Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why pray if God already knows what I need?

If God already knows everything, including what I will ask Him, why do I need to ask? In fact, Jesus told His disciples, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Well then, why doesn’t God just give me what I need? But, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy by writing, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). Why are believers instructed to offer prayers and petitions if God is all powerful?  Doesn’t God do whatever He wants anyway?

Why am I praying?
To approach this question from a different angle is to ask what is the goal of my prayers. Do I pray to God when I need something? Am I praying to convince God, twisting His arm to give me something? As this article was being written, an advertisement for a book appeared on television by Robert Tilton entitled “How to be Rich & Have Everything You Ever Wanted”.[1] Should these things be the goal of our relationship with God and our prayers? Many people view the main reason for prayer as a means of having our desires and needs fulfilled. Jesus did say, “Ask and it will be given to you” and “For everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:7-8). So, if we need something, it is certainly acceptable and Biblical to ask for it. But, is that the primary purpose of praying to God, to get what we need or want? No, in fact Jesus said, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is not to say we should not pray for what we need (we should), but the primary goal of our prayers involves a higher purpose of God in our lives.

What is the higher purpose of prayer?
A passage in Ezekiel offers insight into the Lord’s desire for His people. God recounted the wickedness of the Israelites, then said to the prophet, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30). Why did God look for such a man? The entire Bible is one long narrative detailing the Lord’s peculiar habit of wanting to bring humans into a working relationship with Him. If God simply did whatever He wanted, we likely would not have been given the Bible, the prophets, or the words of Jesus, all of whom attempt to bring us into relationship with Him.

Many years prior to the time of Ezekiel (ministry from ca. 593 B.C. through 571 B.C.), there were others who stood in the gap. In Numbers 16, the actions of Moses and Aaron influenced the Lord to discontinue His judgment on the Hebrews.[2] The Bible indicates that all of the people who had grumbled against Moses and Aaron were to be condemned and killed in a plague. However, as Aaron interceded on behalf of the people, the plague was halted. As we see from the Ezekiel passage, God wants someone to intercede for the people.     

Another who stood in the gap before God on behalf of the people was the prophet Amos (ca. 765-760 B.C). Disaster was imminent for the people of God, but because of Amos’ plea, God spared the people.[3] And, of course the greatest example of intersession is Jesus Christ:
“Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).
Much more can be written on the subject of intercession, but the intention here is to illustrate purpose of prayer. God’s will is enacted on earth by the actions and prayers of believers.

What does God want for us?
The crucial point believers need to understand is that, while God is certainly capable of doing whatever He wants, His greatest desire is that His people partner with Him in doing the Lord’s work in the earth. Jesus offered insight into this in His own work in the world when He said, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working” (John 5:17). Two verses later, Jesus went on to say, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” This seems to indicate that, during Jesus’ ministry, He did not pray to inform God of things the Father was not aware, nor did He convince God to do something the Father was not intending to do. Rather, Jesus was tuned in to God and His actions were directly in step with God’s desires. Paul instructs believers to “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ”, for the purpose of “not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Jesus showed us an example of how to live; doing the will of the Father.

Paul, writing on behalf of himself and Timothy, describe themselves as “working together with Him [God]” (2 Corinthians 6:1). In the NIV, Paul and Timothy are described as “God’s fellow workers”.  This is the relationship the Lord wants to have with every believer, as working together with God in this world.  By praying for people and situations – as did Ezekiel, Moses, and Amos – we can accomplish God’s work. This is not to say that we change God’s mind and convince Him to do things He does not already desire, but that we take an active, rather than passive role in accomplishing His purposes. 

It is not necessary for believers to bring our needs to God’s attention:  He already knows our situation intimately even better than we do. Believers are instructed to pray for the purpose of working together with God in the world in this life. As Jesus worked hand in hand with the Father, we are to imitate Christ. We have the incredible privilege of participation in a working partnership with the Creator of the universe.

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Robert Tilton Free Ministry Material, “Success N Life”, 22 Jul 2008,
[2] “the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.’ It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’ Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!’ Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700 (Numbers 16:41-49).
[3]“Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king's mowing. And it came about, when it had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said, ‘Lord God, please pardon! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?" The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be, said the Lord. Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land. Then I said, ‘Lord God, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?’ The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘This too shall not be,’ said the Lord God” (Amos 7:1-6).

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