(The Purpose of Prayer)

QUESTION: Patty asks, "If God knows the outcome of everything, then why pray?"

ANSWER: Thanks for the question. It's a good one. And it certainly has practical relevance in our lives.

Yes, God is what theologians call omniscient, meaning He possesses all knowledge. He not only knows all about the past, but all about the future as well. "His understanding is infinite" (Ps. 147:5), meaning without limit. He says, "I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done" (Isa. 46:9-10). "Known to God from eternity are all His works" (Acts 15:18). He is fully aware of both the physical and the spirit realm. He knows all about angels and about human beings–even what we are thinking, feeling and planning (Ps. 139:1-4; Heb. 4:13; I Jn. 3:20).

That being so, what is the point of prayer? We can't tell the Lord anything He doesn't know already–and know more accurately and fully than we do. Why bother? Here are a few reasons that come to mind:

1) We should pray because God commands us to in His Word.
Christ instructed His followers on the subject by giving them a model prayer–and He begins this by saying, "In this manner, therefore, pray [a command]" (Matt. 6:9-13). "Men always ought to pray" (Lk. 18:1). We are to "be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let [our] requests be made known to God" (Phil. 4:6).

And we are to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17). The latter verse does not mean we are to do nothing but pray, 24/7. Rather, it speaks of persistent prayer, not giving up on praying. A similar expression was used in Paul's day of a chronic cough, one that just wouldn't go away. We are to foster the consistent habit of prayer.

Whether we fully understand how prayer works or not, that's not the point.These verses and others show that God calls on His people to pray and keep praying. Therefore, the other side of the coin is that if we don't pray we are guilty of sinful disobedience.

2) We should pray because the Lord Jesus sets us an example of prayer, an example followed by His followers and the early church.
Christ came to be our Saviour. But He also lived among us, as perfect Man, giving us an example to follow (Jn. 13:15; I Pet. 2:21; cf. I Cor. 11:1). Part of this example is the prayer life of the Lord, mentioned all through the Gospels (Matt. 26:39, 44; Mk. 1:35; 6:46; Lk. 5:16; 6:12, etc.). After His ascension, we see believers consistently at prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:23-31; 6:4; 13:1-3, etc.). Is there any valid reason not to follow these examples? I think not.

3) We should pray because the Lord longs to fellowship with us.
This is a mind-boggling concept: That Almighty God, the Maker and Ruler of all, desires our companionship. In fact, I believe He made us in His image for that purpose (among others). Genesis 3:8 implies that God revealed His presence in the garden of Eden to fellowship with Adam and Eve. And the Lord Jesus expresses the desire "that where I am, there you may be also" (Jn. 14:3; cf. 17:24).

When we worship the Lord, and express our love and our willingness to serve Him, it is true that we are not telling Him anything new. But He delights to hear it, all the same. To use a human example, a husband might argue that his wife already knows he loves her because he said so years ago, when they got married. And yes, she may know this. But it also warms her heart to hear it repeated again and again.

4) We should pray because God delights to be reminded of His promises.
This is a slightly different aspect of #3, related to praying on the basis of God's promises. We must never think that God is irritated when we come to Him in prayer and remind Him of what He has promised to do. He does not view us as being like a nagging wife, pestering her husband to fix a dripping faucet! Rather, He sees such prayers as a longing to see His will accomplished. We are adding our "Amen" (So be it!) to His promises.

After the Lord made a covenant with David regarding his descendants having a right to the throne of Israel forever (the Davidic Covenant) David prayed, "Now, O Lord God, the word which You have spoken...establish it forever and do as you have said....For You...have revealed this....Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer" (II Sam. 7:25, 27).

In his quaint way, Charles Spurgeon urges us to, "Draw the word of promise out of its scabbard, and use it with holy violence. Think not that God will be troubled by your reminding Him persistently of His promise....The sun is not wearing of shining, or the fountain with flowing. It is God's nature to keep His promises."

5) We should pray, because God is graciously willing to act in answer to prayer.
In some way that the Bible doesn't explain (and which we wouldn't likely understand if it did!) our desires and prayers operate within the sovereign purpose of God (I Jn. 5:14). He never loses control of things, and yet He has pledged to work through the prayers of His people. He wants to involve us in the process (Ps. 84:11; Matt. 7:7-8). In the words of hymn writer John Newton: "Thou art coming to a King, / Large petitions with thee bring; / For His grace and power are such, / None can ever ask too much."

When we pray, we bring our life situations into the presence of God, exposing them to His scrutiny. King Hezekiah did this when he received a letter demanding the surrender of Jerusalem to a heathen king. He spread the letter out before the Lord, calling on Him to act (II Kgs. 19:14-19). In this respect, prayer is an expression of humility. It recognizes our own inadequacy and seeks the direction and enablement God can give (cf. II Chron. 20:3-9, 12). On the other hand, prayerlessness can be seen as arrogant pride and sinful independance.

The throne of grace is available and the Lord has promised mercy and grace to help those who come and express their need (Heb. 4:14-16). God's Word says, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (Jas. 5:16). What a privilege we have! What a resource for good! How foolish to fail to avail ourselves of it! Yet it happens. And a failure to pray means we may fail to get some blessings we otherwise could have had. "You do not have because you do not ask" (Jas. 4:2; cf. Matt. 7:11).

6) We should pray because our own weakness and waywardness needs to be recognized and dealt with before God.
Prayer is not just asking for things. There are also prayers of worship and praise, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of confession of sin. Let's take thanksgiving first. We are to pray with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6; cf. I Thess. 5:17-18). Why? Well, for one thing, it is a recognition of where our blessings come from. The heathen have no such perception and are therefore unthankful (Rom. 1:21; II Tim. 3:2).

But I think there is another purpose in thankgiving too. Bathing our requests in thanksgiving (cf. Phil. 4:6) is an act of faith. It recognizes that however God answers, it will be for the best, and we can thank Him in advance for this.

With regard to confession, we are to admit our sins to God in order that free and unhindered fellowship with Him be restored (I Jn. 1:9). To "confess" means literally to agree. And when we agree with God about our sin (and therefore forsake it), we are delivered of a painful burden (Ps. 32:1-5). A restoration of the joy of our salvation, and renewed power in service result from confessing our sins before a holy God (Ps. 51:1-4, 12-13).

7) We should pray because others are depending on us to do so.
Prayer is not simply a recitation of selfish "gimmes." We can positively affect the lives of others through prayer. We have an amazing example of this in Abraham's prayer for his nephew Lot's family living in wicked Sodom, a city which God was about to destroy. It is an audacious prayer. Abraham, in effect, bargains with God, the way he would bargain over household goods in the marketplace. Even more amazing, the Lord stoops humbly and graciously to work within the limits of Abraham's supplication (Gen. 18:23-33).

Also, prayer is a way of participating in the ministry of others all over the world. The servants of Christ around the globe are doing His work, facing challenges and obstacles along the way. God is willing to equip and empower them, and meet their needs, as His people pray. They also face an implacable spiritual enemy, and we must pray for their protection against the devil and his demon host (Eph. 6:10-12).

The Apostle Paul understood that, and asked the readers of his letters to pray for him and his coworkers (Eph. 6:18-20; I Thess. 5:25; II Thess. 3:1; Heb. 13:18). We are also to pray for our national leaders so that the gospel can continue to be shared freely in our land (I Tim. 2:1-4). To fail to pray means we are letting others down.

Why pray? I'm sure there are other reasons to pray which could be discussed, but there are several for your consideration.