This is a question you've probably asked yourself at one point or another. All of us have, Christians or non-Christians alike. For many of us, we're not sure if God can really hear us. For others of us, we're not sure if God really cares about what we say. For still others of us, we simply ask ourselves... "Why pray if God already knows what I'm going to pray for? After all, does prayer somehow change God's mind?"
These are some pretty good questions. After all, we hear so many preachers who keep telling us, "Pray, Pray, PRAY!" but deep down inside (if we really admit it), we're not sure if it really works. We pray for something to happen, and sometimes it just doesn't happen. We forget to pray for something, and what we would have prayed for happens anyway. So, what's the point? Why pray?
Prayer is one of the most misunderstood concepts in this universe. So many belief systems incorporate it into their life philosophies, but for so many it never seems to do anything. So... is it legit or not?
It is my belief, that because Jesus Christ proved his deity by predicting and fulfilling his own resurrection from the dead, we can trust what he says. And because he inspired the Bible, we can trust what its authors say about this very pressing topic. So... what does God's Word have to say about prayer?
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6
"If you abide in me [Jesus], and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." James 5:16
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed." Mark 1:35
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Matthew 6:9-13
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:5-13
There's so much more throughout scripture, but I feel like these passages sum up the main idea of it.
So... what does all this mean? When it comes to questions like this, I'm not the kind of person who will just do something simply because that's what's always been done. If prayer is important, I want to know why and not only that, but how. So, I did a little research: watching videos, reading articles, and listening to sermons from some of the best pastors in America. And what I found... was breathtaking.
With that being said, here's what I've discovered about prayer: what it is, and how it can revolutionize the world...
WHAT IS PRAYER Prayer, at it's core is actually really simple: it's communicating with God. It's giving him glory, repenting of our sins, and making requests to Him. It's talking with God. This may seem obvious at first, but there is something here that a lot of people miss: it's not a ritual.
What do I mean by that?
I mean, it's not a series of chants, memorized and repeated phrases, or special words we're supposed to say to God. That's a gross misapplication of Jesus' teaching. The Lord's Prayer is a perfect example of this... so many people think that when Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, that he was teaching them to just repeat it over and over again throughout their lives. But that's not it at all!
You see, when Jesus taught his disciples this prayer, he didn't say, "This is what you should pray". He said, "This is how you should pray." There's an important difference! Right here, Jesus wasn't teaching a magical incantation for us to recite before every meal. He was giving us a template about how to most clearly and naturally communicate with God. Basically, he was saying this:
1. Think of God and his Kingdom first 2. Don't take God's daily provision for granted 3. Don't be a hypocrite: reflect Christ 4. Request for strength from temptation
What a very solid foundation for anyone's prayer life! But definitely not a collection of words to be used over and over again with no real heart behind them. This would also include the American classic prayers many of us from my background learn as kids. Remember this one?
"Dear God. Thank you for this food, thank you for this day. Thank you for friends and family. Please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to the nourishment of your service. Amen."
Haha. I heard this one all the time... but really, most of the time, it wasn't true prayer... it was just empty words memorized from childhood.
Now, with that being said, please don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with saying these words to God (and definitely nothing wrong with praying the Lord's Prayer). But what I'm saying is, words alone (even words from the Bible) are not real prayer. Real prayer, is genuine, heartfelt communication with God... our heavenly Father. This is something we all need to remember as we present ourselves to God in prayer.
WHAT DOES PRAYER DO? So, now that brings us back to our first real question... does prayer work? Or, more precisely, what does prayer actually do?
Well, throughout scripture, we see pretty clearly that God tells us to pray (see scripture references above). But on the other hand, scripture also says that God never changes, and He already knows what we need before we ask Him. So... why pray?
I think the answer lies in an Old Testament story in Exodus. Take a look... And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. Exodus 32:7-14 That's weird, isn't it? After all, if Moses really changed God's mind, was God wrong before Moses reasoned with Him? Does that mean God isn't all-knowing and can't be trusted?
These are valid questions. The answer is a little in-depth (so you might need to read it a little more carefully), but in the end, it makes so much sense. Not only does it solve this problem, but it also answers our primary question of this entire page... why pray?
Are you ready?
Here's the answer: God intentionally created prayer to be the key that unlocks his plan for us, here on earth. His plan for Israel, His plan for America, His plan for me, and His plan for you. And He also created you and me, knowing exactly how and when we will freely choose to pray. He created every human that way, knowing exactly what the result would be of His creation. And so, when you put it together, God designed it so that when we pray for God to intervene - He will change his direction to answer our prayer... like He was planning to, from the very beginning.
Now, if that doesn't blow your mind, I don't know what will! But even though it's complicated, in the end, it's true. And so, here are the implications of that truth:
1. We can trust God's sovereignty over humanity. 2. Prayer is important, because it unlocks God's power to work in our lives.
You see, God designed prayer like a laser beam. To make a laser, you stack multiple microwaves on-top of each other. Alone, they're just waves that create small amounts of heat. But stacked together, they make a precise, powerful cutting beam, that cuts through the hardest of surfaces.
When the microwave of our prayers stack on-top of the microwave of God's will for our lives... the laser beam of power and blessing pour out from Heaven. That is the power of prayer. That's what started the Great Awakenings. That's what Billy Graham built his ministry around. That's where Revival starts: true, all-surrendering, right-hearted prayer. That's why God wants us to pray. And that's the reason that after the early Christian church prayed for 10 days, three thousand people got saved. That's prayer.
WHAT NOW? So, if that's real prayer, then what happens now? How do you start doing that, the way God intended it?
It starts with humility, and awe of God. It's complete surrender - a fuller understanding of the weightiness of the Gospel. When we truly realize our dependence on God for everything, our prayer life will soon follow suit. Focus on that, and personal prayer revival, will come with it.