BY SEAN JEONG
Imagine that most Christians have at one point or another, if not on an on-going basis, struggled with the concept of prayer. Prayer may be one of the most mysterious and hard to understand concepts in Christianity for me. At the same time, prayer is a more immediate issue than many other complex intellectual discussions, such as predestination or infant baptism.
Intellectually, it comes down to this: What is the point of prayer? It seems pointless to pray to God, especially intercessory prayer. Doesn’t He already know what we will pray about; why would we need to bother praying? Can His will be changed? The Bible says God is immutable, yet examples like Abraham and Moses seem to show intercessory prayer changing fates of people. Is it consistent with God’s immutable nature to listen to intercessory prayers?
Practically, it comes down to this again: What is the point of prayer? At the core of it, some people who pray tend to consider God as some sort of a cosmic vending machine, with prayer being the coin. I, on the other hand, rarely ask for anything specific. I would like to think that it is because I am surrendered to God’s will, but if I’m honest with myself, it is most likely because I am too afraid of my prayer going unanswered. After all, I cannot be disappointed if I don’t ask for anything, and my faith will be more stable when I don’t have to struggle with God disappointing me.
I sometimes wonder if we just give credit to God when by chance good outcomes happen, and blame ourselves or our bad prayers when by chance bad outcomes occur. I constantly torture myself with the question of whether I’m praying without the faith to fuel it. I’ve seen godly people desperately and earnestly pray for things only to be denied, and I’ve seen people pray for what in my eyes are the dumbest requests and still find their prayers answered.
Supposedly, “prayer changes not God but us who pray.” I suppose that makes sense in a paradoxical way. Prayer is a mystery and its efficacy is a contradiction. Each and every time, prayer tests faith and mirrors the content of our hearts.
What do I mean? It can be argued that the purest, simplest, and the truest answer to why we pray is because we are commanded to do so by God. God tells us to pray, and tells us that it matters, somehow. We do not understand how or why it matters (besides the obvious reason of communication with the Divine), and therefore now we’re at a fork in the road when it comes to prayer. Each time we’re on our knees we each have a choice. It is as if Christ asks us each time we pray, “Will you believe that I hear your prayers even though you may not feel heard?” We can take this command as an empty and foolish gesture, doubt, and lose heart. We can take this command and misrepresent and misuse it. Or, we can choose to take each occasion to pray as a sign of our faith in God whose mystery is greater than our comprehension. As we continually and unceasingly choose to step in faith and lay down our will and self to God, it reveals, nay, rather it shapes the content of our hearts to His will. I imagine this is how prayer changes us who pray.
Remember this: the Kingdom advances on its knees.