Why Pray?

IMG_2442Prayer is a topic which has come up sort of peripherally in my little circle for some time. Several of us have wondered aloud, why do we pray, and why does prayer so infrequently change the circumstances we ask God to change? I admit to sometimes being frustrated in prayer myself, and I don’t think either me or my friends are really ignorant about what prayer is for. It’s just that, especially in praying for others we care about, we really want to see painful circumstances change.

My friends know, as I do, that prayer is much more than placing orders with God for the things we want. I think the problem is often busy-ness. And that is not conducive to what I believe is real prayer.

Disclaimer: I have at least some idea about the purpose of prayer – that its goal is communion and co-creation with God. But I freely admit that I am a poor pray-er. Lord, have mercy.

Philippians 4:6-7 says this: “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”

When I simply “place my order” with God, I can’t say as I really experience this peace. So is the scripture untrue? No, my application of this truth is what’s wrong. Simply tossing up prayers in passing is sort of like sending God a text message, or an inter-office memo.

According to Matthew 6:8, God already knows our needs before we ask Him. Prayer, then, has nothing at all to do with informing God of anything. If there’s any passing of information going on, it is God passing it on to us. That can’t happen if I don’t place myself in a position in which I can hear.

Remember Mary, Martha’s sister? Mary could be found at Jesus’ feet. When you’re sitting on the ground, listening, you’re not really good for anything else, a fact not lost on Martha. But it’s not like Mary was doing nothing.

She was receiving.

Martha Kilpatrick has said that we will not be rewarded for what we have done for God, but only for what we have received from Him. Intuitively, this feels right to me; to what degree, I don’t know.

It may seem like I’ve jumped to another topic, but I think that when I’m dutifully throwing up prayers, including when praying for others, that my mindset is one of “doing”, when what I need is to receive; I need to receive answers to my prayers. And if I do not define answered prayer as getting what I want, then might I conclude that prayer gets the best answers while sitting at Jesus’ feet?

During the lowest point of my life, a life which has had its share of very low points, I remember raging at God for vindication and deliverance and resolution of situations I didn’t think I would survive. I was desperate, and eventually my desperation led me to surrender. I crumbled at the feet of God. And God answered me with a revelation. I can’t share it, because its profundity is lost in translation, but I will say I received a glimpse – less than a blink of the eye – of eternity. And I received the “peace that passes understanding”.

Looking back over my life, it seems I have often (maybe always) received this same peace when I am at Jesus’ feet, surrendered and receiving. I don’t remember ever having received this peace from tossing prayers at God.

I recently posted this question on Facebook: “What is the purpose of prayer? And why is it the overwhelming majority of requests in prayer yield no discernible result?” My good friend Peter Lane responded, “Because most prayer is not for God’s will.” Peter knows the heart of God pretty well.

When we pray, are we seeking God’s will, or our own? Can we say “yes” to God? Can we ALWAYS say “yes” to God? If we take our unbearable circumstances to God, and He says, “This is the cup I am asking you to drink. Will you drink it?”, can we, even then, say, “yes”?

John Paul Jackson has said that “(t)he effectiveness of your prayer will rise in direct proportion to your relationship with God”. Think of scripture personalities who were mighty in prayer: Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus, Paul, Peter. Can there be any doubt about their closeness to God? In fact, being mighty in prayer is taken for granted as the consequence of being very close to God.

To paraphrase another observation by John Paul Jackson, the purpose of prayer should not so much be a matter of telling God what we want to happen as a way to know what God wants to happen.

Prayer, then, ought to be something that happens having consciously and purposely come into the presence of God while expecting and waiting to hear what he has to say, if He chooses to say anything.

I would love to hear your perspectives on this. Please comment below! Thanks!

One Comment on “Why Pray?”

  1. leepohare says:

    I really like this post and relate to it on many levels. My own understanding and practice of prayer has changed much recently and I find myself doing much less petitioning and much more listening and surrendering. I guess you would call that contemplative prayer or simply “waiting before the Lord”. I think Mary of Nazareth modeled the kind of prayer that I am trying to practice today when she simply said, “Let it be done unto me according to your will.”


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