I remember sometime back when such a question used to bug me a lot. If God already knows what’s in my heart, what is the point of praying? If God already knows what I need, why do I need to deliberately present the request to Him? Such questions would bother me because the answers that I would get from around me served only to increase rather than settle my curiosity. It doesn’t make it any better that many atheists and rationalists are fond of asking similar questions about God and the practice of prayer. For instance, if it is already in God’s sovereign will to grant me a particular thing, then, does it really matter whether I pray about it or not? Won’t it happen anyway? The same question can also be viewed this way; do my prayers and my petitions inform or change God’s mind? Does God act upon my prayers or does He act upon His will? Or is it both?
The more I would ponder upon such questions, the more it dawned on me that none of these questions could be sufficiently answered if I did not first understand what the term “prayer” actually means. I also realized that I would often wrestle with such questions in those times when my prayer-life was on a slump and I did not feel the need to pray. It is at such times that I would begin to see prayer as a mere Christian ritual – something we do before meals, before long journeys, because we have been requested to do it and because we have exhausted all our plans. Prayer was something we do after all was said and done.
The Bible presents prayer as a practice that is both fundamental and foundational to the life of a Christian. Verses such as the following place prayer on a pedestal that cannot be ignored:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
“…The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Jesus himself taught his disciples how to pray, and yes, Jesus prayed. This reality often baffles me whenever I think about it. Jesus prayed. Jesus, the perfect, spotless, nothing-to-repent-about, sinless man… prayed to God. Jesus, the sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing, creator of the universe God… prayed to His Father. It was simply difficult for me to wrap my head around this. The sight of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane always sends me back to these vexing questions: What is the point of prayer? What exactly is prayer? And why did Jesus find it necessary to pray, early in the morning – that is – why did he prioritize prayer in his own life? And how come I don’t always feel this sense of urgency and priority regarding my own prayer-life?
The first (and the biggest) clue that pushed me in the right direction towards finding an answer is a verse that is not even directly speaking about prayer. Don’t expect this verse to pop up on Google after you type “Prayer Bible verses” on that search box. The passage is Romans 10:9-10;
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
This passage is kind of disturbing. It almost seems to attach a mystical, superstitious sense to the subject of salvation. What does Paul mean when he says that “it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”? Is he implying that the physical act of “speaking” has some kind of supernatural power or causal significance in salvation? Isn’t it enough to just believe in my heart that Jesus is Lord? Must I also actually, physically or practically “speak” out this conviction? It doesn’t seem to add up.
And yes, it never seemed to add up for me for quite awhile. It didn’t add up until the day I realized what was happening. When the Bible commands us to do something in order for something else to happen, it is in no way attributing the power to the action. It is not Moses’ stick that parted the Red Sea, it is not the bronze serpent that healed the people, it is not Jesus’ saliva that restored the blind man’s sight… you can add to the list. It is not these things, these acts, that “caused” their respective outcomes, the true cause and the true power was God.
This realization is what helped me understand Paul’s words in Romans 10. When the Bible says “If you believe it in your heart and confess with your mouth,” it is essentially saying that “if you believe it in your heart, you will confess it with your mouth.” Those two are not mutually exclusive. the profession necessarily follows the confession. This means that it is possible to make a profession without actually having the confession; but it is impossible to have a confession without a follow-up profession.
Not all who profess that Jesus is Lord will be saved. But all those who confess Jesus is Lord will profess that Jesus is Lord and they will be saved.
So, how did this realization help me to understand the point of prayer? Well, this truth made me realize that prayer is a profession of my utter weakness and dependence upon God. Prayer is a profession that it is God who provides my every need. Prayer is a profession that despite my desires, it is God’s will that reigns supreme. prayer is a profession that I believe what the Bible says about God’s attributes and God’s character and that I will trust God’s sovereignty and integrity in all matters appertaining to my life and that of others.
Prayer is indeed a profession; but the profession is only valid if it is rooted in a valid confession and conviction. If I truly believed that God can and will do what I request, then I will profess it with my mouth. The verbal utterance of my prayer will be the inevitable product of my faith in the one to whom I am praying. So, what does this say about those times when I am overwhelmed by the pointlessness of prayer? Well, for one, it reveals to me that my struggle is really a Gospel struggle. I am not struggling with prayer, I am struggling with unbelief. I am not really questioning the power and the point of prayer, I am questioning the power and the point of God.
So, what I need to do is not to just keep praying harder even when I do not really feel like it. What I need to do is change my prayer, to that of repentance about my unbelief.
“Jesus I believe. Help my unbelief.”
For the fame of His name,