The “Real” Purpose of Prayer

prayer bibleHave you ever wondered what God’s purpose was in instituting prayer? I mean, think about it! Surely God did not institute prayer and the practice of praying simply as a way for us to inform him of our needs! Jesus said in Matthew 5:6-7 “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (NIV)  And again in Matthew 6:31-32 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (NIV)  Clearly we can see from these passages that the Lord already knows our needs, therefore, the real purpose of prayer is not just to inform him of our needs. Now you might ask at this point: If God already knows what we need before we ask, then why should we ask? Good question! I think he wants us to ask because our asking helps us to recognize and acknowledge our dependency upon him. By the way, there is so much more to prayer than just “asking” God to fulfill our needs!

So, if the real purpose of prayer is not just to ask God to supply our needs, to rescue us from trouble, to heal our bodies, or to take care of whatever is wrong in our lives, then what is the real purpose of prayer? I think the answer can be found in the model prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In the prayer we know as: “The Lord’s Prayer,” the answer is found in the first words. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, saying “Our Father.” The word “father” implies relationship and the primary way to establish and sustain any relationship is with communication. And in any relationship, real communication is never just one-way! Therefore, real prayer is not just us talking to God; real prayer is also God talking to us! A real prayer is a conversation with God and no conversation is a real conversation if just one person is doing all of the talking! Have you ever been in any type of relationship in which the other person always monopolized the conversation? That relationship probably did not last because no real relationship can exist under such conditions! And there is no real relationship if the only time (or every time) you hear from the other person; they are asking you for something!

Therefore, I would like to suggest that the real purpose of prayer is communication, communion, conversation and company-keeping with God! Real prayer is God talking to us and us talking to God! By the way, I inverted the order on purpose! Real prayer is always responsive! It is God who always speaks first! God speaks to us through his word (the Bible) and we, in turn talk back to God through prayer! Therefore, real prayer cannot be done apart from the word of God. Often the failure of many in praying, in addition to a lack of faith, can be traced back to an ignorance of and an ignoring of God’s word. It is useless to ask God for an answer that he has already given in his word! Much of what many ask; God has already given an answer in his word, but people ask because they are ignorant of his word! The result is frustration because often they are waiting on God to do something he has already done, but they don’t know that he’s already done it because they don’t read and study his word! By the way, when we don’t read and study his word, we are like the rude person we use to be friends with that always monopolized the conversation!  Remember? We stopped being their friend because they were so selfish and self-centered that they only wanted us to listen to them while at the same time they wouldn’t listen to us! Well, we want God to listen to us; but do we listen to God? When we talk to God in prayer, do we get up immediately after we’ve finished and go on about our business, not allowing him to say anything?

And then, the real purpose of prayer is really not to “change things” but rather it is to change us! I’ve often heard people say: “Prayer changes things!” But when you really think about, in most cases, it is not so much a case of prayer changing things as it is of prayer changing people and changed people changing things! Neither is the real purpose of prayer to change the mind of God, but rather it is to change our minds so that we might have the mind of God.

Therefore, since the real purpose of prayer is about communication, communion, conversation and company-keeping with God, let’s stop being rude to God! Let’s quit monopolizing the conversation and listen to what God has to say! Let’s take time to read and study his word! In doing so, we will find that many of the questions we might want to ask; he has already answered and much of what we seek; he has already given! Try this: The next time you pray; don’t ask God for anything! Just thank him for what he has already done! Treat him like you should treat a good friend! Have your Bible open and just tell him: “I just wanted to say: ‘Hello, and to have a good conversation with you because I really enjoy your company! By the way; how are you doing today? Amen!”

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