Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Purpose of Prayer
The Bible's emphasis on prayer couldn't be stronger, yet many of us have struggled with prayer to the point where our prayer lives have become almost non-existent. When we realize that God is completely sovereign and that our prayers will never succeed in changing His mind, the inevitable question is, "Why pray?"
What purpose does prayer serve if not to sway God's hand? In Philippians 4:7, Paul tells us to "let [our] requests be made known to God," but what is the point of making our requests known if our Father who already knows our needs and what is best for us will never be persuaded by our pleadings? If we are thankful and God already knows our hearts, what is the purpose of voicing our thankfulness in prayer? If we recognize God's goodness in the midst of suffering, what good does it do to pray when we suffer? If we pray for others but God is going to treat them no differently than if we hadn't prayed, what has our prayer accomplished? If God's will is always done, why do we need to pray that it will be done?
These are logical questions which lead many to ultimately view prayer as a meaningless waste of time. In fact, I have noticed that the majority of believers I know who understand many of the truths of God's Word struggle more with prayer than almost anything. It seems that for many, the more they recognize God's sovereignty the less they pray. I would be so bold as to say that if you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you can relate to this dilemma.
For those of us who have struggled with prayer, we realize that prayer is important and should be a priority, but we have a difficult time recognizing the value in prayer in light of the above questions. We understand that Paul (who understood God's sovereignty better than any of us) prayed regularly, but we can't make sense of why Paul prayed so often when he knew his prayers would not alter God's course one bit. We read of the many times Jesus prayed to His Father, but we can't see the need for the very Son of God to pray at all. The examples of Christ and Paul (and several others) demonstrate the great importance of prayer, but in order for us to emulate them we must recognize the real purpose of prayer in our lives.
Most Bible verses on prayer consist of instructions for how to pray or what to pray for, but do not cite a specific reason or purpose for prayer. One verse, however, does. After instructing believers to make their requests known to God in Philippians 4:7, Paul goes on to say, "...and the peace of God, that is superior to every frame of mind, shall be garrisoning your hearts and your apprehensions in Christ Jesus."
Here, we finally have a crystal clear purpose for prayer. We learn, first of all, that prayer exists for us more than for God. After all, God is not in need of us for anything, but we are in complete need of Him for everything. Paul assures us that more than anything, prayer gives us peace. It provides us with contentment, reassurance, and a strength that garrisons our hearts and removes our fears. This mindset is not a minor phenomenon either; it is "superior to every frame of mind," meaning it has the power to literally alter our perceptions, mood and emotions, regardless of how we feel when we begin to pray.
This is why in 1 Peter 5:7, Peter tells us to "toss our entire worry on Him." When we bring our burdens in prayer to the One who has complete control over them, we are conscious of His control over them all and are brought into a peaceful frame of mind which removes our worries and enables us to continue the day with confidence and hope.
In addition to an overwhelming sense of peace, regular prayer helps us to appreciate our relationship with God. It is difficult (if not impossible) to have a relationship with someone you never speak with. When we talk to God directly via prayer, we are fully aware of how real our relationship with Him is and we feel much closer to Him as our loving Father.
When we pray for others, we are consciously aware of their needs and their value in God's eyes and are mentally committed to bearing their burdens and helping them in any way we can. The psychological power of prayer is immensely powerful, whether for ourselves or for others, and the peace it brings enables us to act as we should, free from worry.
Even the secular world understands the psychological importance of casting away our burdens to be at peace. One of the most basic tenets of secular psychology is the need for burdened people to discuss their worries with others. The mantra is, "The first step to healing is talking about the problem." Many people even keep a journal in which they "vent" by writing down all the things that bother them to "get them out" of their heads. Who better to "vent" to than God? Who better to cast our burdens on than the One who controls them all?
When we understand that God has designed prayer for us as a means of giving us peace and awareness of our relationship with Him, the questions I raised earlier make perfect sense. We make our requests known in prayer because doing so causes us to recognize God's control over them. We give thanks in prayer because by doing so we are conscious of God's goodness. We prayerfully acknowledge God in the midst of trial because doing so reminds us of His providence and mercy. We pray for others because it causes us to keep them in our thoughts and to commit to helping them. Ultimately, we pray for God's will to be done because doing so reassures us of the comforting fact that His will is always done.
If you are one of the many who struggle with prayer, I hope that this article has helped you to understand the real purpose of prayer and the importance of praying unintermittingly. Commit to praying often and without routine, and you will begin to experience a life-changing sense of peace and a strength that will enable you to trust in God and endure life's trials. The more you pray, the more you will appreciate your relationship and closeness with your loving Father. Pray for others as well, as your prayers will help you to focus on their needs in addition to your own. Recognize that your prayers don't change God, but they do change you by garrisoning your heart with the peace of God that is superior to every frame of mind.
© 2012 by Stephen Hill