Prayer is a spiritual discipline for the child of God. It is certainly not optional. When teaching his disciples to pray, Christ did not suppose they might pray, but instructed, “And when you pray…” (Matthew 6:5-6). Believers are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18). When we lack, it is because we have not asked (James 4:2). Clothed in the righteousness of God, we must never doubt that our prayers will surely accomplish much (James 5:16). We are to pray in faith (Hebrews 11:6), never fearing that our prayers might go unanswered.
Prayer ought not to be a one-way affair. God does respond when we pray to him. Since such is the nature of prayer, it is wise to consider both what man ought to be and do when he prays and who the God to whom he prays is.
God’s immutability and sovereignty are two significant natures worth considering as we seek to understand how God’s nature should affect our prayers.
1. God is Unchanging
For no other reason does the Christian approach God confidently in prayer than that he is unchanging. Biblical logic holds that because God does not change, his people would not be consumed by their enemies (Malachi 3:6), lest God’s purposes be thwarted (Job 42:2). Furthermore, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
It is good enough that from God come all good and perfect gifts. But there is more; he does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17)! God will ever be good. This unchanging nature of God is also called immutability, and no creature shares in this attribute.
In relation to prayer, God never says what he will not do, nor does he do what he has not spoken in his word. He is dependable. “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).
If anything hinders communion with God, it is “your iniquities [that] have separated you from your God; your sins [that] have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt” (Isaiah 59:2). Nothing on God’s end would work against the prayers of his people.
2. God is Sovereign
Divine providence is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence (also called the Sovereignty of God) asserts that God is in complete control of all things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19), over the material world (Matthew 5:45), over the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), over human destiny (Galatians 1:15), over human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and over the safety of his people (Psalm 4:8).
Our understanding of God’s sovereignty should provoke in us a life of prayer and thanksgiving. Because God is sovereign, there is no question that our prayers ought to align with his revealed will (1st John 5:14). “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). In other words, the ground of our asking is our abiding. And we abide through communing; through prayer. Hence God’s sovereignty does not mean we lead a prayerless life, but the opposite.
God’s Sovereignty Intertwines with our Prayers
Adam and Eve enjoyed God’s presence unhindered (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:8-13). Despite the alienation resultant from sin, man would once again begin calling on the name of God (Genesis 4:26). Enoch and Noah are said to have “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24; 6:9).
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “walked before God” in a believing relationship (Genesis 17:1; 24:40; 48:15). So close was the communion that Abraham is called a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). David, the man after God’s heart, maintained active communion with God in hymns and lament, praising and petitioning God. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of the possible interpenetrating relationship with God in prayer (John 17, Hebrews 5:7).
From the above, we learn that a relationship of deep communion with God is essential and desirable for the one who loves God. This is true because the foremost of man’s duty is to love the Lord his God with the entirety of his being (Matthew 22:37). One prominent imagery Scripture offers us of God is that of a loving Father. Even though God’s power and rule are far beyond anything we’d ever imagine, his sovereignty does not distance him from man as if to make him unapproachable, but instead, he has drawn himself near to his own.
God’s sovereignty is seen throughout the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4). The essence of the prayer is that the Sovereign’s kingdom may come in all its many ramifications: God’s name be recognized as holy, God’s kingdom rule on earth, daily physical provision, spiritual cleansing, and the believer’s guidance and preservation.
Prayer Accomplishes God’s Will
Prayer is one of God’s ordained means of accomplishing His purposes. For example, Daniel prayed that God would free his people from their captivity in Babylon. He knew God had promised to release his people after seventy years (Daniel 9:2), but this didn’t keep him from praying! Instead, it motivated him to pray: “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).
We learn from this that the proper function of God’s promises is to motivate us to action, never to lull us into passivity. God wants us to pray, but not because He can’t act without us praying. Instead, as John Piper points out: “God wants us to pray that He might be glorified (John 14:13) and that we might be satisfied in Him” (John 16:24).
The nature of God does not diminish the essentiality of prayer. On the contrary, it is meant to give us more confidence in approaching him. We pray only because God is who he is–immutable in all his attributes and sovereign. May we continually pray that our hearts would operate in light of these truths, that we would genuinely find prayer delightful.