Why Keep Praying?
Q: I’ve been a Christian my entire 56 years and have always prayed and studied the Bible. Just lately, I have a new question! I know God wants us to pray (e.g., Mt. 7:7-8) but He knows exactly what will happen in our lives. Now it seems almost futile to pray for the safety and health of relatives, friends, and self since He knows what is going to happen. I feel my thinking is silly and unbiblical but how do I answer myself?
A: Sometimes we get sidetracked in various matters of the faith when we over-analyze what we’re doing. That doesn’t mean that Christians are to turn off their minds but rather that faith should guide our reasoning, not the other way around.
You cite Matthew 7:7-8, where Christ says, “Ask ... seek ... knock. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” However, in light of God’s foreknowledge and omniscience, you question the necessity, since “He knows what is going to happen.”
As you also note, “God wants us to pray.” Don’t forget that God also promises blessings to those who pray. Yes, God knows what is going to happen — but would the same things happen if you and other Christians forsook praying for self and others? And even if He did act in exactly the same manner, would that be any more an excuse to stop praying than sitting at a table loaded with food should stop children from saying please and thank you?
Consider Jesus’ following words from Matthew 7: “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (vv. 9-11)” Just because the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45)” doesn’t excuse us from asking for the good He promises to do.
Remember also that a regular prayer life is much more than following God’s commands. It involves active responses to His love for us, both in meeting our temporal needs and, especially, in addressing spiritual concerns. We ask not only because He says, “Pray,” but even more so because He has already given and promises to give even more.
Theologians debate whether or not we can “change God’s mind.” If we not, it’s because God is completely unchanging (Malachi 3:6) and already has planned and implemented our greatest good (Romans 8:28). If so, it’s because God desires for us to ask Him to turn away from planned judgment in order to lavish His love. This seems to be James’ point: “Pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (5:16)”
Regardless of the specifics hidden in the unfathomable mind of God (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), Christian prayer is “win-win” for us and for others whose needs we lay before the Lord. He promises to “abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7)” while taking care of our earthly needs (cf. Matthew 5:25-34) and granting “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)”
As I wrote some years ago, He bends “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.”
So whichever the case, faith expressed in an active prayer life alters those who pray for the better. Through prayer, God works to change us. As As we mature in the Christian Faith and grow into lives of increasingly active prayer, we find how much easier, desirous, and “natural” it becomes to follow the Lord’s will. Despite any contrary circumstances, He leads us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,” and to do so in all confidence, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)”
See Prayer and Our Desires and the posts liked from it for more.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
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Newspaper column #580:1