Why bother to pray? I mean, God knows everything, right? He knows what we need and want and don’t need. So, I ask again as many people do, why bother to pray?
I understand the intent behind the question, but it comes from a misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. When I was a young Christian, I tried to pray for an hour a day. It became a pretty boring ritual as every day I sat with my shopping list to beg and plead with God to answer. After all, Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” If Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Not so fast.
Our ‘Shopping’ List
I call this “shopping list prayer” because it is merely a list of things we want. Now that may work at a supermarket, but it’s a poor thing to use in a relationship. Imagine if that was how I treated Christie. Do you manage your meaningful relationships in that way? If so, they won’t be meaningful for long. And that’s what I found as a brand-new Christian. My prayers seemed to hit the ceiling and bounce back down to me. There was no sense of God’s presence or assurance in my heart that God was listening and would answer.
Forty years later, my prayer life looks very different. It’s more spontaneous and less controlled. I no longer have a shopping (prayer) list. I talk a lot less, in fact, sometimes I don’t speak at all. My prayers are relational and not transactional. In other words, my prayer life reflects what you would expect to find in any healthy relationship. And that’s the point. “Why bother to pray” is a question that reflects an unhealthy relationship with God. God knows what I need, so why do I have to ask? Why doesn’t he give me what I need and want and save us both a lot of time? Why waste time pleading when he already knows?
Spontaneity is a sign of a healthy relationship. After all, the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth! Rather than having a fixed time, I find myself praying throughout the day. I don’t pray for a long time, but I never go for long without prayer. Prayer is a lifestyle. The apostle Paul put it this way, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
It’s Okay to Have Silence
Prayer is consistent two-way communication with God, and sometimes that connection is silent. Have you had the experience of being with someone you don’t know very well and felt pressured to keep the conversation going? It’s tough work, especially if the other person gives one-word answers to your questions. After an exhausting few minutes, you fall into an uncomfortable silence during which you rack your brain to think of something else to say. Contrast that with the comfortable silence of being with a close friend. Conversation flows but, if it ends, it’s not a problem. You’re happy to sit, walk, or drive without anyone saying anything. The relationship is mature. I’ve found comfortable silence is terrific with God. We’re enjoying each other’s presence without uttering a word or making a demand.
Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer
Sometimes Jesus prayed all night. Based on his teaching on short prayers, this means that Jesus must have included a lot of comfortable silence with his Father. Kenneth E. Bailey, in his stunning book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, says, “Prayer for Jesus include(d) long periods of Spirit-filled silent communion with God that was beyond the need for words” (P. 92). He goes on to quote Isaac the Syrian (seventh century) who wrote about “stillness” as “a deliberate denial of the gift of words for the sake of achieving inner silence, in the midst of which a person can hear the presence of God. It is standing unceasingly, silent, and prayerfully before God.” God is as close to you as the air you breathe.
When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them some sound advice: “do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” Let your words be few. Not only did Pagan prayers take a long time to get to the point, they were also contractual. They would remind the deity of favours done or sacrifices offered: I’ve done this for you, and now you do this for me. Sound familiar? God, if you’ll answer my prayer, I promise I will : go to church more, start tithing, read the Bible every day. Or maybe your prayers have slipped into resentment of “all the things I’ve done for you, God,” and now “you owe me.” If that’s the case, you’re sounding like the older brother in the prodigal son story.
Prayers like this are built on the wrong assumption that I need to get God to do what I want Him to do. And I’m going to do that by talking more, talking louder, shouting, talking in tongues, talking more in tongues. I’m going to twist God’s arm or MOVE God (which is pretty hard). Real prayer is more about Him moving me in line with God’s will and purpose than moving God to align with my will. We pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Real prayer is about relationship, communication & intimacy. It’s not a business partnership.
Diversity of Prayer
There are over 650 prayers in the Bible, and most of them are very short (the longest is Jesus’ prayer in John 17, which takes about 3 minutes to read). The shortest prayer in the Bible was uttered by Peter, “Lord, save me” – not an unsuitable prayer from a drowning man! Jesus gave his followers a 15-second prayer. We call it The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to come to God out of the relationship between Father and child. Jesus has given his Father to be our Father. Whether you’re praying on your own or with others, relax and enjoy the relationship you have as one adopted into God’s family.