The Purpose Of Prayer

Here in the US, today is the National Day of Prayer with Joni Eareckson Tada as the 2011 Honorary Chairman, so I wanted to address the subject. The thing is, I don’t understand much about prayer and its purpose. In fact, for years my prayer life was … sad.

For the longest time, I prayed pretty much for no other reason than that Scripture tells us to pray. From my experience, it seemed mostly like a crap shoot as to whether or not God would give me what I asked for.

When I was a kid, I prayed for things like a bike — didn’t get one until I was in junior high and then we lived where there was no place to ride.

As a young adult, I prayed for things like our friend who mysteriously disappeared one Sunday morning, never to be found again.

Later I prayed for a spouse. I’m still single. I prayed for people to get well who died, and for others, who lived. I prayed for families to stay together that split up.

As a teacher I prayed for my classes and my lesson prep and my work load, and I was never sure when God answered. When things went well, was it because of His provision or the natural course of things? When they went badly, was He telling me I’d neglected something I was supposed to be doing?

At some point, I pretty much stopped trying to figure prayer out. I knew what it wasn’t. It was not God’s vending machine — insert faith, push the desired prayer button, wait for answer to automatically spit out.

Prayer as vending machine had been my philosophy when our friend went missing. I knew God was powerful enough to bring her back, whole and healthy, even. I believed He wanted to protect her and to return her to her role as a pastor’s wife. I asked, believing she would be found. I fully expected it. But days turned into weeks, then years, and eventually it was clear God had not answered my prayer — at least not by giving me what I requested. Now I understand that’s not the way prayer works.

In fact, prayer doesn’t “work” as if it’s a tool to fix what’s broken. Rather, prayer is our “spiritual media” (in contrast to our ever demanding social media) — our means of communicating with God.

So I guess that defines at least part of prayer’s purpose. God wants us first and foremost to talk to Him. I mean, we’re in a relationship. Healthy relationships need healthy communication. Clearly, communication involves a lot more than simply asking for things.

I find it interesting that there were times in Scripture God said He wouldn’t hear His people’s prayers. In other places, however, He seemed to promise answers. If two or three are gathered in His name, if we have the faith of a mustard seed, if we pray according to His will.

That last point is a stickler. How are we to know His will? Does He want my friend to be healed of cancer or does He want to glorify Himself by how she approaches death? How am I to pray? Or is my every prayer to be, This is what I want God, nevertheless not my will be done, but Yours.

If so, aren’t we back to the crap shoot idea since I really don’t know how to pray or what God plans?

Here’s the shocking thing I’ve learned in the last few years. When it comes to asking for things, God has told us in Scripture what things He wills. Over and over He’s told us.

But silly me, I persist in asking for bobbles and beads instead of the enduring provisions God wants to give me.

Look at this one passage in the book of James, and think how life-changing it could be if I were to pray for these things that I know are God’s will:

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.

Or how about this from Philippians:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intend on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.

And later in the same chapter:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.

Prayer changes things, I’m convinced. Until recently, though, I don’t think I understood what things God wants to change most of all.

Sure, in answer to prayer He could have changed Jesus’s status as the Suffering Servant who would die to redeem mankind. He didn’t because He knew the stakes. And Jesus knew to pray, “Not My will but Yours” because He knew the stakes, too.

He also knew His Father to be good, to be loving and merciful. So He put His trust in the Father’s will.

The purpose of prayer? First as communication between us and the Father. But of equal importance, as a means for us to be involved with God to accomplish His will — that which He has made known in Scripture.

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 Comments

  1. One of the best things I have learned about prayer over the years is that since God is always with me every moment of the day, I can keep a running conversation going with Him. I don’t have to be anywhere specific to pray. I can pray as I’m cooking, driving, teaching, doing laundry -absolutely anytime. And it doesn’t need to be a formal conversation. I can talk to him just like I would a friend who was hanging out with me for the day. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t “get away to pray”, but just that they praying doesn’t need to end there.

    Thank you for the encouraging post.

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  2. We had a great turnout for the National Day of Prayer in our small town. Representatives from local business, government, school board, military, etc. led us in prayer for all aspects of our country. Wonderful time of prayer.

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  3. God does things for His glory. I never really understood this till recently, and I’m getting old. If “for His glory” you substitute its meaning, “to manifest His Divine attributes” it becomes clearer to those like me. When we glorify His Name, we lift it up in praise and adoration, which is entirely a different meaning than “for His glory”. God answers prayer to manifest His Divine attributes, not to make us happy, unless that does it best.

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  4. It took becoming a mom for me to get away from the idea that prayer was spending 30 minutes a day on my knees. I did not have 30 minutes (or even 10mins lol). I read my bible when I could between changing diapers, feeding kids, and maybe picking up the house (at one point I was changing 25 diapers a day between my newborn twins and my toddler daughter).

    It hit me one day when I felt guilt over not serving at church and barely praying that God knew I was a mom and he understood there would be interruptions throughout the day. I began praying in one or two sentences throughout the day. I could not serve at church, but I could pray for my husband and the congregation while I fed the twins.

    Pretty soon, I found that I would have a running conversation with God throughout the day.

    I also learned to see that God is bigger than I imagined. His hands can hold what I cannot. He sees the ending to the life story of someone I am praying for, even when I cannot. I learned to trust God and ask that his will be done 🙂

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  5. This is powerful….At some point, I pretty much stopped trying to figure prayer out. I knew what it wasn’t. It was not God’s vending machine — insert faith, push the desired prayer button, wait for answer to automatically spit out.

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  6. Thanks, Angela. How did you find this post out of all the ones here? Just curious. So glad you took the time to read and comment.

    Becky

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  7. May God bless you immensly for giving yourself away to be used of God. These are the days of his servant. Let us all prepare the way of the Lord. Your fellow humble servant, Br Alex, Mt. Kenya University.

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  8. Alex, thank you so much for your kind blessing. This means a lot to me! May God enrich your own ministry.

    Becky

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  9. […] (Photo Credit: The Purpose Of Prayer @ RebeccaLuellaMiller.wordpress.com) […]

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