See below to see the latest installment of my friend Nicholas’ interview with me about Christianity or click here for the whole thing.
Nicholas wrote: In my experience, most prayers fall into one of two general categories – prayers of thanks and prayers of request. I understand the first quite well, and I understand that prayers of the second type help one to feel as though they are helping – but do they really? Does praying to God with a request make Him more likely to pay attention to that request, or is it purely a symbolic act? After all, if you believe God is all-knowing, then He is already aware of your request before you make it.
Hi Nicholas – good questions. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to us and prayer is the primary way we speak to him. The more time you spend with someone the more you act like them. In our “Santa Claus God” culture we tend to only think of praying for things that benefit us. But prayer is a huge opportunity and blessing for us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence” and do so much more than that.
There are prayer paradoxes (or “prayeradoxes,” as I call them) – seemingly contradictory statements that are still true. Here are a few things I do know about prayer.
Jesus said to pray, to pray often and to pray fervently. He followed his own advice and set an example for the Disciples. Let me know if you want verses for any of those (there are plenty).
You are right that we believe that God is omniscient and knows our requests before we ask him. Jesus said that very thing just before teaching the Disciples the Lord’s prayer:
Matthew 6:8-9 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name . . .
So the paradox of God knowing what we’ll ask and God telling us to pray anyway was not lost on Jesus. He noted as such in successive sentences. There are obviously still reasons to pray.
Prayer is definitely not just symbolic. But I don’t think the effectiveness is as formulaic as God saying, “Well, 999 people prayed, but I’ll only answer this prayer if 1,000 pray.” There is a little mystery there.
I have come across many examples of answered prayers. Will they convince a skeptic? Usually not, but sometimes they do. But that isn’t the purpose of prayer according to the Bible.
C.S. Lewis pointed out that Satan’s desire would be a heads he wins / tails we lose scenario: If prayers aren’t answered, people will assume God doesn’t exist or at least doesn’t answer prayers. If prayers are answered, we’ll rationalize that they could how they could have been answered anyway.
Prayer does so much more than just offer thanks and requests. You are conversing with the one true God and your Creator. He knows everything you’ve said and done, so you don’t have to be fearful in confessing to him. And confession literally means to say what God says. You aren’t telling him anything He didn’t know. You are saying that you agree with him now and plan to do things his way.
One key, of course, is to pray in line with what Jesus would want. When we often say, “In Jesus’ name,” that isn’t some type of superstition. It is a recognition that we think we’re praying for the same things He would want and that we’re praying with the power of his name.
While we’re on the topic, here’s an acrostic that spells out A-C-T-S. It is a prayer primer that some people use. It covers some of the basic attributes of prayer.
A – Adoration / Praise
C – Confession
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplication (a fancy church word for requests)
For anyone wanting a more thorough discussion on prayer, I recommend Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. We just studied it in our Sunday School class.