What’s the purpose of prayer? Why bother with bothering God about anything? Is there any purpose in prayer?
There are two errors I tend to find people believe that cause us to ask this question of why pray. The first is that God will always have His way, so why bother praying about anything. And the second is that praying is us getting God to change His mind on a course of action He’s already decided on.
So firstly, God does not always have His way. World War II, the 1994 Rwandan massacre and the terrible actions of Harold Shipman, to name just three tragedies, should be enough to make clear that God does not always have His way. He gave us freewill, and that means people are free to act in accordance with His will, or against His will. Sadly, we all often act contrary to His plans, but that’s the price of responsibility that comes with the freedom He has given us. God does not always have His way.
But secondly, prayer is not us trying to change God’s mind. The classic text sometimes given for this is Abraham talking with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. Read that chapter carefully and you’ll see that God doesn’t change anything of what He’s been saying… if anything, it’s God who changes Abraham’s mind on the situation. Exodus 32:9-14 is also sometimes used to support this theory on prayer. This is the verse that comes closest in Scripture in implying God might change His mind on anything, but my interpretation on it would be that God uses this incident to encourage Moses in his ministry of praying for the Israelites. It’s not God changing His mind, but God changing Moses’ attitude.
God is calling Moses to pray more for the Israelites. So this brings us back to the original question, what’s the purpose of prayer? If prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind, then what’s the point of it? There are three major reasons I can think of:
- Praying draws us into closer relationship with God. It’s a great way of spending time with Him and getting to know Him better.
- Praying allows God opportunity to work in us. He can change our minds, our hearts and our character when we’re praying, maybe much as he did with Abraham and Moses in the above examples.
- And yes, praying does change situations. Praying is inviting God to work and have His way in the situation. Because He has given us freewill, He doesn’t intervene in the world until and unless we invite Him in. So we do continually pray, in line with God’s will, so that God can have His way. We intercede to transform situations, and to raise them up to the level of His will.
What’s the purpose of prayer? Changing yourself, and perhaps more importantly, changing situations.
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.