If God is in control, why do we pray?
Christians claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and loving (even if we find all of that hard to experience). Jesus urged his disciples to trust God as a loving Father, and taught them to pray, asking God for daily sustenance, forgiveness and the ability to forgive others, and even for our daily food. But if God already knows what we need and is in charge, why do we need to pray at all?
We long for connection
“We want to talk with someone who loves us, about what concerns us,” says Terry Morrison, Director Emeritus for InterVarsity Faculty Ministries. “Consider Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane in Luke 22:39-46 and his prayer for his followers in John 17. Jesus came before God to express his deep agony and to pray for the disciples, even though he already knew he would be led to the Cross.”
Eugenia Brown, a history instructor at Edgewood College, agrees. She sees prayer not so much as a grocery list of wants or a way to change God’s mind, but rather as a way to regain perspective in her relationship with God. Like Jesus, she says, “we pray to deepen our relationship with God. We pray to remind ourselves of our place of humility, to remind ourselves that God is God, and we are not. To submit myself to God in prayer changes me. I believe that God loves me enough to want to transform me into all that God created me to be, but I must cooperate in that transformation. Every time I pray, I cooperate just a little bit more.”
We’re invited and commanded to pray
The invitation is real and the command is for our benefit. Trust-filled dependence on God leads to our asking for what we need.
Mary Anne Voelkel, veteran missionary and former Prayer Coordinator for InterVarsity, says, “In Matthew 6, Jesus points out that God is control; knowing this is true encourages faith, not anxiety and worry. We are not to presume on God’s automatic care, but rather to come in trusting dependence to ask for what we need. In the very next chapter, Matthew 7:7-11 tells us to ask, seek and knock, and closes with these lovely words: ‘If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ Since God is a Spirit and we cannot see him, perhaps our interactive prayer communication encourages our faith and develops intimacy and dependence. In our materialistic world, it is so easy to let God provide everything we need and then assume that it ‘just happened’ or that we did it ourselves. In asking we acknowledge our dependence.”
We want to align with God’s will
“In many life situations, we don’t know God’s will until we pray,” says Terry. (See Phil 2:12-13.) We want to be in line with God’s will, and prayer is not so much about changing God’s mind as it is to bring ourselves into alignment with God’s heart. Eugenia adds, “I no longer pray to try to change God’s mind, to influence or persuade God to do what I want done. I name and lift my problems and concerns to God (and try to let them go, too!) and I ask God’s deep presence in each of these situations — problems, people and so on. Then, I try to trust.”
It’s okay to keep asking
As we align with God’s will, it’s okay to keep calling out to God on behalf of others and ourselves. In fact, it’s more than okay: God expects us to. In Isaiah 43, God speaks comfortingly to Israel in their time of trial, exile, and need, promising deliverance and salvation, but he adds: “Yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel” (Isaiah 43:22).
“We of the twenty-first century are so like the people in Isaiah’s time,” says Mary Anne. “We want God to care for us and meet our every need, without ‘wearying ourselves’ to praise him, to walk in intimate dependence and to pour out our hearts to him for others as well as for our own needs. We are ‘too busy’ to pray (or too tired), yet Jesus modeled a lifestyle of prayerful dependence, fellowship and intercession. The God who is ‘in control’ asks us to ask!”
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