If God knows what we need, and want, and even what we really need and want despite what we think we need or want; then we might wonder, What is the point of praying to Him? It is clear that Jesus wants us to pray; and He taught us how to pray when He gave us “The Lord's Prayer”...
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)
Speaking from experience, I find prayer to be an excellent gauge of my own spiritual maturity. If you hear someone praying for a Ferrari, they're probably not the most spiritually mature person you'll meet. Such a person shows that they probably don't know God very well; they're treating Him like some kind of genie in a bottle who grants wishes. Yet the Bible says “You do not have because you do not ask.” (James 4:2) We should ask God for the things we need or want, but we need to ask ourselves what kind of things we should want, and why do we want them? The same passage goes on to say “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) What is a worthy thing to ask of God? Or if I, or someone I know, is suffering, what should I pray to God? Should I pray for quick deliverance, or for endurance through this trial? Maybe both; but what is the Biblical justification for how I should pray? Or if I have come into some great fortune, financial or otherwise, do I recognise that it is a gift from God by giving a prayer of thanksgiving? Or if I am about to begin some task, whether small or great, do I acknowledge that my ability to perform any task comes from God, and so pray for His strength, and guidance, and wisdom? You see, as we pray we are exercising faith; and learning what to pray is how we grow in faith. When we return to the Bible and read something like the Lord's Prayer, and we see there that we should pray “Give us this day our daily bread”, and we think to ourselves, “That's something I almost never pray for...” (that is, our day to day needs), then this is how we have a gauge on our spiritual maturity when we examine our own prayer lives.
So prayer is the exercising of faith – it is a behaviour that is the natural result of faith. When you truly believe that God is your provider, you will naturally thank Him for the things you have. When you truly believe that God is your comforter, you will naturally pray to Him for comfort in trying times. As we grow in faith our prayer life changes. As we grow in faith we should be praying quite differently from when we were “less mature” in faith. Not only that, but I find that prayer is how we grow in faith. As we think about what we ought to pray, and as we try to put into words our petitions to God, we grow.
Jesus Himself prayed to the Father often, and prays still today, in fact, according to Hebrews 7:25. The Holy Spirit also prays to God (Romans 8:26). Why would God, Himself, pray to Himself? These are, of course, members of the Trinity speaking to one another. One says “let's do this” and the others agree that this is right, since they always pray according to the will of God. Conversation is a natural quality of being in a relationship. Our prayer is no different in the sense that it is the result of being in a relationship with God.
Prayer isn't just about what we might learn from the exercise of praying. Prayer is actually effectual. Our prayers are answered by God, and our prayers do change our circumstances when they are answered. Just as our actions are not meaningless – the repentance of Nineveh really did change the destiny of that city which God was about to destroy. The Bible repeatedly makes reference to God hearing the prayers of His people, and delighting to answer them. Once again we are up against the mystery of God's sovereignty and human responsibility, but prayer is no less a part of the Christian life than good works and repentance. It is the natural result, or “effect”, of true faith and a relationship with God.
Tomorrow we'll think about why our prayers are not always answered. Until then...
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)