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What Is Prayer? (3) Why Bother?

Christians pray. But why? What’s the point? What do you say to the One who knows you better than you know yourself?

After a lot of discussion with my Christian friends and mentors about their prayer lives, I finally understood that prayer can’t be seen in isolation as an action that we do in order to get something. Rather, prayer is about relationship with God. As we pray, we are drawn up into the deepest relationship there is: the most holy Trinity, the eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In prayer, we don’t tell anything to God that He doesn’t already know. But that’s also how it is when we speak with our friends and family – when our relationships are at their best.

If I send a card to a friend saying “Happy birthday,” what purpose did that serve? She already knew it was her birthday! The message is that I care about her – but wait, she already knew that, too; we’ve been friends for years. What’s the point?

The point is in the act of communication itself: in saying “Happy birthday!” I am actively expressing love and, doing so, adding to our friendship. What kind of a friendship would it be, if we always took each other for granted and never said a word of congratulation or comfort or encouragement? Sure, good friends often understand what the other feels without having to say it... but the friendship will weaken if those words are never said, or the sentiments never acted on.

When we say “I love you” to a child, a parent, a beloved friend, it should not come as a surprise, but as an affirmation of what is already known. The fact that it’s not a surprise doesn’t remove its value, but in fact underscores it.

On His side, God’s friendship with us is already perfect; He loves us with infinite love, and did so even while we were still alienated from Him. But the reverse isn’t true. We don’t have a perfect relationship with Him, not yet, but we can grow closer to Him by sharing our fears, doubts, anxieties, hopes, dreams, successes, and indeed anything that matters to us.

In the sorest need, we can cry out for help and accept it even from a stranger – and God is so gracious that He hears us even then, as He heard me in my first, hesitant prayers to this God whom I had just encountered and did not know at all. But it would be a lonely life if all those whom we met remained strangers to us – and every dear friend was once a stranger, until we got to know him or her more fully. Sharing ourselves with Him helps us to know Him, just as sharing our thoughts and experiences with a friend helps us to know both that person, and ourselves, better.

When I look at some of my Christian friends, I see a that they have a relationship with Christ that is far beyond mine: deeper, richer, stronger. I want to have that relationship, to know Him the way they do... and all too often, I accuse myself of failure or inadequacy because I am not where they are. But then I have to remember (or be reminded by my friends and pastors!) that these brothers and sisters whom I admire have been walking with the Lord for thirty, forty, maybe fifty years. It’s a comfort to me to remember that, because I’m impatient. God is not an abstract idea, but a Person whom we come to know more and more fully over time. That is, if we want to know Him, and seek to know Him – and that’s a choice we can make every day.

 

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People pray because they want to talk to someone other than people also, and that is God. It's their way of communicating to the Lord. - Charles Brennan

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About
Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.


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