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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Why Pray?

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He prefaced it with this.
"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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matt 6:7-8)
Most people think of prayer as our efforts to tell Him what we want. Oh, sure, they'll say it is more than that. We also use prayer to praise Him and to express gratitude and to confess sin. All that good stuff. But, by and large, prayer to most of us is our telling God what we want so He can give it. He can give it to us or He can give it to whomever else we're praying for, but it's so He can know what we want for ourselves and others. I suppose, if we're not paying attention too closely, that makes sense. It doesn't quite work biblically since "your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

Okay, now, hold on. If He knows what we need before we ask, then what is the purpose of prayer? Well, hang on a moment. It gets worse. Paul says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." (Rom 8:26) Okay, so God knows what we need before we ask and we don't even know how to pray. So, we might ask again, "What is the purpose of prayer??"

Here's what we do know. We know that prayer is commanded. We are supposed to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). Prayer (all of the Christian life) requires faith (Heb 11:6; Matt 21:22). We are to ask (Matt 7:7) and ask in Jesus's name1 (John 14:13-14; John 16:23-24). We even know that we are supposed to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). But isn't that all telling us the same thing? Isn't that all telling us that prayer is our asking from God what we want so He'll give it to us? And haven't we just determined that He already knows?

The word translated "pray" in the New Testament means essentially "to wish toward". It is, therefore, an expression of wishes or will. In that sense, what we've come to suspect -- prayer is telling God what we want -- is actually true. But only in that sense. We know that God knows all things (1 John 3:20; Psa 147:5; Isa 46:9-10). That would include your requests. So you aren't informing Him of something He doesn't know. It is said that prayer changes things, and I don't dispute it, but one thing that it does not change is God's knowledge or God's will. So, what then? Prayer is our effort to draw near to God (James 4:8). It is our process of communicating with God. It isn't, as in human interactions, a way of informing God, but a way of exposing ourselves to Him. It is our opening up of ourselves to Him. It is our opportunity to express to Him what He already knows but wants to hear from us. That would include our confession of sin, our gratitude for His kindness, our rejoicing in His glory, and, of course, our supplications.

Now, we should also keep in mind that some things prevent us from praying properly. James says that we don't get what we ask for when we pray with selfish motives (James 4:3). That ought to give us pause. Husbands are warned that failing to properly live with our wives with respect and understanding hinders our prayer (1 Peter 3:7). While God judicially forgives our sin, Scripture tells us that harboring sin inhibits our communication with God (Psa 66:18). We are told to resolve conflicts with people before praying (Mark 11:25). And, of course, a lack of faith is a prayer problem. "Whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. (Heb 11:6)

It is my suspicion that we don't pray enough. It is my suspicion that I don't pray enough. (I would think that "pray without ceasing" isn't something that any of us do.) But the fact that God wants us to be in constant communication with Him ought to be something in which we would rejoice. And knowing that "The prayer of a righteous person has great power" (James 5:16) ought to encourage us to pray. There are surely tools and methods that help, but what God is looking for is people who wish to honor Him by opening themselves up to Him. We can do that through prayer. He can use that. Besides, we're commanded to do it. Those should be sufficient reasons to pray.
1 Be careful. That is not a formula. "In Jesus name, Amen" is not some magical incantation that gets you what you want. To ask "in the name of" Christ is to ask for the purposes of and on behalf of Christ. That is, "If this can be done based on Christ's purposes and for Christ's glory, please do it." Agreeing with Christ and His will. It is a position of subservience to Him.

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