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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Pray?

Why Pray? God already knows what He's going to do.

Why Pray? God already knows what we need or want.

Why Pray? It doesn't really change anything.

Why Pray? Why Pray? Why Pray? I have been asked this question by so many people. And, their arguments are logically compelling. Their emotion is honest and often heart-breaking.

One influential woman in my life, Carol Nauta, struggled with this before her death. She heard a pastor friend of mine share a personal story about his own life. He showed graphic pictures of his minivan and explained how he and his family had survived a terrible accident. "Praise God!"

Carol's concern was, "Would he still be praising God if they hadn't all walked away from that accident?" If not, her feeling was that the, "Praise God", wasn't genuine.

She wondered aloud with me. "Why pray? What good does it really do? We just have to trust God that He'll do what is best."

So, for Carol, who lost her life in a tragic accident and heard us singing, "Blessed Be Your Name", at her funeral, I guess this is my best reply to your question.

Let me begin with the three questions I posed earlier. Each one exposes a different lie we tend to believe about prayer.

1 - Why Pray? God already knows what He's going to do.

This is true. Some have a picture of God waiting around until it is time to act. Possibly waiting until we pray in order to decide what to do. The Bible doesn't describe God this way nor is it how we experience Him in our daily lives.
God is constantly at work all around us, and we miss most of it. So, the response of healthy spirituality is not trying to convince God to act. He is acting. The act of prayer is not to motivate God. God is fully motivated.

Our hope is to discover what He is doing. Prayer opens us up to see what God is doing all around us and to understand His will. Prayer is not about telling God what to do. It is about perceiving what God is doing, what we have missed in the midst of our own business or our own busyness.

2 - Why Pray? God already knows what we need or want.

This is true. Some have this picture of God wanting to hear about our fickle desires and longings and ever-changing moods as if our prayers are the tabloids of His life. He can't wait to get the juicy details of our love lives, who we are fighting with, and what's the latest gossip on our friends. They think that God somehow benefits from us pouring all of this out to Him in prayer.

The Bible describes God differently though. Many times when people cry out to God, they feel that he is not listening, not caring about the agony that they are going through. That is not to say that their feelings are accurate, but rather just the opposite.

How you feel during prayer is much less important than we have been led to believe. Our spiritual and emotional health depends on us knowing what we are feeling and being able to express it appropriately. That is true enough. But, whether we feel like God is listening doesn't change the reality that He is listening.

Often, it takes our time of prayer to pour out our hearts to God before we realize what we want and need and the difference between the two. Then, in prayer, in the presence of God, God can begin to reveal to us why we think we want certain things or need certain things. He can reveal to us the deeper truths, the greater needs that so easily elude us in the busyness of our lives. In these times of silence and solitude, of focused prayer, of listening prayer, our needs and wants can be transformed to fit with reality, with the truth.

3 - Why Pray? It doesn't really change anything.

This is the least true of these statements. It is true in that it doesn't usually change outcomes (except when God does something truly miraculous and sometimes He does!). It is false, however, when we consider how prayer changes us and changes our relationship with God.

Prayer directly changes us. It allows us to step back from our lives, to recognize that God is in control and not us, and to see what God is doing all around us.

As we are changed through prayer, our relationship with God is changed. We recognize God's work in our lives, our role in His plans, and we are more willing to be obedient to His Spirit when He leads in some way. Sometimes, prayer can cause us to change our habits, choices and words based on our new understanding of reality. This influences all of our other relationships.

God's action may dictate our own action in response. Or, we may be called to participate in His action and so partner with Him in His work. Or, we may just be able to marvel at His work and give Him praise.

Why pray?

First, in prayer, we learn to recognize God's activity in our lives and acknowledge His will. Then, in prayer, we surrender our own needs and wants and allow Him to change them, to align them with His will. And, finally, prayer changes us, changes our relationship with God and changes our relationship to those around us.

That is all very reasonable. For those of us who want a more personal answer to "Why pray?" here it is. Prayer is when the best part of me, the part that is longing to draw closer to God, to live for God, to love God with all that I am is nourished and refreshed and feels alive and free. It is in prayer that I feel at peace with myself and all of the circumstances in my life. It is through prayer that I experience the presence of God in my life and am reminded that all is well with my soul simply because God is present. His presence changes me and therefore changes everything.

The task of the Christian is "to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it," (p.4, The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene H. Peterson.)

It is how we learn to love the Lord with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our strength, and all of our mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Take some time to pray, just be you in the presence of God, and be ready for God to transform you so that you become who you were created to be a little more each moment.

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