Recently, I had been struggling to talk to God, namely bring my petitionss before Him. I didn’t mind just talking to Him, telling Him how great He was, or thanking Him, but when it came to asking for things, whether it be for someone’s healing or the finances for a new vehicle, my heart would harden. What was the point of praying and asking for things if God was sovereign? I mean, even if I asked, if it wasn’t in His will He wasn’t going to say yes. I didn’t realize how childish I sounded until I brought this question up to my husband. At the time, my heart was hurting, and I felt, not that He had, God let me down.
You see, almost a year ago, I found out I was expecting. I prayed and had my church pray with me that the baby would grow up healthy. I had confidence, having two beautiful girls already, that He was going to grant that request. Because of that confidence, I waited to see the Ob-Gyn until I was sixteen weeks along. But when I went to that appointment, I discovered my baby had died eight weeks prior. My husband and I cried. We wept, but in the evening, I had a moment of clarity in the spirit. I told him, “Now isn’t the time for tears, but to ask for a miracle.” For the next week, we did. But then, there was still no heartbeat. My baby had gone to his eternal home.
At first, I struggled to pray at all. Forming words to speak to anyone taxed my grieving heart. Then, in March, four months after my miscarriage, I became pregnant again– God’s timing. We were taking preventative measures against getting pregnant because I believed I was not emotionally prepared. I had never felt so scared in my life. I couldn’t face the pain of possibly losing another baby, and not just one baby. We learned at my 12 week appointment, we were having twins. I knew I needed to pray for God to weave them together full of health for He has ultimate control over life and death, but my prayers were like the banging of a silent gong. I begged and pleaded, but with no hope or trust the answer would be yes.
As I was lamenting this with a friend, she brought up the verse Mark 11:24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Now, we both know the Bible is completely infallible and God does not lie, but I know that at least the first time I prayed for God to resurrect my baby, I didn’t doubt. I’ve seen other people pray confidently for miracles to no avail. I quietly waited outside another friend’s house as her mother and nine siblings prayed over their deceased father to be resurrected for hours. I’ve seen prayers for healing for young children go unanswered. So obviously, there was a deeper meaning behind this verse that I wasn’t understanding.
Upon digging further, I also found 1 John 5:14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” So it’s not just whatever we ask; it’s whatever we ask according to His will. Our confidence in prayer then can be held in promises He has already given us in Scripture, or occasionally devine personal revelation. But that left me lost about prayers for healing or personal requests. What is the point praying for our health or desires, when we have no power to change God’s will?
I set myself to discover the purpose of prayer. As I was flipping through the Scriptures, first I noticed, most people in the Bible never asked this question. People simply prayed for God commanded it. For those who weren’t heeding the Lord, as in the case of Jonah, when they encountered dire straits they called to God desperately in prayer. Today people do the same. I propose this is because we like to control things. Even as strong Christians will try our hardest to fix problems on our own before we stop and pray. Then when we pray, it’s because we’ve exhausted all other options. Prayer then becomes our final means to control a situation. How many times have you heard, “Well, at least I can pray?” It’s as if, perhaps only subconsciously, we’re saying, “Well, the last or only effort of controlling this situation is to ask someone with more control than myself to take care of it.”
Without realizing it, that’s what my prayer life had become. My true question wasn’t, “What is the purpose of prayer,” but really, “How am I supposed to control anything in life since I feel like can’t trust God to come through?” That question is prideful. You can try to make excuses for me because I was hurting, but sin is sin. In Isaiah 66:2 it says, “For all these things My hand has made, So all these things came into being, declares the Lord. ‘But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My word and honors My commands.” I hadn’t forgotten how precious I am in God’s sight, but just how mighty, holy, and awesome He is. The answer, then, to the question, “What is the purpose of prayer?” was “To humble yourself and to give glory to God.”
This is evidenced in Scripture. Everyone knows of David and Solomon, the great Kings of Israel, but after Solomon, the country became split into two nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel had a bunch of bad kings and the people turned from God, so God sent invaders to come and capture them. Judah also had a bunch of bad kings, but occasionally there were some good ones. In 2 Chronicles 33, we meet Manasseh, King of Judah who took the throne when he was twelve. At the beginning of his reign, he practiced evil forms of worship to other false gods, including having his children burned alive in sacrificial offerings. God spoke to him, but Manasseh refused to listen so the Assyrians came in and captured him. Now we arrive at 2 Chronicles 33:12-13, “But when he (Manasseh) was in distress, he sought the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his pleading, and brought him back to Jerusalem to his Kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”
That last sentence, “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God,” is one of the best answers to the purpose of prayer. To know that YHWH is God. When we come to know Christ, as our savior, as it is when we first become friends with anyone, our knowledge of Him isn’t complete. We grow in relationships. Because our knowledge isn’t complete, even if we desire to believe God’s truth in our minds, our hearts can still doubt. This is why Thomas the apostle could say even after seeing the scars on Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” So when we approach God through prayer with humility, He takes our unbelief and replaces it with his truth. He wants us to know who He truly is.
Now let’s look at the night Jesus was betrayed. He went alone to pray, “Saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’” (Luke 22:42.) Jesus had been telling his disciples what would happen to Him. He knew He was going to have to suffer, but the night before, He still prayed that He wouldn’t have to. He shows humility before the Father by submitting to the Father’s will. He prays that He won’t have to be crucified even though He knows and has known that it needed to happen. This is why Paul says of Him in Philippians 2:8, “After He was found in outward appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” If Jesus isn’t afraid to bring His requests before God, there’s no reason for us to not.
When we hear “no” to our prayers, it is painful, but we can still rest upon God and His goodness. Jeremiah prophesied to Judah, he prayed and begged and pleaded for them to turn back to God, but his prayers were also unanswered. Judah continued to do evil and was captured. In Lamentations 3:19-23, we find his response to his unanswered prayers, “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and the gall. My soul continually remembers them and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope. It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindness that we are not consumed, because His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great and beyond measure is Your faithfulness.” Although we might not understand why, our answer can still be to remember how much we are loved by God, and even more importantly, how terrifying, holy, and majestic He is. We can rest in knowing that He is good and is working everything out for the collective good of those who He called according to His purposes and will, not ours.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights Reserved.