There’s an age-old question in Christianity. It goes like this: “Why do we pray?” It’s a fair one to ask.
To the casual observer outside of Christianity it makes absolutely no sense, because they have absolutely no sense… of the God to whom we are praying. For the non-Christian this question is really asking, “why do you pray to no one?” For the Christian, however, the question is just as valid and is more layered. Assuming that the Christian understands that you’re not just talking to thin air when you pray, the question they are asking is usually the more verbose, “Why do we pray if God is all powerful and all knowing? Doesn’t he know what we’re going to pray for/about before we pray for/about it? What’s the point then? Aren’t we wasting his time?” I firmly believe that every Christian comes to this question at some point in their walk, and hopefully the following will give you some sort of perspective on the problem, if not resolve it outright.
First of all, when it was asked that I write this paper, it was added that the answer can’t just be, “because God says so.” Let me say up front: that is one completely valid and correct answer to the question of why do we pray. Sometimes we need to just accept the fact that God tells us to do something, even though we don’t understand it, and do it anyway. However, unlike my hyper-Calvinist friends, I don’t believe that that is always the only answer, and it certainly is not for this question. So, while I affirm that, “because God says so,” is a wonderful answer to this question, I understand many Christians’ hesitations in accepting this answer as the be-all end-all. There are many other answers to why we pray and there is one in particular that I will discuss in this paper.
Another quick thing to mention is that this is discussing personal devotional prayer, not congregational prayer like in a church service by one person out loud and silently by others… that’s slightly different.
Before I can begin giving an answer to the question of why we pray, I have to clear up a misconception about prayer. This misconception can be observed in the way I have phrased the Christian version of the question above. “Why do we pray if God is all powerful and all knowing? Doesn’t he know what we’re going to pray for/about before we pray for/about it? What’s the point then? Aren’t we wasting his time?” The misconception is put simply: You pray, you aren’t talking to God, you’re talking with God. You aren’t always praying “for/about” something. Prayer is not always petitionary (you aren’t always asking for something when you pray) and on top of that, its purpose is not for God to hear you.
I might have just stunned some readers with that last statement. The purpose of prayer is not for God to hear you. That is one of the results or byproducts, I’ll grant, but it is not the purpose. Do you want to know the purpose of prayer… or at least one of the purposes of prayer? To get to know God. The purpose of prayer is not for God to hear from you, it’s for you to hear from God. Prayer is a conversation with God the father, by means of the mediator Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a means by which we conform to the perfect image of God. If you spend 100% of your time in prayer talking, then you’re only doing 50% of the process of praying. About half the time you spend should be spent talking, and the other half the time should be spent listening.
There are two examples from Adventures in Odyssey that relate very much to this question. One is from the episode “A Touch of Healing Part 2.” Connie comes right out and asks, “If it’s God’s business why do we pray?” and Jack responds, “If we don’t pray how can we become more in tune with the mind of God? To feel his comfort even if we don’t get what we want? Praying is the only way I know how.” I feel like this answer needs no further explanation, so I’ll give it none.
The other example comes from the episode, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Part 2.” In it, Connie is trying to determine God’s will and she asks, “How am I supposed to know what to do?” Whit replies, “By knowing Him for a start.” Then he asks her, if she were going to throw him (Whit) a birthday party, what kind of party would it be? She describes a small party, with Whit’s close friends, his favorite kind of cake, and no presents ‘cause she knows that makes Whit uncomfortable. Whit then asks, how she knows all that about him. The answer? Because she’s spent the time to get to know him really well. Whit then makes the point that it’s the same with God. In order to know God, we have to spend the time getting to know him, and prayer is the way we do that, along with Bible study and communion with the Spirit.
My point is this: prayer is one of the key ways we get to know God. That, my friends, is why we pray. It’s not a moot point to pray because “God already knows everything we’re going to say.” He does. But, we’re not only praying for Him, we’re also praying for us. Unfortunately, we don’t know what God’s going to say to us, even though He knows what we’re going to say to Him. We simply don’t, so we have to go through the action of praying to get the job done.
That’s the answer to the question, “Why do we pray?” We pray so that we can get to know God.
Please remember, this is just one of the many reasons why we pray. There are plenty others. For example: to praise Him, to submit to Him, to petition of Him, to worship Him, to reaffirm our faith, etc. etc. etc. but I chose to focus on only this one as I feel it best rebuts the line of, “he already knows what we’re going to say,” reasoning.