Fair warning – I’m in a preachy mood.
A friend was arguing the efficacy of prayer with an atheist friend of his. I followed part of the discussion but didn’t join it. It did get me thinking.
The atheist contended that a worthwhile god shouldn’t need coaxing to alleviate suffering. Now, the fact is, he’s right – he’s just wrong about what prayer actually is.
God doesn’t need notification – there’s no problem, no issue and no condition of which He is not aware. He does not need you to explain the situation – or even how you feel about it. He already knows. He has absolutely no need of your efforts to inform Him. He is omniscient – He knew before whatever it was became a thing.
Yet Scripture tells us that the prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16 paraphrased). Well, why? Why does God need us to pray?
Short answer: He doesn’t.
Long answer: He doesn’t, but WE DO. We need prayer. Prayer is one of the ways we connect with our Lord. Without it, we have a major hole in our spiritual life.
Imagine a man who sends his son to college. Having been in college himself and knowing what things cost, the man can perfectly anticipate his son’s financial needs. The man puts money in his son’s account as his son needs it without his son having to ask. The son never calls the father and the father never calls the son. The son has all his needs met without speaking a word to his father.
What kind of relationship do they have? They don’t have a relationship at all – each relates to the bank but neither relates to the other. Oh, they may have fond memories and warm feelings about each other – they love one another – but they have no relationship at all.
Prayer is just a phone call to God. Prayer ‘avails much’ when the person calling has a good relationship with God – because prayer itself does nothing – God does all the real work.
The purpose of this life – one of them – is to regain the relationship with God that was damaged in the Fall. To be made in His image – to become like our Father. That’s wonderful – and impossible without a relationship.
Which is why God doesn’t perfectly anticipate and meet our needs – He could but He would be harming our chances of truly becoming what we were meant to be, so He doesn’t. He supplies our needs every day – He does provide and care for us when we don’t realize it. What He doesn’t do is provide so perfectly that we never feel the need to call home.
And that’s because He is providing for another of our needs – our need to have a relationship with our Creator.
Suffering is a temporary condition of this temporary world. A right relationship with God is a permanent condition of a permanent, perfect world. Like a wise father who lets go of the back of the child’s bike, knowing that the child may fall and hurt himself, God lets us fall sometimes so that we learn to get up and walk humbly with Him.
God doesn’t need anything – but He does have desires. He desires good things for His children – wonderful, permanent things as well as temporary good things. He desires His children to love Him as He loves them – and it takes a lot of learning to get them there.
So He withholds His hand until we ask. He waits until the time is right. He listens when we cry and when we rejoice.
He always answers the phone – whether we know it or not. Prayer is a call home – have you called your Father today?