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The subject of prayer is one that at first comes easily to new believers. Like a child before the Father (Luke 18:17), upon coming to faith in Christ, we realize not only that we have needs, but that the Lord is the best and only provider for our needs. For this reason, we quickly and willingly go to the Lord in prayer, laying all our cares before Him, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
But then something happens to our childlike simplicity as we study the Bible more: we come to a greater understanding of the nature of God, that He is all-knowing (Ps. 145:17; John 16:30) and that His will cannot be frustrated by any creature or circumstance (Ps. 46:10; Prov. 19:21). These truths can affect our view of prayer. Why pray, after all, if God already knows what we need? Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that God already knows our prayers before we even ask (Matt. 6:8), and He knows our circumstances so well that even the hairs on our heads are numbered (10:30). Why pray if it does not make any ultimate difference, for, after all, God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11)?
We need to think about prayer less in terms of how we get things we need from God and more in terms of our relationship to God. Boldly stated, God does not need prayer. He is not relying on us to make Him aware of what we need, and He is not waiting to act until we ask Him to do so. No, God is God, and He is the sovereign ruler of the universe. But He is also our God, and He has entered into a relationship with His people, making each and every person who trusts in Jesus Christ His child. God has given prayer as a means for us to come to Him, to trust Him, and to understand that He loves us and cares for us. We might put it this way: if the Bible is the way that the Lord communicates with us, prayer is the way that we communicate with Him. Communication is critical to any relationship, and this is certainly true of our relationship with God.
God also uses prayer to bring about changes in us. We are to pray in Jesus’ name and under His authority (John 14:13) and according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). Following this biblical model for prayer teaches us to seek God’s will and to come to the Lord with a desire that our lives would reflect God’s glory and the image of Jesus Christ. Think for a moment about that: What is more eternally significant, that our circumstances change or that we become more like Jesus? When we look at prayer in that light, we see the true power of prayer. Prayer is a means of grace that the Lord uses to shape us more and more into the image of Christ (see Rom. 8:29).
Finally, prayer is also a means that God uses to bring about His will, not because He is dependent on prayer, but because He has chosen to use prayer to that end. One example of this in the Old Testament is the crying out of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 2:23–25). The Lord had already promised to deliver His people from bondage (Gen. 15:13–14), He had already affirmed that promise in His covenant, and yet He chose to use the prayers of His people to initiate His deliverance of them. Let us remember that when we are discouraged or feel helpless. Let us go to the Lord in prayer—and pray that the Lord will change both our circumstances and us.