Year of Youth 2018

Why Pray?: The Truth about Prayer

Last edited 4th January 2017

Why Pray?: The Truth about Prayer

Does prayer really do anything?

If God cared about us, why would He need us to ask for anything before He gave it to us?

The only thing prayer does is make you feel good about yourself.

Do you ever find yourself thinking this way about prayer?

Or have your heard others question prayer in this way?

That’s totally normal . . . you are not a freak or a “terrible Christian.” It shows that you are taking prayer seriously and not just kind of “going through the motions.”

If prayer is going to “mean something,” then it should “do something.” Why Pray if God is Good?

Hold up! If God is good, wouldn’t He already be planning on doing that thing in the first place? This question is so deep that it goes all the way to the very identity of God and the nature of the universe.

We can sometimes fall into the mistaken notion that God is in control of everything. And I acknowledge that, in a general sense, that is kind of true. Everything that exists either comes directly or indirectly from God. We readily acknowledge that God is the “ground of Being”; without Him nothing at all would exist. But that is not the same thing as saying that God is “in control” of everything or that everything that happens is a “part of his plan.”

In choosing to create a universe that operates according to certain “rules,” God has willed to abdicate his power to a certain extent. A Free World In the Christian perspective, God is all-powerful, but God is also Reason. Reason is part of the very nature of who God is.

Therefore, when God willed to create the universe, He was free to create it to operate somewhat “independently” of Himself. God is certainly still the Primary Cause, but He has created a universe that has both “laws of nature” and is also filled with free beings. Because of the laws of nature, there are things like physics through which we can deduce that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Unless there is a suspension of this law, it will happen every time – both when a baseball player hits the ball to deep center field as well as when a stray ball hits a child in the temple.

God is not the “cause” of either occasion except for the fact that He created a world based on physical laws. God created chemistry, but He does not “control” a campfire or “cause” a wildfire; the fire burns because of the “secondary cause” of reason or science (the laws of nature).

And God has also created a universe with free beings. These beings are truly free, therefore they are free to act as “secondary causes.” Human beings are part of this kind of causality. This is why we have thieves, liars, and kidnappers. But it is also why we can have doctors, nurses, judges, and teachers. Human beings are free to choose to act or not to act. And in choosing, we become causes ourselves.

God Cares. But…When it comes to prayer (and how prayer works), it might be helpful to consider this reality. Christians believe that God exists and that God cares and acts in this world. But we also know that there are an abundance of secondary causes at work. For example, it would be a little crazy for someone to say, “I don’t have to go to work in order to have money for food; if God wants me to have food, he will give it to me.” Absolutely not! We may be completely convinced that God loves us and still know we have to work for our daily bread.

C.S. Lewis gives the example of asking whether any of us would leave the house in a rainstorm without an umbrella under the idea that “If God doesn’t want me to get wet, he won’t let the rain fall where I am.” All Christians go through their day counting on God’s care while simultaneously making choices that make a difference.

We are accustomed to being secondary causes! In the Bible, God has revealed that He wants prayer to operate in a similar way. There are many times when the Bible teaches us that prayer makes a difference. In fact, it is one of the ways in which we cooperate with God’s will.

In the same way your choice to give to a person in need is one way you can cooperate with God’s will to care for the poor, your decision to pray for a person is another. Now, this doesn’t mean that everything you pray for is a part of God’s will. Sometimes what we want (even if it is a good thing) is not simply “given” because we asked for it.

Sometimes God’s answer is “no”… sometimes God’s answer is “wait.” And even if we are asking for a good thing… or an end to a bad thing (like war or cancer)… sometimes we do not “get what we ask for.” Remember that this is a world where things go wrong and where people are free to choose violence rather than peace.

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