We Pray So That…
If we were to ask Christians why we even pray in the first place, we would get an assortment of answers.
- So that God will answer our prayers. You don’t receive if you don’t ask.
- Because it’s in the Bible. It’s just something Christians are supposed to do.
- Because it’s like talking to God. Just like we talk to friends, we need to talk to God.
- God wants us to pray. We don’t know why, but that’s what He wants.
- Prayer changes things. God works only in response to prayer.
Maybe you’ve heard the guilt-trip argument that says that if you want to have a relationship with someone but never talk to them, what kind of relationship is that? And there is truth to this. You and I have to deal with our lack of desire for prayer. Ironically, that only happens as we pray more often. And yet, this approaches the question of our relationship with God from our point of view. It’s up to us to “keep the relationship going” or “nurture the relationship.”
So what if we also look at the prayer-as-relationship question from God’s side?
God is our heavenly Father—this is who Jesus calls us to pray to in the Lord’s Prayer. He delights in hearing from His children. God longs for the communion He might have with us in prayer. It delights His heart. Dallas Willard writes, “[N]othing is more central to the practical life of the Christian than confidence in God’s individual dealings with each person.” This is why although Jesus teaches us to pray, the Bible is filled with so many kinds of prayers. God is relating to individuals and letting them relate to Him in prayer.
Matthew 7:7-11 is a fairly familiar passage of Scripture. It reads, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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!”
Jesus teaches us to pray, yes, but also we see things from God’s perspective.
- We are to ask, seek and knock for God, not for the things God might provide. Jesus used terms like asking and seeking that were familiar from the OT (see especially 2 Chronicles 15, Isaiah 55:6 and Jeremiah 29:13). Therefore, we’re not praying in order to get a good gift from God. God himself is the best gift, and we want more and more of Him. Luke’s version says the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask! From our perspective, it is easy to get stuck in the routines of “simple prayer” that we talked about earlier. From God’s, He is the One who pursues us and calls us to give in to His pursuit in prayer as we seek Him first.
- Jesus speaks about a continual, ongoing asking, seeking and knocking. This is common sense when you think about it. As a Christian, there is never a time when you stop seeking God. You may have doubts, may be tempted to question your faith during hard times, but at the end of the day, you still seek God.
- Bread and fish are needs, not wants. They were the staple food items of the day. When Jesus contrasts them with stones and snakes, He is effectively saying that a good earthly father will give what his son needs to survive; he will not starve him to death. We may be evil, or give grudgingly, and yet we still give; so does God. In prayer, God gives us what we need.
- God is good, and we can have faith in His goodness. No matter whether God chooses to answer our prayer in the seemingly guarantee fashion these verses promises, we can know God is good (see Psalm 34:8; 69:16; 118:1; Matthew 19:16-17). We may not know God’s goodness like we think we do, for His goodness is displayed in His perfect knowledge of what we need and don’t need, of when to respond and when to remain silent.
In all this, we pray not just to sustain a friendship with God, but because this is how God sustains friendship with us. Pete Greig said something powerful at a conference, “The hard time in my church led me to say I wanted God to look me in the eyes and say, ‘We were friends.'” That’s what I want. How about you?