Acts 17:11 Archives

Questions & Reflections on Prayer

"Doesn't God know what is needed more than I do? How/Why does my prayer for someone else benefit them? Isn't prayer telling God what to do?"

Admittedly, prayer can devolve into this, even if subtly. But God does tell us to "ask", even if we err in "telling" Him either openly or tacitly.

The proper attitude towards this is summed up in the phrase: "As in Heaven, So on Earth". The Kingdom of God is "among us" to the degree that we receive it and walk with Jesus as King. The idea is that we are benefited, we are given God's glory, we are blessed... in so far as we manifest God's heavenly will, thoughts, feelings, and deeds here on earth. So, we need to be conformed to His glory, not vice versa.

C.S. Lewis put it this way: "I don't pray to change God's mind, I pray to change my mind!" This puts "beginner" prayer well, although as we mature in being conformed to the mind of Christ we do pray in accordance to His purposes more often.

"Will God NOT help someone until we pray for them? Will God, who sees their need NOT help them unless we practice the discipline of prayer for the sake of discipline?"

This is the "Frank Perreti / Jack Hayford error"; but as your question puts it nicely is obviously not true. Basically, the error here is: "God CAN'T (or WON'T) move until we pray". Obviously, this is not true. God did not ask for permission from us when He decided to create the universe, reach out to mankind, send His Messiah, to end this world (in the days to come), to judge all men, etc. He does not need our sanction or prayers to act.

Job 38:4 (NIV) "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?.."

Jesus said, "If they remain silent, the rocks will cry out". So you can see that God does not need us to move, especially for Him to move for our benefit.

But your question still remains: why, then, pray? From our post on prayer and sovereignty:

"When God decides to move on a people, He often has those who are in His body pray in accordance with His will in prescience. This does not force God to move, but pleases Him nonetheless when He does...

The Lord can do whatever He pleases. He does not need our permission to move. He is not in any way dependent on us. He does not need our advice. He did not ask our opinions when He formed the universe... nor does He now. He is not shy in pointing this out to those with ears to hear it, nor to rebuke those who are haughty and self-confident.

But still... He delights to have His will proclaimed and pined for beforehand by His remnant as a display of His glory [and to share His glory with us]."

Beyond this, there is a mystery to prayer where our wills and His are co-joined. We know He does not change nor vary, and yet somehow He has taken into account our prayers before the foundation of the world. Perhaps the sentiment of David might be instructive here.

Ps 131:1 (NIV) My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

"In my mind the act of prayer is an act of humility that shows my reliance on God for my needs. Is that pretty much all it is supposed to be?"
You have captured one of the essential things, perhaps even the most essential thing about prayer. But that is not all prayer is. Prayer is a dialog between God and us, and a process whereby He changes our wills, hearts, minds, and deeds. For example, without prayer, I might go on as I am. But when I deliberately consider Him and then haul out my ideas, plans, emotions, etc. in the light of His presence, then I can see that it will never do. I must decrease so that He will increase in me (your idea, above, just put another way). So you can see that your insight is foundational, and many roads lead back to it; but that is not all prayer is.

For example, prayer can be the most thrilling and joyous thing a human can experience. While these episodes of joy cannot be forced, God sends them to delight us and Him. If you haven't ever experienced this, I can tell you that I would rather be in God's presence thus for 10 seconds than the best the world could offer for a year.

1Pt 2:2-3 (NIV) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

These "tastes" are hints of future glory, what it will be like to really be "with Him". Such experiences rather ruin you for this world, but that is real progress. The world, through drugs or money or sin is looking for little splashes of bliss here and there, but God has a well of joy just waiting for us that we can run to and be completely filled.

Ps 16:11 (NIV) You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

I mention this, but one other aspect of prayer, to give you an example of the "much more" available to us via prayer. Humility is foundational, to be sure; for God will only raise the heads of the penitent and He opposes the proud. But my point is that there is cause for hope for more, and better. Consider how David spoke:

Ps 84:2 (NIV) My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Does this sound like rote praying?

It sounds as though your prayer life has grown a little stale. You might try to branch out. Nothing kills a prayer life like going through a list of people to pray for every day and that's it. Instead, pray with your bible open, and let God talk back to you. Pray with others, and see what is on their hearts. Break forth into spontaneous praise in private, and adore God and thank Him richly. For He wants us to love Him with all of our minds, but also our hearts as well. Some people, as you know, are deficient in their understanding, and need to grow. Others, though, are deficient emotionally and God wants to heal them and conform them to the glory of Christ in the fullness of life. Prayer is the place to start. Praise Him when you don't have to worry about what other people might think. Sing and make merry in your heart when nobody can see you.

If you have not seen The Prayer Series of Bible Studies there are some ideas there to help you. For example, take one day and go through the names of the Lord, looking up the verses and just thanking the Lord for who He is. Another day, just open your bible and do some "scripture praying". Another day, go through a list of people that you care about. Another, cry out to God to deliver you from evil. And in the short term, consider and meditate on "As in Heaven, so on Earth".

In our public use of the "Prayer Outline" bible study (the first in the series above) many hundred of insights came forth for the various elements. What we have put in the study are our own ideas and are just to get you started. The Lord's prayer is a deep mine which is hard to exhaust. I will mention just one that comes to mind that was not included in the study. "As in Heaven, so on Earth" as in "Dust"... or what we are made of. "As in Heaven, so in ME!", in other words... There are many delights and insights like this if you just take the time to pray. Beyond mere words, there are real, permanent, solid things of the Spirit that will last forever waiting for you in communion with the Lord through prayer.

Be encouraged, and branch out.

He does not need us to pray, but it benefits us greatly to do so. We get to pray His will on earth, "as in heaven". What a privilege, to be caught up in His higher glory, for Him to share that glory with us.

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies Dialogs and Commentary Home Page
NEXT Dean and Laura VanDruff's Home Page