If God knows everything already, then what difference does prayer make?
Prayer changes those who pray
I think of Abraham pleading for the righteous in Sodom (Gen 18:23-33) – would God really destroy the city if there were only 50 righteous people there? What if there weren’t fifty, but only forty? On and on Abraham asks God until eventually, having asked if God would still destroy if only 10 righteous people could be found in it and hearing God’s answer that he would not, then Abraham stops praying. Does that mean that if there are only 9 righteous people God would destroy the city? Does it mean that God would have destroyed the city along with 50 righteous people if Abraham hadn’t prayed? It doesn’t sound like that to me – Abraham finishes praying now that he has realised the depth of the mercy of God.
Prayer has changed Abraham, it hasn’t changed God.
Prayer affects God’s plans
In Exodus 32:9-14 – The LORD tells Moses that he will destroy Israel in his anger and start again with Moses’ own descendants. Moses pleads with God, urging God not to destroy his people, and following his prayer, God ‘relented’, he ‘changed his mind’.
Prayer has affected God.
Prayer lets us talk to our heavenly father
In the end, prayer is a mystery – a mystery of God’s providence as he rules and directs his creation (including the thoughts and actions of human beings) according to his will, and as he reacts to and interacts with our thoughts and actions. How God’s sovereignty and our prayer life fits together in a logical system is ultimately beyond us; the secret things belong to God (Deut 29:29).
So, what is the purpose of prayer? To talk to our heavenly Father who loves us.
God wants to hear our prayers
Jesus makes a bold promise in Matthew 7:7-8
‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’
No qualifications, no limiting conditions; just an open invitation to ask, search and knock.
Now, God is not a heavenly vending machine that dispenses goodies according to our whim and desire (the parallel passage in Luke 11:13 Jesus is speaking specifically about giving the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks; John 15:7 adds the condition ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you’ then the promise applies, ‘ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you’).
Jesus’ point is to underline that God is a loving and generous Father, not a stingy God needing to be convinced that anyone deserves anything good from his hand.
For anyone going through times of deep angst, real suffering and periods of doubt, prayer as conversation means we can bringing all of our lives into conversation with all of God’s grace.
So why pray? So we can talk to God – all of us, in conversation with him. That’s good news.
Written by Graham Stanton
A principal of Youthworks College in Sydney and leadS a bible study group of young adults at our home church.
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