This question might be one of the oldest and most asked question about the spiritual life throughout the ages. “What is the purpose of prayer?” It’s one question that I’ve been pondering for most of my life. Prayer can be defined most simply as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks (in word or thought) addressed to God, or a god, or another object of worship.” I have also found that it can mean “an earnest hope or wish” and even a “slight chance,” as in “you haven’t got a prayer.”
So why do we pray or what is the purpose of prayer? At a very basic level, it is because we have found that we cannot do this life alone; we need to ask for God’s assistance, guidance, and leading in order to survive. Whether we pray every day or only when the circumstances are grave or even when we have something to rejoice about, I would surmise that most everyone has uttered a prayer at some point in their life.
In my study of prayer over the last couple of years, I’ve found that one purpose of prayer is that it is a way that God allows us to join with Him in the work that He is doing in our world. It is an aligning of our will with God’s will, and is not - what many people think about prayer - a way to change God’s mind or to get Him to do what we want Him to do. Yes, He wants to know what’s on our hearts, what burdens us, and He welcomes us to bring our requests to Him, as well as our thanks and praises. But God is not a genie in a bottle. He wants to develop a relationship with us, which goes way beyond just bringing Him our grocery list of wants and needs.
I collect quotes and Scripture references about prayer and I recently found this one which comes from author, Lysa TerKeust. She says, “When we pray, we invite the divine presence of the almighty God to do life with us that day. Then we need to watch for Him — go on a God-hunt and make connections between the things we pray for and the things that happen throughout the day. This is the direct evidence of His hand at work — in us, around us, and in spite of us.” I especially like the thought of inviting God to do life with us.
There is a line in a contemporary Christian song that says this about prayer and how God speaks to us; “It changes us, it changes what we see and what we seek.” We don’t pray to change God, but that He changes us. We are to fix our focus on Him, and not on our circumstances. So to adapt a popular credit card commercial, “What’s in your prayer?”
This article was originally written for the Ashland Times-Gazette clergy column in
August of 2018.