Why Pray for Missions if God is Sovereign?

by Christian Townson

Why Pray for Missions if God is Sovereign?
God’s sovereignty gives the Christian hope. God is the Lord of all creation. He possesses the authority to rule according to His good pleasure. Nothing catches Him by surprise or occurs outside His will. He is sovereign over kings, such as Pharaoh (Exod. 14:4), creatures, such as the great fish in Jonah (Jonah 1:17), and even Satan and his legions (Job 1:12).

God is sovereign over salvation as well. Christians were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6).  Because God is sovereign, He will separate the sheep from the goats. He will “lose none of those” given to Christ through adoption (John 6:39).

When discussing God’s sovereignty and missions, many ask, “Why pray for missions if God is sovereign?” If God has fully secured salvation for the people from “every nation, tribe, and tongue” surrounding the throne, why should we pray for them? Why should we pray for the unreached people groups? Why should we pray for the 158,000 people who die every day without hearing the name of Jesus if God already knows? Why should we pray for Christians to become missionaries if He has already chosen the elect from the foundation of the world? Is it a waste of our breath? Is it pointless?

Friend, it is not a waste of our breath to pray for the unsaved around the world. On the contrary, we should pray for missions because God is sovereign.

Jesus Teaches Us to Ask Our Father For Good Things
This question addresses a larger theme in Scripture- should we even pray if God is sovereign? If His will is immutable, why should we pray?

In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches how to come to God in humility and dependence. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Jesus instructs Christians to ask, seek, and knock. This is a progression. In other words, Jesus says, “Ask. Ask. Then ask again!” He promises, “everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

We are to ask our Father in Heaven to answer our prayers. As a Good Father, He wants to give good gifts to those who ask of him. He will provide whatever is best according to His sovereign will, but He wants us to ask. Why? Because He is a gracious Father who wants to answer the requests of His children. He acts like a Father whose son asked Him for a snack. He intended to feed His children the entire time. He would not let His children starve. He cares for them. He loves them. He wants a relationship with His children .

In the same way, we pray because God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to ask him for good things. Jesus tells the disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest for more laborers” (Luke 10:2-3). Why would he tell them to pray to the Father for more laborers? Because God wants us to ask. He wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray for more long-term missionaries advancing the Gospel. He wants us to pray for the local believers to increase in boldness. He wants us to ask Him to finish the Great Commission. Prayer is not a one-sided affair. It is a conversation between the Creator and His beloved creation. He wants to answer the requests that come from the hearts of His children.

Why should we pray for missions? Because Jesus teaches us to ask for good gifts in prayer. One of these good gifts is the salvation of the nations.

Jesus Prayed for the Salvation of the Nations
The greatest argument to pray for missions in the midst of God’s sovereignty derives from John 17. Jesus prays for himself in verses 1-5. He prays for the Twelve disciples in verses 6-19. He then prays for “those who will believe” in Christ through the apostles’ witness in verses 20-26. Jesus is praying for the salvation of the nations. He was praying for us.

Jesus prayed hours before he was captured and crucified. What did he pray for? He prayed for those who would believe through the Great Commission. These are the ones who lived in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They would receive the apostles’ witness as the Good News of Jesus Christ. Why would Jesus pray for them to believe if prayer was meaningless? Jesus prayed earnestly for them. He prayed for unity around the Gospel so the world would believe Jesus was truly sent from the Father.

Jesus prays with God’s sovereignty in mind. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am” (17:24). Jesus knows that the salvation of future believers is secure.  Yet, he still prayed for the salvation of future believers. We should follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus prayed because He wanted the world to know the unity between the Father and himself. Even though God’s plan is secure, this does not mean that we should not pray for it to happen. Prayer is one way we can joyfully join God in His will. We can join the advocacy team of Christ by petitioning the Father to save the nations. We can pray for the Christians to “declare His glory among the nations.” We can ask God to show "his marvelous works among all the peoples." The Lord is "great and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:3-4).

Jesus Uses Man’s Responsibility in His Sovereignty
Right before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). He commissioned them to go into the entire world. They would play a major role in advancing the Gospel and making disciples of all nations.

Why does Jesus commission the disciples? Because they will live out God’s mission. Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, would no longer physically be on earth. Therefore, he commissioned the disciples to fulfill the mission. Whose mission is it? God’s. How will He do it? Through his followers.

Man is still responsible for the mission of God because God uses us in His sovereignty. He is the potter, and we are the clay. He is the King, and we are His ambassadors. Does our involvement cancel out God’s sovereignty? No. Does God’s sovereignty cancel out our responsibility? No. So, we come to realize that God uses our prayers. The Holy Spirit “gives us the words to pray,” Prayer is one of the means of grace by which God enacts His sovereignty.

In 1 Chronicles 5:20, the Reubenites wage war against other nations. As they fought, they “cried out to God in the battle. He granted their urgent plea because they trusted in Him.” They prayed to God, and He answered. Was this outside His sovereign hand? No. Was the prayer of the Reubenites meaningless? No. The Scripture says He “granted their urgent plea.” God responded to their prayer, even though it was within His sovereign will.

Jesus says, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matthew 21:22). This is not a superpower, “name it, claim it” faith. This is faith according to God’s will. If it aligns with His will, we will receive it because He wills it. He wants us to pray to Him. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). How? Because it is rooted in the Father’s sovereignty and grace.

After Paul explains God’s sovereignty in Romans 9, he challenges the Christians in Romans 10:13-17 by stating, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news…” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We are still responsible for proclaiming the gospel. This is how the world will come to faith in Jesus Christ. It comes through hearing the word of Christ. God uses us in His sovereignty.

This is why we pray for missions while God is sovereign. We should pray for missionaries, unreached people groups, and sending churches because God rules sovereignly over them. He is the Lord of heaven, earth, and all that is in them. He is our Lord. He is the One who has secured the Revelation 7:9 vision of victory. He calls us to pray to Him. He wants us to ask Him because He is a Father who wants us to ask for good things from Him. Jesus himself asked for the unity and salvation of the nations. He also uses man’s responsibility to execute the will of God’s sovereignty.

We should pray for missions because God is sovereign.

What’s the Fate of the Unreached?
Find out HERE

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Christian serves as the Director of Mobilization/Missions
as he leads the For the Nations ministry for The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is married to his wife Danyel. 


  • Missions,  Salvation