I close my eyes, bow my head, and clasp my hands. I’m going to pray. At least that’s what I thought I was going to do. Instead, I soon find myself thinking about what I’m going to do after I pray. I find it impossible to stay focused on praying. As soon as I start praying about anything, I am immediately drawn to thinking about what I am going to do about that concern. My prayer life is a bunch of starts and stops, peppered profusely with utterances of “Lord, have mercy.” It isn’t easy.
I’m guessing a number of you have had similar experiences. Like me, you’ve probably also wondered why prayer is even a thing. What does it do? It’s kind of a strange practice and it seems full of all sorts of opportunities to botch things up. I’d say I have a 50% rate of success in offering up supper prayers without our coonhound trying to scarf down our partially blessed meal. I mean, why doesn’t God just have him sit down quietly through the prayer? Alas, some mysteries will only be answered in eternity.
Coonhounds aside, the function of prayer seems to be enough of a mystery in its own right. Is it a way for us to persuade God of our cause? One could write a book detailing the Old Testament dynamic in this regard, but I’ll leave that for others to write and jump to the plain answer Jesus offers.
Setting forth a model of prayer for his disciples, Jesus tells them to pray in this manner:
However much it supplicates, the ruling tenor of Jesus’s prayer is submissive. Right out of the gate it basically says, “Do what you want done God.” If that’s the case, there seems to be little room for us squeezing our will into that picture. So what’s the point of prayer if God is just going to what He is going to do? Why do our prayers matter?
I think there exist a couple answers that can give us an idea of why God wants us to pray. The first comes from Blaise Pascal. Pascal was a 17th Century French Christian who was a mathematician, philosopher, and a host of other things. He offers this reason for prayer:
In other words, what Pascal is saying is that God has given us prayer as a means of participating in His work. It is not part of God’s will that we should have no part in His work; God’s will being done is found precisely in our participation through prayer. This hearkens back to our created purpose as God’s image-bearers. Image-bearing is by its very nature participatory; it is impossible for us to bear the image of God if we have no participation in His life. Absent from such participation, it is our lives that have no point.
Sticking with Eden, I think a second possible reason for prayer is that it is manifests a proper recognition of the created order. Prayer is the confession of our need for God, the uttered admission of our weakness. Prayer is throwing back the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, acknowledging before God that we don’t know a thing. It concedes our total insufficiency and declares God’s sole sufficiency.
These answers don’t necessarily make prayer any easier. We are still flesh and bone. But so long as we consider prayer to be useless, we continue in the Adamic tradition of autonomous agency, the notion that humans are the ones that really get things done. If you want to know God’s will, it is that He desires to bring us to the simple, yet important, realization that prayer is really the whole point. Prayer is our coming back to a proper recognition of the Creator-creature relationship. We are no gods. Without this, our trust in God will remain as broken as it became on that day in Eden.