whom we pray

1 Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone

  • How often we are to pray

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray continually

  • The manner in which you are to pray

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Mt 6.5–8)

  • The content of your prayers

“This, then, is how you should pray: This, then, is how you should pray: ”‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt 6.9–15)

We are to pray according to God’s desires

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. (Eph 5.10)

    “ . . . if we ask anything according to His will . . .” 1 John 5:14

God’s desires must be the focus of our lives. Therefore, we must pray with God’s desires in mind. Often we use the phrase, “if-it-be-Your-will,” but do we mean it? Do we really want God’s will?

We have to ask the question, “What does God desire?“ when we pray. When we read God’s Word, we know for whom we ought to pray, the manner by which we are to pray, and the basic content. We know what God expects for godly living. We know that we are to be content, not greedy people.

So, applying this truth can present us with distinct challenges at times:

Knowing that God detests gluttony, how then do we pray when we sit down to eat at Home Town Buffet?

Knowing that God detests lavish materialism, how then do we pray for that new car, home, or snowmobile?

We are to pray realizing that our sovereign God will use our prayers

If you have read Paul’s letters, you will know how much he depended on his sovereign God.

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there. (Ro 15.31)

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Eph 6.19)

3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Col 4.3–4)

pray continually. (1Th 5.17)

Brothers, pray for us. (1Th 5.25)

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes:

3.1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.

Paul prays that the gospel will advance, and when it advances it will do so rapidly and be honored (accepted) by the lost.

There is nothing peculiar about this prayer. It is a simple, straightforward exhortation for the Thessalonians to pray for the gospel. What is interesting is that Paul; just a few verses earlier spoke about God’s sovereignty.

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you a to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2Th 2.13–14)

In 2.13, Paul says that God chose you. The Greek word translated “chose” is in the middle voice. When the writer uses the middle voice, he wants to communicate that someone is doing something for himself. In this case, God is doing the choosing and He is doing it for Himself. So clearly, according to this verse, the salvation of sinners depends on God.

Paul saw no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and praying. In fact, Paul viewed them as complementary truths. Paul knew the Thessalonian prayers would not advance the cause of Christ without a sovereign God using them.

The bottom line is this. Not only did God decree the salvation of sinners, God also decreed that we pray for their salvation.


If you say you do not believe in God’s sovereignty, you are making a grave error. The unbeliever says the same thing. If you say that God is sovereign and do not pray, you do not believe it! It is tantamount to saying, “God, You are sovereign, but I don’t need you!”

Notice what one writer says:

“If I pray aright, God is graciously working out His purposes in me and through me, and the praying, though mine, is simultaneously the fruit of God’s powerful work in me through His Spirit. By this God-appointed means I become an instrument to bring about a God-appointed end. If I do not pray, it is not as if the God-appointed end fails, leaving God somewhat frustrated. Instead, the entire situation has now changed, and my prayerlessness, for which I am entirely responsible, cannot itself escape the reaches of God’s sovereignty, forcing me to conclude that in that case there are other God-appointed ends in view, possibly including judgment on me and on those for whom I should have been interceding!”[6]

[1] AW Pink in his book The Sovereignty of God, 110. writes: “To say that ‘human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man’ is rank infidelity – that is the only proper term for it.”

[2] C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God’s Ear.

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 12

[4] September 11, 2001 tragedies and war against terrorists

[5] F.F. Bruce says “Luke gives an ideal picture of the Spirit-endowed community of the new age.” The Acts of the Apostles, 3rd rev., 132.

[6] D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 165.

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