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Why Should We Pray?


M. W. J. Phelan, B.Th., M.Th., Th.D., Ph.D.

Some time ago I was talking to a member of a Scriptural Study Group I attend about a number of issues, and the subject of prayer was raised. My friend asked why we should pray? On the long journey home, that question stayed with me, pestering me for answers; becoming more insistent whenever I tried to ignore it. What follows is an attempt to answer that question for myself, rather than for my friend who raised it in the first place, but I hope that it may be of interest to you too.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that another, larger subject needed addressing first; namely, 'Why do I, or any of us, exist?' Why did God choose to make us in the first place? I use the word choose, because according to Ephesians 1:4, we have been chosen; chosen before the foundation of the world. Furthermore, the same verse tells us that it was in love that we were chosen. God loved us from before the foundation of the world! I am leaving on one side the debate as to what the phrase foundation of the world means as irrelevant to the subject in hand, and am simply staying with the fact that God loved us before we were born; before our parents were born. Even before our first parents were created. God had chosen us in love! Think about that!

Before we were born, God loved us and chose us, and, therefore, in some strange way we must have existed then, that is before we were born, in order to be the objects of God's love, even if this existence was but in the Mind and Forethought of God. But underived, without origin, or cause, and which is independent of all else that has existence; to exist within that Mind and Foreknowledge, is to exist with a certainty greater than we can understand, and with an assurance which smothers any doubt our unbelief may engender. Our existence in the Foreknowledge of God is the very ground of our being. If we did not exist within the Mind of Him Who is above all time and space, we would not be in a position, here and now, to debate the matter.

Yet this pre-natal existence within the limitless Mind of God was not enough. We had to be created, and made to have an existence of our own, to the extent that any creature possessed of derived existence may be said to exist, 'on its own.' Unmade, held unbirthed within the Foreknowledge of God's Mind, we were the objects of His love. But now, by our being born, and receiving the gift of life, that love may be returned to Him Who first loved us. Before we were born God loved us, and now that we have life and breath, we may love Him. This then is at least one of the reasons God chose to make us. We may reflect back to God, His primeval love. This is the fulfilment of all creaturely existence: to perceive and accept that ineffable love, and to return as much of it as finitude permits. Oh God, awaken love for You in our hearts!

What lover does not seek ways to express his or her feelings? and to commune with the one he or she loves? The desire to commune with God, and to express our feelings of love for Him, spontaneously through the day, and also at particular times we set aside for Him, should come naturally to the believer. What believer should not seek out and search for moments to be alone with God, as assiduously as lovers seek opportunities to be alone together? This then must be the prime reason to pray to our God, to seek time to be alone with Him, so that we may declare our love for Him, and acknowledge and thank Him in humility for His great love for us. A lover always seeks to please, and to bring gifts to the subject of his or her love. Our prayers are gifts we may bring to the One Who possesses all things, and Whose nature is to give and forgive. God desires our love, and our prayers which express that love. How can we deny such a simple gift? especially when our love and obedience are about the only things that we may offer to Him.

It is this element of obedience that must be remembered when prayer becomes difficult. Prayer is work, and often it is hard work, and maybe there are times when we are tempted to think we get little out of it. But how silly it is to give in to that thought! We will certainly not get anything out of being disobedient to God! By being obedient we follow in the footsteps of Christ Himself Who was obedient even unto death (Philippians 2:8). We err if we believe our feelings are the best judge of whether prayer is beneficial or not. The fact that we continue to pray, even when our feelings rebel means that we are determined to give God our obedience in spite of the effort required, and the discipline this instils in us, is a gift worth striving for. Further, if we find we do not feel anymore the Presence of God when we pray, remember that it is actually a proof of how real our love for Him is. When we miss someone, it is because we love that person. if we miss the Presence of God in our prayer life, it is a testimony that our love for Him is real, and, surely, if it is, we will persist in praying for His sake, even if we cannot pray for our own.

Now I know that it is true that we have already been crucified with Christ, but believing that all three aspects of time; past, present, and future, somehow coexist in unity in the Eternal world, rather than successively, as is the case in the world we inhabit, I wish to put to you the following thoughts which have helped many.

