Monday, March 14, 2011

What is the point of Prayer when God is Sovereign?

What is the point of prayer when God is sovereign? I've often pondered this question, but recently when the daughter of a friend of mine became severely ill, it came home to me with force. My friends are in Cambodia as missionaries, and I'm sure that thousands of people were praying for them. But why? God knew their need. God was able to meet their need. So if God really wanted to help them, he didn't need my prayers either to inform Him or to empower Him. Further, I don't see why a multitude of prayers empower or inform God any better than one prayer. So why pray?

Interestingly, Jesus who told us that "men ought always to pray and not to faint" (Lk 18:1) is also the one who said that "your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things" (Mt 6:32) and "your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him" (Mt 6:8). So our Lord himself, as it were, poses the very problem.

Even more interestingly, he prayed. Sometimes all night (Lk 6:12). So evidently Jesus didn't see a problem between God's omniscience and omnipotence and our responsibility to pray. Hmm. I guess if I can't figure this out, at least I can prompt myself to prayer by the example of the Lord.

But maybe the reason we see a problem is because we misunderstand the purpose and function of prayer. What if prayer isn't meant to inform God or to empower Him? If prayer's purpose lies somewhere else, then the apparent contradiction disappears.

How then, would prayer function, if not to provide God with information or empowerment? I think Psalm 50 gives us a clue. Here God says, "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (verse 14,15). In this passage, prayer functions to express our need of God, and our reliance upon him in the time of our need. The outcome of it all is that God receives the glory in our deliverance because he is the one we were looking to for the deliverance.

So as I have meditated upon this in the past few days, I have come to this conclusion: prayer is not meant to inform God but to express our need for him and to deepen our trust in him. Prayer is not meant so much to draw God out to us as it is to draw us out to God. And, in fact, this means that prayer isn't pointless even when we pray and God doesn't answer the prayer with a "yes", because we are drawing near to God, and it is more important for me to be built up in faith in God than it is for my problem to go away. God is more important than healing, more important that food, more important than rest, more important than anything else. And prayer is the heartbeat of a person who feels that reality.

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