If you think about it much, there are are several questions that could be asked about the nature of prayer. One of those questions that seems the most puzzling is this: do our prayers really change anything? Said differently, the question is, do our prayers act in a way to convince God to do something? To use an example, what if I am praying for someone to be saved, does God save that person because I asked? Was he waiting on me to ask? Would he have not saved them if I didn't ask? These questions can boggle the mind and leave us unsure as to how we approach the throne of grace in prayer. What should we do?
First, what do we know about God?
- Psalm 135:6 - Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
- Psalm 115:3 - But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.
- Daniel 4:35 - "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'
Romans 9:19-21 - You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Scripture reminds us over and over again of God's full sovereignty over the world. He has absolute control to do whatever he pleases without any need of help from us, or our advice. Remembering that should humble us and remind us that nothing in this world to him is out of control, he is never without knowledge, and he is never indifferent to the needs and suffering of those around us. So, again, why do we pray? Is it necessary for any real change?
What does Jesus teach us?
Prayer Fosters Relationship
Matthew 6 offers great insight into why and how we should pray.
Starting in verse 7, Jesus says, "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
The text tells us that we should not pray to try and impress other people or God; he knows what we need before we even ask. Does it make much sense to pray if God knows what we are going to ask for? It certainly seems so to Jesus who just one verse later tells us this:
9 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)
Didn't Jesus just say that God already knows our needs? Why then does he teach us to ask for things like daily bread, and to lead us not into temptation? Well, Jesus is teaching us what is fundamentally true for all Christians - dependence. We are to pray "like this" he says. "Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name." That is, we are to direct our hearts and minds unto God who is in the heavens with all authority, blazing with glorious holiness that is worthy of hallowing. We are invited, even though he knows our needs, into a relationship with a holy and worthy God. We are not to act as if we are entitled to bread and grace, but we are to be reminded of where and from whom it comes so wonderfully from. Prayer does more informing to us than it does to God. And to prove that point, later in the chapter Jesus says this:
"31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." - (Matthew 6:31-34)
We are to seek after the Kingdom and the King. Prayer is the hunting down, the pursuit of God. We need him. We want to listen to him. We want to know his will. Anyone who has a good prayer life can tell you that prayer is so much more than simply making your requests known to God, it is the communion of love, and trust, and peace, and dependence between a bridegroom and his bride. Prayer is the privilege of relationship with God. And according to Jesus, prayer is the battle axe that destroys the attack of anxiety.
Are we still to pray even if he knows what we need? Do you still tell your spouse that you love them frequently even though they know? Why wasn't the one time at your wedding enough? Prayer is the gift of relationship, even if he knows our needs.
There is more to be said about this. Look for part two of this blog next week.