In our previous two articles on prayer, we discovered two errors people often make when thinking about prayer. We then realized that much more is involved in prayer than simply attempting to get something from God. Prayer is a transformative process, not for God but for us.
Let’s consider several other reasons why we should pray. We will learn from two examples from the Bible, involving Moses in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New Testament.
Moses and Prayer
In Exodus 32, we read about a great sin God’s chosen people committed against him. After their escape from Egypt, God led the nation of Israel into the desert, where he gave them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). While their leader Moses was on Mount Sinai communicating with God, the people became impatient and built a golden calf to worship instead of God (Exodus 32:7-14).
This episode between Moses and God teaches us about the purpose of prayer. As we saw in our first article in this prayer series, God is unchanging in his nature, plans, and purposes. He will never go back on his word; whatever he promises he will surely accomplish.
That being the case, why does God seem to threaten to do precisely that—turn his back on the promise he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? After all, he says this to Moses: “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:10 ESV).
Several reasons come to mind:
- To test Moses: Wouldn’t Moses have found it appealing to have God start all over? For Israel to be built upon Moses? That’s God’s proposal to Moses—but Moses rejects it. Why? Because he knew how it would affect God’s reputation. Moses was more concerned with God’s character than with his own self-gratification. God wanted to teach Moses to be concerned with God’s name and glory. Moses passed the test.
- To strengthen Moses’ faith in God’s promises: Through answered prayer, Moses saw that God remains true to his promises—he didn’t turn his back on his covenant with Israel. Instead, he heard Moses’ prayer and had mercy on his people. Moses became the means through which God brought about his appointed ends. Moses’ experience of God proving himself faithful to his promises would become especially important over the course of his forty-year ministry in leading the rebellious and stiff-necked Israelites.
- To bring Moses into God’s plans: God doesn’t need to consult anyone when determining his plans (see Isaiah 40:14). Yet in this interaction with Moses, God draws Moses into his purposes for Israel because he has a friendship with Moses (John 15:15; Exodus 33:11).
God brought Moses into his plan for the world through Moses’ acts of prayer. He can do that with you, too.
Jesus and Prayer
Turning to the New Testament, we find Jesus’ approach to prayer to be equally instructive. We’re told Jesus prayed regularly (Luke 5:16; 22:39-41). It was a habit for him to speak to his heavenly Father, sometimes praying all night (Luke 6:12).
Jesus provides a perfect example of how prayer simply can’t possibly be envisioned as a way for us to get God to do what we want.
Jesus says several times that he came from heaven to do his Father’s will (John 6:38), and that he sought only to please God (John 5:30) and do his will alone (John 12:49). His approach to prayer is best characterized as “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV).
This being the case, it’s best to see prayer’s function in Jesus’ life as relationship-building with God and an expression of Jesus’ dependence upon his Father for all things. Jesus spent time with his Father. His prayer life was a reflection of the intimacy he shared with his Father. As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). He modeled what it means for humans to relate to God.
Just as is the case with Jesus, prayer should be like breathing for the Christian. In fact, in many places, we’re commanded to pray (e.g., Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), no doubt because God knows how important prayer is for us to maintain spiritual health and vitality.
God wants us to know him, seek him, and depend upon him. So he commanded us to pray.
The Purpose(s) of Prayer
With Moses and Jesus’ examples in mind, as well as what has been said in our previous two articles, we can now summarize several reasons why we should pray:
- Building our relationship with God: Which marriage will be stronger: one where spouses communicate every day, or one where they only speak once a month to each other? Prayer is the primary means by which we communicate with God. The more we talk with God, the stronger we grow in our relationship with him.
- Transformation: Prayer is a spiritual discipline God uses to transform us into the likeness and image of his Son Jesus. God changes our minds and wills through prayer so that we can more readily discern God’s will (Romans 12:2).
- Expressing our dependence upon God: Spiritual self-sufficiency has no place in the Christian life. Through prayer, we acknowledge our complete dependence upon God, especially when battling the spiritual forces of evil that attempt to harm us (Ephesians 6:10-20).
- Strengthening our faith: As we bring our requests to God, he answers. When we see him respond to us, it strengthens our faith in him and increases our joy.
- Participating with God in his plans: We’ve already established that God doesn’t need us for anything. And yet, he allows us to participate with him in his plans for his creation.
Consider a mother who bakes a cake with her four-year-old child. The mother reads the recipe, buys and prepares the ingredients, sets the time and temperature for the oven, and basically guides the child through everything. Put another way, the child can’t make the cake alone. Yet once the cake is finished, the mother says to her child, “Look at what we made!”
Similarly, prayer is one of the means by which God grants us the opportunity to work alongside him, doing good works which he has already prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
When you think about these reasons for prayer, we can be assured that all prayer is effective. Prayer isn’t just about the outcome, per se. The purpose of prayer is found in the praying, in drawing near to God! The act itself is part of the purpose.
We Have Access to God
Consider what a privilege it would be to have unlimited access to the White House. You have the president on speed dial. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we have access to the Creator of the universe! And he’s always willing to hear his children’s prayers (Psalm 34:15; 1 Peter 3:12).
While it is good to bring our requests to God, we must understand that prayer involves much more than that. Prayer isn’t simply giving God our wish list. Rather, it’s a transformative activity through which we build our relationship with our Redeemer as we become more like him.
If you find yourself struggling with prayer, especially in making it a regular part of your life, ask God to help you. Commit yourself daily to talking to God—even if for a short time. Expose your soul to God, and he will change you to become more like Jesus.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8 ESV).