Blog Post

Obstacles to Prayer: The Sovereignty of God

Most Christians—myself included—feel inadequate about their prayer life. We know that we don’t pray as often as we should, as fervently as we should, or as eloquently as we should. We know how frequently our minds wander when we pray and how many times we have actually fallen asleep in the middle of our prayers. These inadequacies frequently keep us from praying, because none of us enjoys doing something that makes us feel inadequate.

It’s like the one sport in junior high school that you were forced to do in P.E. but weren’t very good at. For me, that sport was bowling. Give me a sport that required physical fitness, strength, and coordination any day. But bowling? I just couldn’t do it. Of course, it didn’t help that we were forced to “play” with a rubber ball in the school gymnasium. The experience was nothing at all like bowling in a real alley with a real bowling ball. But my point is that I hated the sport and sought to avoid it at all costs because it made me feel inadequate.

I think prayer functions in much the same way for us as Christians, at least subconsciously. And, as a result, we tend to avoid it as much as we can. Rather than avoiding it, however, we need to overcome our inadequacies by seeking to grow in our ability to pray. And we can do that, in the first place, by uncovering some of the chief obstacles we have to prayer in our lives. To start things off here, I will focus on the first of these obstacles, namely, the sovereignty of God.
Many of us don’t pray because we believe that there is no real need for us to do so since God is sovereign and will do as He pleases anyway. But this is a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty and how it plays out in the world. It is a misunderstanding along the same lines as thinking that we can step out in front of a bus that is moving toward us at 70 mph and be spared because of God’s sovereign protection. In both cases, we need to remember that God ordinarily works out His sovereign will through secondary means. He brings His perfect purposes to pass through the means of our prayers or our common sense in understanding what will happen if we step out in front of a moving bus (or the lack of common sense if we don’t).

The Apostle Paul had no trouble holding the sovereignty of God together with the importance of secondary means. In the midst of a storm at sea, the Lord appeared to Paul in the form of an angel and told him that the ship he was on would “run aground on some island” but that everyone on board would be saved (Acts 27:23-26). And yet when the sailors were trying to leave the ship, Paul told the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31, emphasis added). God’s sovereignty did not lead Paul to do nothing. Rather it led him to work all the more. His actions were the means that God used to bring His sovereign purposes to pass.

Similarly, God’s sovereignty should not lead us to prayerlessness. They are the means that God uses to accomplish His purposes in the world. This is precisely the reason why God commands us to pray in His Word. Our prayers are the secondary means that He is using. When we pray, therefore, we know that God is about to do something. And that something will always be the best possible thing because God is sovereign.

Far more troubling than the question, “Why should we pray if God is sovereign?” is the question, “why should we pray if God is NOT sovereign?” If God is not sovereign, there is no reason for us to ask Him for anything at any time. He may or may not be able to do something about what we have asked for. Knowing that God is sovereign ought to motivate us to pray and to bring even the biggest requests before Him, because we know that He is able to do something about them.

Tomorrow, I will discuss a second obstacle to prayer. Until then, let’s focus on going before the Lord with big requests—let us open our mouths wide, as the psalmist says—knowing that God really is able to fill them (Ps. 81:10).