I’ve been there. I’ve asked that same question in seasons of spiritual dryness. I often felt like I was told that I needed to be praying for myself and others, but I didn’t understand why. Why should I pray if God already knows all things? Why should I spend time in prayer for myself when other people don’t know Jesus, or don’t have their physical needs met? Wouldn’t it be better for me to serve or share the gospel? What benefit does raw and honest prayer give?
It wasn’t until the question was turned back on me, that I started understanding that there’s a benefit to me in prayer. I was in a season of unrelenting turmoil. I hadn’t healed from past trauma, I’d had two kids 18 months apart, with countless hospital stays, and I was flailing in every area of my life. As my counselor began to uncover what was going on under the surface of my heart, the belief that prayer was only other-centered came out. In order to heal from my past, I was challenged to bring all my painful, raw thoughts and emotions to God in prayer. I quickly discovered that bringing my heart to the Lord in prayer is not for the benefit of God, (although it does bring Him glory), it is for the benefit of my own soul.
In essence, prayer helps us to experience our theology in a tangible way. In the same way that underserved forgiveness from someone we love helps us to experience the grace of God, prayer helps us to experience the glory of who God is in a personal way. Prayer is the only way we can find a clear and honest assessment of who we are, as prayer is the avenue to see and experience God as He truly is, and see ourselves in light of Him. Prayer is the door to self-awareness, as it is the way in which our loves are reordered, and our lives are reoriented around who we were created to be, and who we were created to love. Prayer allows us to see our sin for what it is, and experience God’s saving work in and through it.
Because our prayer is not a one-way conversation of us talking to an endless void, we cannot separate prayer from God’s word. God started the conversation through His Word, by sending His Son, and then by furthering our communion with Him by sending the Holy Spirit. Prayer is our response to His word in light of what we’re facing. For example, when we come to God in our anxiety, fearful of our future, or afraid of rejection—then He can gently remind us of His Word on anxiety. He can bring up verses like Matthew 6:26-27, where He tells us He will take care of us, just as He takes care of the birds. Or we can see from Romans 8:31-39, that if God is for us, if we are His beloved, then who can be against us? Who can withhold us from His love? Our anxiety can dissipate when the Spirit helps us to remember that we will have tribulation in the world, but we can take heart because Jesus has overcome it (John 16:33).
Because our hearts are so forgetful and fretful, God commands us repeatedly to stay constant in prayer. Prayer helps us to center our gaze on Jesus, and trust Him with all we are and have.
Philippians 4:6 says,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
And Colossians 4:2,
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
God is not absent in the troubles of our life. He is not careless, and He not only wants something from us. God is not an abusive Father who just wants to use us. God is calling us into His peace and joy through the means of prayer (Psalm 34:17).
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
Prayer is the awe of God and the intimacy we desire with Him. It is the struggle we face in a broken world and the reality of what and how and who God is in the midst of it. Prayer is a conversation in response to the Bible. It is both a personal and corporate petition, as well as communion with God the Father. Prayer, in the Christian life, is not something that is optional—it is a necessity for Christian living.
When Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He does not say “If you pray” but “When” you pray, pray like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13).
Prayer, first and foremost, is the way we enjoy God, by glorifying God. We are called to first hallow His name, pray for His kingdom to come, and enjoy who He is. We praise what we love, and the more we praise, the more our love and adoration grows. Therefore, if you want to grow in your love for the Lord if you want to enjoy Him, and know Him more fully, spend the first part of your prayer time praising Him. As John Piper has summarized, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him”. We become satisfied in God by glorifying Him, through our prayers and actions, words and deeds. First, we are called to praise, and then Jesus tells us to bring our petitions, desires, needs, and hearts to Him. For He is our great intercessor who brings our requests and hearts to God the Father. He has become our mediator, who knows all we need and loves to hear it (1 Timothy 2:5).
Prayer, ultimately, is more than I can sum up in 1000 words. My goal here was not to give you a simple answer to a complex question. I know this will pale in comparison to what others, like Tim Keller, have written on prayer (which is why I would encourage you to read his book on prayer, as well as others). My goal is simply to offer you the understanding of someone who’s asked the same question, and come out the other side with more joy and freedom in life than I ever thought was possible. Changing my prayer life, ultimately changed my life, and primarily my relationship with God. I’m praying that for you today, but even more so, I’m praying that you will “seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (1 Chronicles 16:11).
-Stephanie Englehart: Writer for Chasing Sacred