“And He was giving them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1).
At all times we ought to pray.
She knew I was praying for a certain family member who seems forever in some kind of predicament. She asked, “Why do you pray? I don’t see it doing any good.”
When I caught my breath–I could not believe a Christian asking such a question–I said, “Ask me why I breathe air. It’s what I do to live.”
She did not let me off that easily. “Do you really think God is going to do what you ask? Is that why you pray?”
By now, I had settled down enough to try to verbalize a reasonable answer.
“That’s not up to me. How He chooses to answer my prayer is His business.”
“My job is to pray. To ask, intercede, to speak in faith what someone else needs. And so I ask for it.”
“How He answers is strictly up to Him. Or whether He even answers at all.”
Her question will not leave me alone. I imagine everyone who prays regularly–and keeps it up over the years, through good times and bad–has to answer this for themselves repeatedly, as well as for friends and skeptics alike.
It’s not as simple as it sounds. “Why pray?”
I certainly do not get all my prayers answered.
Just yesterday in the restaurant, a waitress whom I barely know thanked me for praying for her a year or more ago. “I’ve been meaning to thank you,” she said. “Things worked out all right. And I’m so grateful for your prayers.”
Oh my. Did I pray for her? Surely, I must have. Were my prayers determinative? (That is, did they make the difference?) God knows.
Some of my prayers the Lord answers with a solid “yes.” But “no” is the answer some of the time. Others He answers later and in such unexpected ways that I may not even recognize that this was His answer to my request.
I said to my friend, “I am perfectly fine with Him answering my prayers for my loved ones forty years from now, long after I’m in Heaven.”
“But yes, I believe He will.”
Why do I pray? There must be a thousand reasons. Here are the first 20 of my answers…..
1. I need God in my life. He does not force Himself on us. The wonderful Revelation 3:20 seems to indicate that while He makes Himself available, the ultimate decision is ours. Let it be known for now and eternity that I want Him!
2. I need His protection. In this fallen world, dangers abound. Surely, “the Lord is my shield” (Psalm 3:3), “my refuge” (Psalm 16:1), “my stronghold” (Psalm 9:9), and “my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).
3. I need His direction. “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). The prophet said, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
4. I want Him to put into effect His plans for me. “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Jesus said to Jerusalem, “How often I would have (blessed you), but you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). I’m willing, Lord. “Here am I to worship!”
5. I need everything about this day to be in His hands. “This is the day the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). I kneel in my bedroom a couple of minutes after awakening, usually just long enough to focus my heart on Him and to ask for His will in my life, in all I do today, and in the lives of those dearest to me.
6. I’m going to be doing some things which I’d rather not do in the flesh. Today, I’ll be writing articles, drawing cartoons for religious publications, and thinking about upcoming sermons. I’ll be talking to my children, meeting people in town, and a hundred other things. If He’s not with me in this, I’m in big trouble fast.
7. My family needs God’s hand in their lives. My children, their spouses, and their children all need Him. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). What He gives, He can sustain.
8. The Lord can go where I cannot and do what I would never have dreamed of doing. He will be there with my children and grandchildren (and theirs after them) long after I have been in Heaven. So I pray for them in advance–for major decisions such as schooling, best friends, jobs, marriages, and churches. (I think of these as time-release prayers, intercessions that kick in long after Grandpa has left the building.)
9. I need daily cleansing. Oh Lord, do I ever! “The blood of Christ…(will) cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). “Therefore, if a man cleanse himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). I would no more go into the day without praying than without bathing, brushing my teeth, or washing my hands.
10. I need Him to enlighten me when I open the Scriptures. After all, the Holy Spirit is the Author of these writings. Who better to instruct me? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18).
11. I need Him to bless and help those in my past whom I may have hurt or betrayed or wounded. Some I may know about but others I do not. God knows. So I pray for them, some by name and others by category. “Heal her, Lord.” “Give him great joy, Lord.” “Give that one strength.”
12. The Lord gives good things to those who ask Him. I want good things, so I ask. (Matthew 7:11, also Luke 11:13) I do not hesitate at all to pray the well-known prayer of Jabez, “O that thou wouldst bless me indeed!” (I Chronicles 4:10)
13. I want the assurance that, no matter what happens, I am in His hands. “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would have dwelt in the abode of silence” (i.e., death) (Psalm 94:17). Many a time the Lord has protected me from accidents and He brought me through a bout with cancer. However, if I walk through that shadow of the valley of death–and not around it!–He will be with me (Psalm 23:4). The comfort of knowing that is better than anything.
14. He is the Source of a joyful heart, and I want one. “The Lord is my song and my strength,” the psalmist said in various places. “He put a new song in my mouth” (Psalm 40:3).
15. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness. That is a line from a wonderful chorus we sang forty years ago. The next line says, “All I have to do is follow.” I give thanks for the first (that He knows!) and pray for the second (that I will follow!).
16. Scripture promises a thousand things to “the righteous.” I am so far from righteous it’s not funny. But I want to be. So I pray. “The righteous will still bear fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:12-15).
17. I need to thank Him. He is my Source and my Portion (Psalm 16:5). “I will give thanks to Thee, O Lord, among the peoples…for thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens, and thy truth reaches to the skies” (Psalm 108:3-4). I wonder whom atheists thank. That must be the worst part of unbelief, having no one to thank.
18. I need some place to leave my tears. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting” (Psalm 126:5). The Father loves my tears (see Psalm 56:8). (If I weep anywhere but before Him on my knees, people will think I’m depressed and urge me to seek help! I am anything but depressed! My tears and my laughter intermingle.)
19. I do not know all that I need or this world needs. But I know the One who does. So I pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). I often extend this and pray, “Thy will be done in the United States as it is in Heaven. Thy will be done in Louisiana as it is in Heaven. Thy will be done in New Orleans as it is in Heaven. Thy will be done in River Ridge (my neighborhood) as it is in Heaven.” And then, “Thy will be done in my family, in this household, in my heart and soul, and in my health as it is in Heaven.”
20. I am but a little child. I cannot walk without Him holding my hands. The very idea of my going one full day without reaching up to Him is offensive to me, betraying to those I love, and insulting to Him. “I need thee, O I need thee. Every hour I need thee. O bless me know, my Savior. I come to thee.”
I read of our Lord taking the little children up into His arms and blessing them (Matthew 19:13-15 and Mark 10:16) and my heart says, “I’m one of your children, Lord. Take me into your arms and bless me, too.”
I hope that answers her question. The little exercise of listing these reasons I pray has helped me.
No one should think on reading this that Joe knows anything about prayer. I do not. My prayers are like the babbling of an infant who has not learned to speak yet. The Holy Spirit picks up the slack and interprets my prayers in Heaven, making them make sense. And for that I am eternally grateful.
“O thou who dost hear prayer, to thee all men come” (Psalm 65:2).
Pastor Joe, while the question may have been startling to you, I think it reflects the lack of teaching in many churches about some of the basics of the Christian life: (1) how to build a prayer life, (2) how to receive the Lord’s Supper-what do we meditate and pray about after we receive this wonderful gift, (3) how to read the Bible and not be discouraged by clergy who play word games with Greek and Hebrew terms, (4) how to be a good steward of our resources and give cheerfully to the church, and (5) other disciplines. I know we all have responsibility to learn about God and serve him, but the leaders of the church should take their teaching responsibilities very seriously, so these types of questions-“what good is prayer” can become rare. Bob