Why do we pray? Not why should we pray, but why do we pray? Over the last several months I have read more articles and books on the topic than I ever have before. Each seeks to condemn readers for not praying enough and motivate them to pray more frequently. If you are like me, there is a deep recognition of sinfulness for failure to pray and the need to be more inclined towards prayer in our daily lives. However, across many (not all) of those readings a common theme emerged. The means for motivating people to pray was to convey to them that they were tapping into an unutilized power source.
In some ways this is correct in that God gives us instructions in his word about prayer, urging us to be in prayer continuously (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and yet if most Christians were truthful, they would have to admit that they fall short of this standard. Thus prayer is underutilized in the Christian life. This is not what many of the authors mean though. Instead they suggest that prayer is the means by which both the power of man and the power of God are unveiled. Prayer is explained as man giving God permission to act and move forward on man’s behalf, as if we had the power to restrain God. Thus, the motivation for prayer is not God-centered, but man-centered. Logically one must task though, if we have the power over God and God has power over evil, why do we need God at all? Should it not be realistically feasible then for men to simply restrain evil themselves without the need for going to God? Interestingly, even secular man is quick to admit power over God, yet fails to account for the ability to restrain evil, but that is really a topic for another discussion. So what is the answer to the question?
In reality there is no answer, because the question begins with false premises. Prayer is not about power, but about submission. Four points of prayer indicate the truth of such a statement:
- Position: First, the position of our prayers is as beings who are lower to God. The fact that we are indeed lower than him suggests our need to pray to him because he can act in ways that we cannot since he is indeed omni and we are not.
- Posture: Prayer is accompanied by the inclination of heads in a manner that suggests a reverence for the Lord. It is a reverence that comes from an understanding of who God is as the answerer of prayers. This is a high theology of God that leads to a high doxology of God through the activity of prayer.
- Privacy: In his teaching of prayer, the Lord tells believers that is best to pray in secret (Matthew 6:5-6). Privacy in prayer suggests that this is not about power to rule over the public and public opinion.
- Phrases: Finally, each phrase it what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer” indicates a submission to the authority of God by man. There is an exaltation of the Lord’s name and it’s continuity as holy (Matthew 6:9), a desiring of God’s will over man’s will (verse 10), a recognition that all provision comes from God (verse 11), the need for his forgiveness (v. 12), and help from him in our spiritual walk (verse 13). With each phrase we see God as the continual sustainer of man rather than the reverse.
Prayer is a recognition of our reliance upon God for all things. Thus, while prayer may include submitting our requests to him, all petitions are done with a submission to his requests to us.
Prayer should radiate from all that we do and be part of ever decision, discussion, and deed. Indeed prayer is a powerful aspect of the Christian life. However it finds its power not because we are the prayers, but because God is the hearer.
Photo “Morning Prayers” courtesy of user Don Christner and Flickr.