An ancient Christian practice came under fire on a national scale after the Las Vegas shootings. All of a sudden, it became unacceptable to say “we are sending our thoughts and prayers,” “I’m praying for you,” and other well-known religious clichés. The attacks were harsh and swift, and they took several forms:
“Why pray when you can actually do something?”
“If God cares so much, why did He allow the shooting to happen in the first place?”
“Prayer is a waste of time.”
“Prayer is the same as changing the filter on your Facebook profile photo to support a cause… it’s an empty gesture meant to satisfy an individual’s sense of duty without actually helping anyone.”
You get the point. For a long time, prayer has been misunderstood. While it rarely becomes the focus of national attention like it did this time, prayer is often used as cannon fodder for the non-religious. Here are two of the main complaints:
1) If God knows everything, why do we have to pray?
2) Prayers often go unanswered (in our opinion). What’s the use of prayer?
The answer to these objections is simple. They miss the point of prayer and thus are irrelevant. The fact God knows everything is irrelevant. The fact that our prayers aren’t always answered (noticeably) is irrelevant. If God NEVER answered a single prayer from this point forward, we would still pray. If God told us everything that was ever going to happen from this point forward, we would still pray. It’s not about knowledge or request-granting.
Why We Pray
Simply put, we pray to worship. Humanity’s oldest and greatest downfall is pride. Tell me, can you ever think you’re better than anyone when you are on your knees in sincere prayer? Can you lift yourself up in pride when you give all the glory to God with arms outstretched, like children asking for a parent to hold them? A life of prayer is a life of humility. It’s asking and thanking God for everything. Prayer is the answer to pride.
What are the traditional positions for prayer? Saints sink to their knees, close their eyes, and position their arms in some humble way. Let’s read about worship in the Bible and see if there are any parallels:
Psalm 95:6– Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Romans 14:11– For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD."
1 Kings 8:34– When Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven.
Ezra 9:5– But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God.
In fact, the Lord’s Prayer goes something along the lines of “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” (Matthew 6:9). The purpose of prayer is to establish who is on the throne of your heart. God is God, and you are not. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good; you are not. God is in Heaven and is worthy to be worshipped, and you are not.
This is why all the above objections miss the point of prayer. Yes, we are asking God for wisdom and guidance when we have none. Yes, we are asking that atrocious things never happen again. Yes, we question God’s motives and seek clarity on tough topics. However, God does not have to answer the way we want Him to on these matters.
The main point is that, from beginning to end, we are praising and thanking Him. We are thanking Him for our lives and everything He gives and takes away. We are praising Him for His goodness and mercy because we serve an unconditionally loving and faithful God, but those qualities are not affected by how much we suffer in this life. We worship God with our lives; prayer is a small part of that.
That is why we pray.