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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

13 June 2005

The Purpose of Prayer

Q: My study group was discussing prayer. I asked that, if everything is “God’s plan” or “God’s will,” what is the purpose of prayer? If it is already laid out then why do we pray for a healing or for something to change? One person told me it’s because God wants us to pray. I must say that wasn't a very satisfying answer. Can you help?

A: Your study friend gave a correct but only partial answer.

Why pray? God certainly commands prayer in both Old and New Testaments. For example, Christ says in Matthew 7:7, “Ask ... seek ... knock....” The Psalmist likewise emphasizes the divine command: “Call upon me in the day of trouble. (Ps 50:15)” Tied to the command is His promise to hear and respond: “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Ps 50:15)”; “everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Mt 7:8)”

Why pray? We pray that our personal needs and the needs of others—especially the forgiveness of sins—would be met. We pray in gratitude for what we have received. Finally, we pray to acknowledge that He is God, and worthy of all praise.

Jesus reminds us (Mt 5:45) that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Yet because God has promised to give us good things doesn’t excuse us from asking. Stephanie and I promise to feed, clothe, and shelter our children; we also teach them to ask nicely and to thank us for what they receive. Their ongoing asking and thanking teach them about their dependent relationship with us while building their trust in our judgment and our desire to give them all things that are good for them, as well as providing much over and above the bare essentials of life.

Even more so, the Father’s children pray in faith with humble dependence, gratitude, confidence, and joy. We learn to celebrate each time He says, “Yes.” We also learn anew the truth of His words through Isaiah: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (55:9)” Sometimes human desires differ from God’s infinite knowledge and His good and gracious will. Our requests may not be true and proper prayers because they lack accord with God’s will for us. We learn to believe that “Father knows best” and that His, “No,” to some requests is more loving than the “Yes” we might desire.

We could say that prayer doesn’t change God’s mind—it changes ours, bending our wills to His perfect will. We learn to pray conditionally (“Thy will be done”) for all temporal blessings and unconditionally for all spiritual blessings. God teaches us that He isn’t a vending machine wherein we pop in a petition and He drops our order into our hands. Prayer is part of our ongoing conversation with God: He speaks through Scripture and Sacraments; we reply with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, with faith toward Him and love for our neighbor. Learning to pray fervently, continually, and in faith is part of the discipling that takes place throughout our lives. As we follow the apostolic injunction, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,” God works to turn our thoughts and desire into a match for His, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger Orycteropus Afer said...

You say "God ... isn’t a vending machine...."

Quite true. And even if He were, we have nothing but worthless slugs to offer.


13 June, 2005 14:33  

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