Dear God, it’s me.
I don’t know why I’m telling You this … I’m sure You have more important people and things to care about. I’m sure You’ve already decided on the outcome of this matter, but since I’m supposed to tell You this – I have exams next week, and a packed schedule this week.
Please help me … I don’t know, survive?
In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
Have you ever mumbled a prayer like this? As a student, I’ve said a lot of such prayers. Then as a young adult, other concerns came to the fore: Travel mercies, the salvation of friends and family, or sufficient competency at work not to invoke the wrath of my boss and colleagues, for example.
Sometimes, after such a prayer, I’ll murmur to friends later: “I know I’m supposed to pray about all this. Yet it feels like it’s a feel-good measure – something we do to make us feel good about the fact that we did it. But why do we have to? Hasn’t God already predetermined the outcome?”
My cynicism stems from my belief that surely God already knows if a plane will crash or not. Surely He already knows whether my friend will be saved in the end or not. And doesn’t He already know whether I will make it through a work day without stepping on anyone’s toes?
It’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM.
Prayer seems even more pointless where a tragic end seems certain – like after an accident, where the victim is in critical condition. Or when a loved one’s illness becomes terminal and there seems to be no hope for physical healing.
Nevertheless, we are told to pray. In fact, we are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
So while it seems counterintuitive to pray even though we can’t see how it may change the situation, we persist. We do so because we’re commanded to. And we do so because it’s our privilege to do so – to be able to speak to God through prayer.
People who are reconciled to God have the privilege of communicating with Him as He did with Moses (Exodus 33:11), because we are now His friends (John 15:13-15).
PRAYER: A COMMANDMENT AND PRIVILEGE
In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus has taught us The Lord’s Prayer. Among the things we’re told we ought to pray for:
- “Your kingdom come, Your will be done”
- “Give us this day our daily bread”
- “Lead us not into temptation”
You could argue that a lot of this is pointless. Of course His will will be done. Of course He will provide for me daily, as Jehovah Jireh. Of course He isn’t going to lead me into temptation.
Why do I need to pray these things? In fact, in Matthew 6:8, Jesus even said: “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Yet He didn’t tell us not to bother asking. Ask Him we should.
The key is in the repeated refrain from Matthew 6, which appears in verses 4, 6 and 18: “Then your Father will reward you.”
The teaching is that it’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM. The principle is that when we present our requests to God in acknowledgment of His pre-eminence and presence in our lives, He acknowledges what is done in secret (again from Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18) through His mercies and lovingkindness.
Praying such a prayer is us effectively saying:
I know You can do this, Father, because I know You can do everything.
I don’t know every detail of your plans – if my friend will be saved, if my relative will be healed, if my boss will be kind – but I know your character, as a God of justice, righteousness and love (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
If it is in your will, Lord, do this wonderful thing.
GOD’S INSTRUMENTS TO DO HIS WILL
My pastor once told this story to illustrate the purpose of prayer. He wanted his two school-going children to keep their study tables tidy. As motivation, he offered them an incentive – a “table neatness” prize – for keeping their desks tidy for a week.
They obeyed, and received their promised rewards. His pre-schoolers, however, were not offered this incentive.
When they found out about their older siblings’ rewards, they wanted the prize too. So they made the request to receive the prize if they likewise kept their desks neat for a week. Of course, my pastor agreed to their request.
That was his intention all along – he had intended for his pre-schoolers to realise they would enjoy the “table neatness” prize, to want it, and ask him for it.
In a similar way, for God, it’s not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Having His people pray is part of His plan to achieve His redemptive purposes in the world – a privilege He extends to us, for our benefit.
One example of this we see in the Bible is in Isaiah 37, which describes King Hezekiah’s conversation with God when Assyria declares war on Judah.
For God, our prayer is not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.
When Hezekiah pleads to God to save him (Isaiah 37:20), God makes known that He has used Hezekiah’s prayer as an instrument (Isaiah 37:21) to defeat Assyria. Not only that, God also makes known that He had “long ago” determined that David would bring Assyria to ruin (Isaiah 14:24-27) and save the city of Judah.
It was going to happen anyway; the only question is if it would happen under Hezekiah or some other praying king. It wasn’t the prayer in itself that moved God’s hand; God was always at work.
Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.
So, whatever the inertia I have towards prayer: Yet I will obey Him. I will learn to persist in prayer (Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2), taking baby steps in His time, for my own good.