FAQ: If, as the Bible says, God knows what we need, what is the point of prayer, and why should we spend valuable time praying to Him for something?
I’m not sure—let me pray about it. Just kidding. The easy answer to the question is: because God tells us to (e.g., “Pray continually”). But that begs the question of why He tells us to pray, so let’s delve into that a bit. And “a bit” is all we can do here, at least compared to how many verses of Scripture there are about prayer. For more elaboration on this critical subject, I recommend our audio teaching, Let Us Pray. I also recommend a book by Brother Andrew titled, And God Changed His Mind, as well as The God Who Risks, by John Sanders. Among many books on the subject of prayer, the work of E.M. Bounds is very good.
Although prayer can be most simply defined as “talking to or with God,” there are in the Bible various kinds of communication and conversation with the Almighty. Thinking of a Father/child relationship helps us determine what categories such communication would fall into. Why and how would a child talk to his father?
Petitionary prayer is perhaps what most people think of first, that is, asking God for something for ourselves or for someone else. God often encourages us to come to Him for whatever we need, be it big or small (e.g., Phil. 4:6). 1 John 5:14 guides us to pray for things that are in accordance with His will, and His Word is where we find His will. Far too many Christians needlessly preface their prayers with “If it be your will…” when more understanding of Scripture would reveal to them whether or not this is the case.
Praise, worship, thanksgiving, and exaltation of God are other forms of verbalizing to Him what is in our heart (see just about any Psalm). He loves it when we tell Him how wonderful we think He is. Why, because His ego needs to be stroked? Heavens, no! Everything God asks us to do is for our benefit, first and foremost. When we praise God and magnify His goodness, it solidifies for us how much He loves us and wants the best for us, and our faith in Him is strengthened.
What about just talking things over with God or the Lord Jesus? That’s cool.
Asking for guidance and/or direction—there’s another form of prayer. See James 1:5ff for more details.
How about griping? I’d say there is plenty of that kind of upward communication in the Psalms. David was always ready to pour out his heart to God, be it good, bad, or ugly.
How does God say we should pray? According to Luke 18:1ff, we should pray insistently, vigorously and persistently. Luke 18:9ff shows that we should pray with humility. 1 John 5:14 says that we should pray for things that are in line with God’s will. Philippians 4:6 says that we should pray with thankful anticipation of our prayers being answered. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we should pray continually—in other words, God really wants us to stay in touch with Him!
OK, but why does God tell us that we should pray as much as possible? The basic reason is because of how He originally chose to relate to mankind. That is, (a) once upon a time (b) when He was all alone (c) in the beginning (d) all of the above, God sovereignly decided to enter into a personal, working relationship with mankind. Scripture calls us “God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9),” and shows that, generally, God needs our prayer in order to get involved in the affairs of men and bring to pass His will. According to the Bible, life is not a big puppet show with God pulling all the strings.
Think about it—if God had carte blanche to intervene in the world and right every wrong, He would constantly be doing so, because by His very nature (“God is love”) He is bound to do all He can to help people. But God gave Adam the legal dominion over Creation, and Adam “delivered” it to the Devil (Luke 4:6), and because God cannot act unrighteously, even toward Satan, He cannot intervene unless He is given the legal right to do so.
And who is it that gives God that right? A born-again son or daughter of His who, by virtue of his or her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior, has been given authority to invoke “the name of Jesus Christ” and thereby access the same power that created the heavens and the earth and raised Jesus from the dead. That’s who. Is that who you?
Have you ever watched “Bigtime Wrestling,” and seen a tag team match? It is akin to how prayer works. Let’s say that you are one of your two-man team who is inside the ropes wrestling one of the other team partners. He gets you in a hold that will pin you unless you can somehow stretch out and touch your tag team partner.
But why do you have to touch him? Why doesn’t your partner just jump in and clobber the guy? He can’t, because the rule is that he cannot intervene unless you “tag” him. Unfortunately for you, however, your teammate has his back to the ring, oblivious to your predicament, signing autographs! Not if he is a good partner, he doesn’t. What is his posture? He is leaning over the ropes as far as he can toward you, extending his hand for you to touch him.
When it comes to the spiritual war in which we live, God and the Lord Jesus are never out of reach, and if you stretch out in prayer and “touch” them, they will always provide something beneficial for you, even if it is “only” comfort and strength in time of suffering.
I forget who it was that said, “Prayer is not forcing God’s reluctance; it is taking hold of God’s willingness,” but I love that statement. When we pray, we are connecting with the Creator. Prayer focuses our hearts on God and reminds us of our absolute dependence upon our heavenly Father. Perhaps that is why Philippians 4:7 says that when we pray with thankful anticipation, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
When we know God’s will from His Word, we can pray with greater faith, knowing that we are aligned with His purposes. The traditional “praying hands” are not like they are in a tug-of-war with God. In fact, even the palms-together posture seems insufficient to me. I think “praying hands” are palms up, expectantly ready to receive our Father’s blessings.
Despite the popular ideas among many Christians that “God is in control” and that “everything that happens is God’s will,” Scripture says otherwise. Jesus himself debunked the latter of those two myths in “the Lord’s Prayer” when he instructed his followers to pray, “Thy will be done on earth….” If everything that happens is the will of God, why pray that?
Yes, thanks to the finished work of Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate goal of a family living forever in Paradise will come to pass, but who will be there and what rewards they will receive is determined by the individual, free-will choices that people make moment by moment during their lives. Remember, God is not the Big Puppeteer in the sky. How do I know for sure that God is not in control of my life? Because if He were, it would be a lot better!
If the future were already fixed, prayer would be superfluous. But God chose to enter into genuine personal relationship with mankind, and thus our prayers make a difference to Him. The prayers of Moses (Exod. 8 and 32) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20) are two Old Testament examples of God responding to people and changing what He saw was going to come to pass. Prayer changes things (actually, prayer allows God to change things)—history would not be the same had people not prayed. God has invited His people to participate with Him in shaping the future.
Some quotes from The God Who Risks, by John Sanders (pp. 272 and 273), are most pertinent here:
“God wants us to be His partners not because He needs our wisdom, but because He wants our fellowship…Our requests are important because God is interested in us. God loves us and takes our concerns to heart just because they are our concerns. This is the nature of a personal, loving relationship. The relationship is not one of domination or manipulation but of participation and cooperation wherein we become co-laborers with God (1 Cor. 3:9)…It is so only because God wanted a reciprocal relationship of love and elected to make dialogical prayer an important element in such a relationship.”
“God has open routes into the future, and He desires that we participate with Him in determining which ones to take. This should not be construed, however, to mean that we get whatever we want. We may prevail with God because God genuinely takes our desires into account. Yet God may also prevail with us, getting us to change our minds and pursue a course of action that we did not initially think best. In this regard, prayer provides a dialogical resource for God to work in this world. When we turn to God in prayer, we open a window of opportunity for the Spirit’s work in our lives, creating new possibilities for God to carry out His project. Dialogical prayer affects both parties and changes the situation, making it different from what it was prior to the prayer…Our asking in faith may make it possible for God to do something that He could not have done without our asking.”
I don’t know about you, but knowing that my heavenly Father longs to have me share my heart with Him, and that my prayers make a difference in the course of history, motivates me to pray. And I need to remind myself of this—often.
Should we pray? Yes! Why should we pray? Because God needs our prayers to help Him bring to pass His will. How should we pray? Passionately! When should we pray? Any time! Where should we pray? Anywhere!
Let us pray.