Tom Gilson

Monday Student Question: Why Pray?

Tony asked a while back, why pray? There was more to his question, of course. Here’s the meat of it.

He sees and knows all, including what is in our hearts. Given this fact that “you can’t fool God”, I wonder why Christians find it necessary to pray in the first place. Does not God already know what you are praying for, as well as your earnest sincerity concerning the matter? If that is true, has he not already decided how he will respond to the prayer before it is even said? Thus, could not the entire controversy be eliminated by recognizing that prayer is NOT really necessary any more than posting question in this forum is necessary if you already KNEW what the questions were (all that would be required here would be the answers)?

C.S. Lewis wondered the same thing, so you’re in good company, Tony. Here’s some of what I understand about it.

First, God wants us to pray, and it’s not just so we can ask for things. There are other purposes for prayer. The first is God’s glory, as Jesus says in John 14:12-14:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

God’s goodness and power are made known when he answers prayer. In the prayer journal I’m using these days I have a record of 169 answered prayers. God shows himself in the world through these things.

He shows himself in a different way through unanswered prayer, which is more complicated to explain but just as real. Sometimes what he’s revealing is that we’re not understanding his will correctly, for his promise is to answer when we pray according to his will (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes he shows that we’re not in line with his character, for if we ask with ungodly motives (in his will), he will not answer (James 4:3). I could give other examples like these, where God uses unanswered prayer to shape us into people more like him, but I think maybe you get the point.

There’s a great author, Richard Foster, who wrote in Celebration of Discipline that prayer is like original research: it’s where we go into untested, new ground, and discover new things about God; and whether prayers go answered or unanswered, we’re learning about God.

I’m not saying that every unanswered prayer leads to some definite learning experience. I chose that word “shape” carefully: God uses big things and small things, very gradually, to make us what he wants us to be; and prayer is one of those things he uses even when we don’t see that it is.

Looking at your question again, I think there’s a sense in which answered prayer is even more mysterious than unanswered prayer, because it brings us to the question, why does God need us to pray in order to do things? He doesn’t, of course. It’s just that if we didn’t pray, we probably wouldn’t recognize that it was him at work when he did it.

But so far I’ve been passing by the most important reasons to pray: for fellowship with God. It’s for being with him. It’s communicating with God. Take a look through the Psalms and you’ll see it in action. The writers of the Psalms talk to God about how they’re doing, good and bad, hopeful or despairing, in trouble or in victory. Sometimes they ask God what’s taking him so long to come through for them. All of this is about being real, and being personal, with God. He loves us, and being with someone who loves us is a good thing, even when it’s an invisible, spiritual relationship.

I’ve even written about how we can be real with God by praying the “dangerous prayer:” praying while sinning. You’ll need to read that post to see what I mean by that.

There are whole books written on this, and I haven’t even scratched the surface on it. Here’s my request: ask follow-up questions, and we’ll take this wherever it leads. And here’s my advice to go with it: pray, and learn from your own original research.

Have a question? Leave a comment with it here!

2 thoughts on “Monday Student Question: Why Pray?

  1. I agree fully. I think one of the reasons He wants us to pray is to conform our will with His will as we draw closer and closer in our relationship with Him. He also wants us to participate in His will, and so when we pray and we see an answer, it is a testimony to us and to the persons prayed for, that He cares and is active in our lives.

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