We should remember that when we choose to follow Christ, we choose an uphill path that leads directly to the difficult way of Calvary. There is no by pass around the cross. There we experience something of the sense of abandonment by God that Christ Himself felt, as our rebelliousness dies so that we may live. How silly we become when we interpret such a blessed privilege as a blight! The sense of loss we feel when it seems that God has withdrawn from us effects the transformation of our prayers into the spiritual sacrifices spoken of in I Peter 2:5. What sacrifice are we making if prayer is always pleasurable? To be sacrificial it must be definitely costly and quite unrewarding to us. Now this is where the will is so important. To pray only with our emotions would mean that we would pray only when we felt like it. To pray using the will, means we will pray even when we do not feel like it. It means that we are determined to be obedient to our Father. The emotions always need the direction of the will, only then may they fulfil their role. This is just as true in prayer, as it is in every other aspect of life. But how do we pray when we do not feel like it? Well, I have some definite suggestions which I and others have found helpful.

  1. Make definite arrangements in your daily life so that you set aside a time of morning and evening prayer, even if it is only for five minutes. If reading the Scriptures helps, then do that as well, but never to the exclusion of prayer. it may well be that having a morning and evening time of prayer will disrupt your routine: good! It will be another step towards centring your life on your relationship with God. This disruption could become so severe as to rebuild your whole life!

  2. During those times that you have the opportunity and the inspiration, make up your own prayers, as long or as short as you wish, and keep them by you, in a diary, or journal, or notebook, or just as loose sheets in your Bible. When prayer is difficult, resort to them, and use them.

  3. Pray using your voice. This is sometimes difficult when others are around, but a whisper is sufficient. So long as you actually hear your own words, you will focus more easily on God, and be less inclined to wander off in your mind to some other subject. By using your voice, because you will hear your own words, more areas of the brain become engaged in prayer, and the turning of the personality to God will be more complete. This does not mean that you should shy away from wordless contemplative prayer, but that is probably best left to when prayer is less difficult.

  4. Remember that when you pray you are but one member of a mighty choir that spans the creation, and that is continually offering praise to God. You are not being called upon to sing a solo! You have the support of those you cannot sense, who pray with you.

  5. The difficulties of prayer during 'dry spells' have been acknowledged by believers down the centuries, but praying then, when it is most hard, 'dark prayer' as it has been called, is probably the most potent kind, as it displays the greatest devotion to God.

  6. Remember too, that just as Christ mingled Deity with humanity within Himself, so too we are called upon to live our lives on two levels: 'above' and 'below'. In our daily lives as men and women, and in our devotional lives as children of God. The knack is to blend the two into a seamless robe bringing 'above' and 'below' into unity, moving from the infinite to the definite, in order to infinitise life and define infinity as did Christ Himself.

What happens when we pray? Well prayer is often but a means to an end. One end that I have just hinted at is unity. The more we pray to Him Who is Unity itself, the more our many faceted personalities will become unified. Personality defects will be exposed to the higher life and will be modified by that exposure. Prayer unites us to the Eternal world 'above' space and time. Our prayers being heard by Him Who is above all, link us, in the 'here-and-now', with the greater, more abundant life of the 'above'. Our prayers exist simultaneously in both worlds, bridging the chasm in between. While at prayer, we inhabit two worlds, as they unite within us. Prayer may turn into an invitation to God to enter areas of our lives that are bereft of His Presence. A prayerful attitude to life may turn tragedy into triumph; a cross into a conquest. We must regard all those irritating circumstances, and irritating people we are forced into daily contact with, as agents used by God to transform us, and make us more tolerant and forgiving, and more like Christ Who 'endured such contradiction of sinners' (Hebrews 12:3). The acceptance of that obnoxious neighbour, colleague or relation, who just gets 'under our skin' as being a tool used by God to provide us with an opportunity to reflect His characteristics is difficult, but is certainly made easier when accompanied by prayer.

Finally, prayer leads to worship. The turning of the creature to the Creator in pure adoration is the climax of our time of union with God, and results in new life springing into the believer from the One above.

To close, I have some questions which I found I had to ask myself. You may wish to ask your own questions, or you might like to use mine; it is up to you. My questions are:

  1. Am I determined to seek, obey, and please God?

  2. Do I actively try to create moments of quietness in a busy day to devote to prayer?

  3. Do I use what moments of silence there are in my life, or do I immediately smother them, by turning on the television, hi-fi, or computer? Do I banish silence from my life?

  4. Am I sufficiently aware of past failures in my prayer life? Am I sorry for them, and have I said so to my God and King?

  5. Do I give up too easily?

  6. Am I in love with God? Am I desperate to know Him, and to love Him more and more each day? Is He the Fullness, the meaning and the end of my existence?

© M. W. J. Phelan 2004 <>

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