I’ve encountered three major concepts, with variations in each theme, which affect our prayer life. The following is a very brief overview.
First major viewpoint: Everything has been pre-determined by God, and we have nothing to say on any issue. In this scenario God has decided everyone’s fate in every situation, and all living beings (from amoeba to humans) merely play a role in a pre-planned, pre-scripted life resembling a Broadway play. I don’t agree with this, and there would be no need to pray.
Second: God has given everyone the authority to determine his/her own fate in every situation. In this scenario God doesn’t intervene. He may or may not foreknow our decisions or the outcome of our decisions. Again, there would be no need to pray. And again, I don’t agree.
Third: God desires every person to interact with Him (Deut. 30:19, Joshua 24:15, John 3:16). God created mankind with the authority and ability to make his own choices, but God gave the Holy Spirit, prophets, and eventually the Bible to mankind to enable us to know God’s desires (I Corinthians 2:16b). God knows everything that will happen, every decision that we will make, as well as the results and consequences of our decisions. However, not willing to impose His will on us, He is available to assist us in making the right decisions when we ask. I agree! God allows us to decide for ourselves because He does not want robots to worship Him. Making someone worship Him will never bring honor to Him. (See step #3 below.)
Prayer is not for the purpose of trying to change God’s mind. James 4:2b-3 says; “You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. And when you ask, you often do not receive it, because your motives are wrong; you ask for things to use for your own pleasures.” Nevertheless, our Father God wants to graciously act on our behalf.
God wants us to pray, but not selfishly. Jesus stated in John 16:23-24 that we are to pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name. Don’t think in terms of changing God’s mind, and don’t demand anything of Almighty God. Rather ask God to reveal to you how you should pray in each situation; then pray confidently, knowing He will hear and answer your prayers. So, what is the purpose of prayer?
- The purpose of prayer is to teach us to align ourselves with God.
Jesus said in John 17:22-23: “I have given these people the glory that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one. I will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one.” This unity develops as we pray, study the Bible, and worship together.
- God’s purpose in answering prayer is to reveal our alignment with Him.
Jesus said in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, whoever believes in me will do the same things that I do. Those who believe will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (I’ll address the purpose of miracles another time.)
- The purpose of being in alignment with God is to put into effect God’s will on earth.
And Jesus said in John 14:13: “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.” (I’ll address this another time.)
- The purpose of effecting God’s will on earth is to prepare ourselves for ruling with God later.
1 Corinthians 6:2-3: “Surely you know that God’s people will judge the world. So if you are to judge the world, are you not able to judge small cases as well? You know that in the future we will judge angels, so surely we can judge the ordinary things of this life.”
- What is the purpose of ruling with God in Heaven? I don’t know; the Bible doesn’t say.
Prayer is simply talking with and hearing from God. Philippians 4:6-7; “Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
True prayer is attempting to align our desires with God’s desires. Our lives in eternity will not be measured by what we do or what is done for us. Rather, our lives will be measured by the quality of our relationship with God.
So pray to God … and listen.