If God is sovereign why pray?

Reading John 6 on Sunday mornings might have raised in our minds an important question about the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of human beings.

John 6 teaches that God is sovereign in salvation. He is  wonderfully in charge of people becoming Christians. For someone to become and remain a believer, God must be at work in their lives. Jesus says they must be:

  • Drawn by God the Father “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v44a)
  • Kept by God the Son: “…this is the will of him [the Father] who sent me [the Son], that I shall lose none of all that he has given me…” (v39)
  • Given life by God the Holy Spirit : “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” (v63a)

John 6 teaches that human beings are responsible for their actions. Jesus calls upon people to believe in him, by my count, nine times in this chapter (check out vv29, 35, 37b, 40, 45b, 47, 51, 54, 56). For example Jesus says “…my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life…” (v40).

These truths are difficult for our brains to hold together – we won’t fully understand  how they do (but that shouldn’t surprise or worry us: see Deuteronomy 29:29, Psalm 131:1). Nevertheless, Jesus speaks of these two truths side by side: “All that the Father gives me [God is sovereign] will come to me, and whoever comes to me [human beings are responsible] I will never drive away.” (v37).

Christians have been pondering these things for quite some time. It’s been pointed out that God has created human beings with the faculties or “hardware” (if you like) to do certain things and not others. So for instance, God first created human beings with minds to understand, hearts to love and wills to act. We are not however designed to walk on water – only Jesus can do that (see John 6:16-21)! We have the “hardware” to believe but not to walk on water. So we are accountable or responsible to God for believing but not for walking on water.

However there’s a problem: because of our sin we don’t want to believe. Jesus outlined this problem in John 3:19: ‘Light has come into the world, but men [i.e. people] loved darkness instead of light…’.  We all love the darkness. So, Jesus is not surprised by unbelief (see John 6:64). Sadly we love to sin and will never choose to believe in God. So while we’re free to choose according to our desires (will it be tea or coffee?) we can’t choose to change our deepest desires for sin and darkness.

So, for a person to  believe in Jesus Christ God must  be supernaturally at work in their lives as we see in the verses above. If I have a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus I should be praising God for so wonderfully being at work in me! But, if God is sovereign why pray?  Time and space do not allow for a full answer but here are three reasons related to John 6.

 

  • We should pray because Jesus, who believed in God’s sovereignty, prayed!

 

Jesus, who believed the truths he taught in John 6, prayed. Just have a read of John 17. He prayed God’s will would be done. So we should pray God’s promises in the Bible would come to pass (see too 1 John 5:14).

 

  • We should pray because God uses means.

 

Jesus says ‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’ (v63b). God’s Spirit gives people life through the means of Jesus’ words. This hints at a wider Bible truth – God uses “means” as he works in the world. Amazingly, God is pleased to use our prayers to bring about his purposes (see too James 5:16).

 

  • We should pray because God is sovereign as He works in people’s lives.

 

Since God is the one who changes individual people’s lives we should ask him to intervene in the lives of those we know and love. Our sovereign God can change the heart of the most hardened atheist. Not only should that drive Christians to pray but also to praise our gracious God for being at work in our own lives.

That’s amazing! So let’s pray…

All Bible quotations are taken from the NIV84 translation of John 6.