WHY WE PRAY
By Jim Hall
When I first got excited about prayer I was a young man and a young Christian. I was pretty zealous and became stirred up about prayer because I wanted to see impact and change in the world. I wanted to see God do supernatural things on earth and I loved the concept of ‘answered prayer’ and that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). In 1997, the Christian worship band, Delirious released the song ‘History Maker’, and the lyrics really summed up a lot of my paradigm of prayer:
"Is it true today that when people pray
Cloudless skies will break
Kings and queens will shake
Yes it's true and I believe it
I'm living for you
Is it true today that when people pray
We'll see dead men rise
And the blind set free
Yes it's true and I believe it
I'm living for you
I'm gonna be a history maker in this land
I'm gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind"
If you asked most people the question, ‘why do people pray?’, it’s not terribly hard to imagine what the primary answer would be. It almost certainly would be related to asking God to help us in some way. The majority of us think about prayer in terms of ‘requests’, where we ‘ask’ God for help, either for ourselves or for another person. Early in the Scriptures we read that God told Moses: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Ex. 3:7) Jesus himself understood the reality of praying for help when he taught about prayer, telling the disciples that, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). The apostle Paul also wrote that in prayer we should “present (our) requests to God” (Php. 4:6).
We see that a fundamental aspect of why we pray is related to receiving help from God. The author of Hebrews calls us to “approach the throne of grace…so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We pray because we have needs. We come to a place in our lives where we realize that we simply do not have the ability to help ourselves or others that we care about; we recognize that we must look beyond ourselves, and indeed beyond the obvious limitation of any human resource.
In my own life, this was the entry point into the vast spiritual experience called prayer, and it was awesome! Frankly, it’s still awesome! I get fired up every time I hear a story of God’s divine intervention, when he answers our prayers. It’s been twenty-three years since Delirious wrote that song and I am as hungry as ever to be a ‘history maker’ through prayer!
There is however, a further, deeper reason for why we pray. This reason is even more fundamental to our faith and it is this: prayer is the practical means by which we experience our relationship with God. Christianity is first and foremost a relationship with God, that is made possible through Jesus Christ, and is empowered by the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said this when he prayed: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Jesus is saying that our faith is intended to be far more than simply knowing about God, but actually knowing him by relating to him.
In my own life, I was easily preoccupied with seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth in power; to use a famous phrase of John Wimber, I wanted to ‘do the stuff’: praying for the sick or for the lost or maybe even casting out a demon or two! I want to be clear; all those things and many more are essential to the Kingdom of God coming on earth, which we are commanded by Jesus to pray for. (Matt. 6:10) Yet what happened to me was that during the journey of prayer, I stumbled into the magnificence and glory of God Himself. In Genesis 15:1 God gives Abram a divine vision, where he tells Abram: “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward”. God tells Abram that more than all the lands and descendants he could have, more than all the riches and fame God would give him, that God himself would be the greatest, most meaningful ‘reward’ he would experience. This is our promise as well: God himself is our exceedingly great reward, and in this life we experience that relationship through prayer. The greatest reason why we pray is to know and relate to God, who is our exceedingly great reward.
There is a popular phrase that says, ‘we seek his face and not his hand’, however the truth of Scripture is that we seek his face and his hand. His ‘face’ refers to the promise of intimacy with God that we experience in prayer; his ‘hand’ refers to the promise of partnering with God in prayer and seeing his Kingdom come and his will be done on the earth (we do in fact, get to ‘do the stuff’!)
Very often it is the promise of God’s divine help (his hand) that draws us into prayer, and this is part of God’s strategy because through the experience of prayer we begin to touch the reality of a deeper relationship with God Himself and we begin to know the delight of connecting with God in more intimate relationship.
Jesus taught about prayer and said, “...pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father…will reward you” (Matt 6:6). I believe that the highest reward that Jesus was thinking about was the reward of God himself. Jesus also taught us: “This is how you should pray… ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matt. 6:9-10). The reason we pray is both because we do have needs that God wants to help us with and because God wants to give us himself, and be our exceedingly great reward.
I want to encourage you in your prayer life: there is not one prayer that you have prayed that God has forgotten. There is not one prayer that you have prayed that does not matter to God. God has declared through Scripture that he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” (Eph. 3:20).
Through prayer, God does want us to be ‘history makers’, to be those who know and experience him and see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
May you be blessed and encouraged in your own journey of prayer today.