I have really enjoyed re-reading A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, and noticed that the last time, I didn’t finish it. I had one chapter to go: God’s Sovereignty and Prayer. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book, for it really dispels the belief that we can change God via our prayer.
This is a common misconception among evangelicals. They tell stories of how certain people prayed so much and because of that, were able to do so much. The story is often told that Martin Luther would pray three hours a day. Well-meaning Christians often point out that this is why God used Martin Luther to start the Reformation. I think those people get it completely backwards. God did not use Martin Luther to start the Reformation because he prayed three hours a day. Martin Luther prayed three hours a day because God used him.
After all, if God is sovereign, how in the world do we change God?
This is the main point that Pink makes in his chapter on prayer. God’s will is unmovable from his eternal council. He will bring about His ends and His purpose to His satisfaction, whether we pray about it or not.
Who do we think we are that we can change God at all? What arrogance we fill ourselves with when we tell people that this country is going to hell in hand basket, but if we pray, God will change all that. That is utter nonsense.
Just look at the psalmist who wrote their prayers for us. Do we find God being changed in any of the pleas? Not at all. The only thing that changes is the psalmist, and his understanding of his plight.
Some might ask: “if God is sovereign, then why pray at all?” To which Pink gives us three answers:
- Prayer has been appointed that The Lord God Himself should be honored. God requires we should recognize that He is, indeed, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity (Isa. 57:17).”
- Prayer is appointed by God for our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. When seeking to learn the design of prayer, this should ever occupy us before we regard prayer as a means for obtaining the supply of our need. Prayer is designed by God for our humbling. Prayer, real prayer, is a coming into the presence of God, and a sense of His awful majesty produces a realization of our nothingness and unworthiness.
- Prayer is appointed by God for our seeking from Him the things which we are in need of. (Pink them reminds his readers of God’s sovereignty and decree of all things). Prayer is not for the purpose of informing God, as if He were ignorant,… but it is to acknowledge He does know what we are in need of. Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need, but is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of need… God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honored by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.
You can see that Pink seeks to exalt God while helping us see our need for humility. When we see that God has truly decreed all things, and all things will work out according to His foreordained will, we remember our place as creatures, coming before our Lord in humble submission instead of coming before making demands that He change His plans before is. No, prayer does not change God, it changes us and helps us see our need to enter into His presence in humble reliance.
Timothy Hammons is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.