Prayer Article

Why Pray When God Will Ultimately Do His Will?

By Natalie Witcher

“Dear Lord, we pray that you hear our prayer and answer, if it’s your will. In Jesus’s name, Amen.” 

This is an example of the kind of prayer I grew up hearing. Nothing really wrong with that, is there? However, is there something behind that? Do we pray this way because we aren’t really sure our prayers work or even matter?

  • Why doesn’t God answer all our prayers? 
  • Will his will always win out regardless of what we say or ask? 
  • Is that how prayer works? 

In an ever-increasing difficult day and age, we need to look somewhere other than our own experiences. We need something more substantial, more trustworthy, and more foundational when it comes to revisiting the topic of prayer. 

We need to first look to Jesus. 

What Did Jesus Think About the Sovereignty of God and Prayer?

If we take a plain reading of the Scripture, we would be hard-pressed to make a claim that Jesus, or any writer of the New Testament, believed that their prayer was powerless and ineffective since God was ultimately sovereign. In fact, it simply can’t be found. What can be found are men who willingly surrendered themselves to whatever God willed, while also praying for whatever they needed. We see this most powerfully in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39b)

Neither Jesus nor the apostles showed any indication that prayer didn’t matter or was ineffective because God was sovereign and ultimately would do what he wanted. It’s quite the opposite. In order to know how and what to pray, we must take our cues from Scripture. 

Prayer Was Normal and Expected

When Jesus taught the disciples and the crowds about prayer, he began, “And when you pray…” (Matt. 6:5) Jesus expected people would pray to God. It was normal and understood that a good Jew would go to the temple to pray. However, Jesus was suggesting something different than prayer for the sake of prayer and duty. He changed it from going in public to pray at the temple, to telling them to “…go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” (Matt. 6:6) He was telling them they could pray to God alone, in private, and speak what they needed to him. 

He promptly follows this new directive with a pattern, a template for prayer as he taught them to pray the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13: 

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Here Jesus is teaching us to pray for God’s will to be done. This is truly what we want and what we need. We want the will of God to happen. If Jesus thought that prayer would not matter to his father, he would have not even bothered to teach how to pray. 

He later tells the crowd in Matthew 7:7 to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, you will find; knock, and the door it will be opened to you.” Jesus encouraged them to believe that they were heard and would be answered. 

Furthermore, Jesus spends his last few hours on earth praying. John records the prayer of Jesus in John 17. His most poignant request is that his father would be glorified. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” (John 17:1) The author of the book of Hebrews writes that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” (Heb. 5:7) A holy God listens to a humble heart. 

We can learn from our Lord Jesus that our highest goal in prayer would be to pray that which he showed us by example and that God would receive glory while we live and follow his will. 

Prayer Was Commanded

Beyond the idea that prayer was normal and expected, there are directives, or commands, in the New Testament given to the church. 

  • Paul, writing to the church in Philippi, encouraged and exhorted them to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6) 
  • He told the Ephesians to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Phil. 6:18) 
  • To the Roman church, he admonished them to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Rom. 12:9) 
  • He wrote to the church of Colosse something similar, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Col. 4:2) 
  • He wrote to the believers in Thessalonica saying, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16) 
  • To Timothy, Paul urged him to use “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving” for “all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” and that they would “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2: 1-3)

Prayer was normal, expected, and commanded. Without saying it outright, these authors had no issues praying to a sovereign God. 

What Do the Letters to the Church Teach Us About Prayer and God’s Will?

The New Testament writers give us insight on how to pray, what to pray, and why prayer matters. 

  • Paul prayed constantly for the believers. In most of his letters, Paul opens with his affection for those in the church and tells them how often he prays for them. (1 Cor. 1:4-8; Eph. 1:16, 3:14-19; Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:3)
  • Paul viewed the believers as partners in his mission work and that their prayers would help him be delivered from “deadly peril”. (2 Cor. 1:11) He told the Philippian believers “through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,” he would be delivered from imprisonment. (Phil. 1:19) 
  • Paul admonished the believers to pray for him and his ministry partners for the sake of the gospel. (Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1; Heb. 13:18 authorship debated)
  • While all the letters spend time talking about Christian behavior toward one another, James devotes time telling the believers how to pray for one another when they are sick or in need of confession and healing. (James 5:13-16)

The will of God is seen plainly in the words of Jesus as he describes how we should live, love, and serve. In the letters, we can find that the practices of loving one another and praying for one another are the will of God. The directives, commands, and admonishments should inform our prayers and assure us that we are praying in the will of God. How he answers them is ultimately up to him. 

Living in the Mystery

Most Western believers are challenged by the fact that we simply cannot know the answers to everything. While that might seem like a silly thing to say at first blush, it’s true that Westerners tend to think and process things in logical and reasonable ways in order to come to logical and reasonable conclusions. We struggle with the unknown. We prefer goals, tangible and practical bites of information to fashion our lives around. Prayer doesn’t always fit into that box. 

What we do know:

  • Jesus gave us a clear format and template for prayer along with promises that we will be heard and our prayers will be answered. 
  • We know from Scripture that Paul, Peter, James, and John had specific things they would pray for, things they would ask the church to pray for, and specifics they would admonish the believers to pray for. 
  • What isn’t covered in this article is all the wonderful stories of prayer in the Old Testament. There we learn so much about the character and heart of God towards people who cry out to him. 

All in all, we have an incredible amount of information regarding prayer, what to pray and how to pray. Our trouble comes when we will not relinquish our need to know. While asking for needs from God is biblical and expected, we can also foster the discipline of living with the mystery of prayer. We serve and pray to a God who hears and who responds even when we might not see it. Finally, and incredibly important, we have his Spirit interceding for us, helping us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26) , as well as Jesus as he “always lives to make intercession” for “those who draw near to God through him.” (Heb. 7:25). We are not alone in our prayers, nor are we the only ones praying.

It is plain from Scripture that our prayers are a part of the great mystery of the Kingdom, mainly, that Jesus Christ has come and how prayer helps advance the gospel into all nations. Therefore, let us go into prayer in full assurance that we are a part of the testimony of Jesus to a dark and broken world, and that in all, God will receive all the glory.

A Few Practical Things

  • Study the Word of God to know what it says about prayer.
  • Practice what Jesus commanded when he gave us the Lord’s prayer.
  • Study the letters to the early church.
  • Finally, release those prayers into the faithful and glorious hand of God knowing that his will will be accomplished. 

Disclaimer: All views expressed by those associated with this ministry or on our platforms do not necessarily represent the opinions of Women in Apologetics, Inc. or its individual team members.

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