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The Question of Prayer: Why Should I Pray?

BY Jimmy Akin

| Posted 8/31/11 at 4:03 PM

 

The French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was a cat fancier and is known to have a kitten named Blanche. Among Montaigne’s contributions to literature were a number of observations about cats—such as no matter how much they fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.

He also quipped: “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?”

If I am not mistaken, C. S. Lewis once remarked that while Montaigne may have descended to his cat’s level to play with her, she did not ascend to Montaingne’s level. In other words, the essayist may have become catlike in play, but the cat did not rise above her nature to become humanlike.

Something similar applies to us when we relate to God, only we are in the position of the kitten.

We may—by God’s grace—become godlike after a fashion. In fact, St. Peter remarks that through his grace we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). But there is still a sense in which we never rise above our fundamental finitude. However much God may elevate us, we never become the kind of infinite being that he is.

God himself declares in the Scriptures:

[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts [Isaiah 55:8-9].

Thus there is a gap between us. And it is a gap that, compared to the gap between Montaigne and his cat is . . . y’know . . . bigger.

That gap is there even when we are thinking about God—or when we are talking to him. That is, when we pray.

This underscores a question that eventually occurs to all of us: If God is infinitely above us . . . if he is omniscient or “all knowing” . . . then why exactly are we praying?

Doesn’t God know what we need already? Doesn’t he know already how much we care about what is happening to us and how much we need his help?

If he knows those things, and if he cares for us, why should we pray at all?

In the Gospels, Jesus seems at first glance to confirm this suspicion, when he warns against at least overly-lengthy, insincere prayers. He tells us:

n praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him [Matthew 6:7-8].

Yet Jesus does not tell us not to pray. To the contrary, he goes on to give us the model Christian prayer, which we today call the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9-13), to use its opening words.

He is quite firm, though, on the point that God knows what we need even before we ask.

If that is so: Why pray at all?

The only conclusion we can draw is that prayer is not about informing God. It is not about giving him information. Because he is omniscient, he already has all the information that there is—about our needs and everything else.

It’s not like we could say, “Hey, God! I’m dying of cancer, here! Could you please help me out?” and then God say, “Thanks for letting me know! I was attending to something else! Here’s your healing!”

God already knows everything, so we cannot tell him anything he doesn’t already know.

Yet Jesus—as well as the whole biblical tradition—expects us to pray.

Why?

That’s the question we will be exploring in this series.

What are your thoughts?