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If God Is Sovereign, Are My Prayers Pointless?

By John Piper

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Well, there are three reasons why you should pray for things that you want, even though we know God’s sovereign will will be done. 1. God commands us to pray for what we want.

He tells us to pray for what we want — provided our wants are shaped by his word. John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish [literally whatever you want], and it will be done for you.” We’re not supposed to try to divine the sovereign will of God, and then simply say, “Do that.” That’s not what prayer is. We do not know ahead of time the sovereign will of God that governs all things. We are supposed to let the word abide in us and shape our wants and our wishes by the revealed will of God, not by the sovereign, all-controlling will of God. The revealed will of God, for example, is 1 Peter 3:11: “Seek peace and pursue it.” Now, I don’t know the way the sovereign will of God may work itself out in my life or your life in any certain situation. It may be crucifixion. That’s not peace. I’m not after that. And that’s what happened to Jesus. We pray toward what he tells us to pursue, not by trying to figure out what he sovereignly decrees. So, that’s number one: ask for what you want because the Bible says to ask for what you want, not to pray for the things that you dream up God’s going to do tomorrow. 2. If we don’t pray, we may not receive.

We should ask for what we want informed by the word, because if we don’t, we may not get it. James 4:2: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Now, let that sink in. There is a real causal connection between our asking and God’s giving. The absence of asking is the cause of the absence of receiving. That’s what James says: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” So ask, lest in failing to ask, you fail to receive. There it is. Period. Believe that. Do that. 3. God sovereignly plans our prayers.

This is the reason that number two is valid — that we may fail to receive when we fail to ask. Here’s the reason: God plans our prayers just as surely as he plans the events that he performs in answer to our prayers. Take Jesus’s prayer for Peter and for Peter’s repentance after his denial, for example, in Luke 22:32. He prays like this before Peter denied him, which he told him he would do: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when [not if] you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” So, God had planned for Peter to deny Jesus. That’s why Jesus knew he would. That’s why Jesus said he would. And God had planned for Jesus to pray for Peter’s repentance. And God had planned, in answer to that prayer, to cause Peter to repent, which he did. It would make no sense to say God’s will for Peter is going to happen no matter what Jesus prays, when in fact Jesus’s prayer was part of what God willed. And that’s the way it is with all prayer. God doesn’t plan the world, and then wonder if anybody’s going to pray for part of his plan to be changed. He plans the world, and part of his planning for the world is the praying of his people for what he plans to do. Here’s an example from Ezekiel 36:36–37: The nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it. Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Now, the word let doesn’t quite get the sense of the Hebrew, as though God were just giving permission for them to pray, like, “I will allow the house of Israel to ask me to do this.” No, more literally, it’s a statement of intention and purpose from God. It says, “This also I will be sought” — that is, prayed to. “This also I will be sought by the house of Israel to do for them: to increase them like a flock of men.” In other words, God intends to restore and increase Israel, and so he purposes, he plans, he intends, their prayer for this: “I will be sought by the house of Israel to do this for them because I intend to do this for them, as I have just said.” So, the third reason we should ask for what we want, what we wish, is that God plans our prayers just as surely as he plans the events that come from them.


About the author:

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently What Is Saving Faith?


Article excerpt taken from The Gospel Coalition (U.S. Edition). Read the full resource here:

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