Prayer has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time. Everything we have learned about every culture that has ever existed is there is a notion of a god of some sort.
Worship of those gods and practices of devotion have varied, but in all of them, there has been a form of prayer. We have always desired a way to connect with our creator no matter how we conceive of that god.
Why Do We Pray?
The question I would like to ponder with you is why do we pray? Since prayer is one of the most common religious practices, what is the purpose? There are prayers of petition, which means we are asking God for something. We also know there is no guarantee that prayers of petition will be answered.
I give you the win-loss ratio of the Cleveland Browns during my lifetime as evidence that God does not answer prayer. So the idea that we get what we want when we pray is not a motivating factor because we often don’t get what we want. The Browns example is a silly one. We have all prayed for healing and deliverance that also never came and that can be incredibly hurtful. God is not a Genie in the Lamp, so this motivation of prayer would not sustain the desire to pray.
We can also say that prayer is a source of comfort. While I would also agree that is a good motivation to pray, some of the times in my life when I found it difficult if not impossible to pray is when I was hurting the most. If I have a thorn stuck in my hand and it hurts, my immediate response is to pull it out. If prayer was automatically comforting, then my pain would make me more likely, to pray not less. I firmly believe that prayer is comforting, but I am not completely sure that comfort would be a motivating factor in my continued prayer life.
I believe the ultimate reason that we pray is in prayer we have the assurance that we are not alone. When I take a quiet moment to pray, I am being heard. I think that has always been the motivation for people to pray regardless of their exact religious affiliation. We want to know there is something more, and when we pray, we are actually participating in something that is bigger than ourselves. That is why humans have always reached toward God. We want to know there is more.
What Did Jesus Say About Prayer?
Jesus even taught us a lot about prayer. It was important to Jesus, the night before He walked on the stormy sea to save the disciples from a storm, He spent a night alone on top of a mountain praying. Even Jesus had a desire to experience more than this world and in our Christian tradition, Jesus was a part of there being more to this world. But the desire to pray was even present in Him.
When Jesus taught us how to pray in giving us the Lord’s Prayer, He was giving us the framework and boundaries of prayer. Of course, we pray for our individual needs, ask for strength, and ask God to bend our will to His own. This helps us to have faith in God’s plan and to live our own lives in accord with that plan. That is the desire we are practicing when we pray.
Over the past 15 years or so, my prayers have taken the form of a journal. In my upstairs bedroom, I have a whole box of journals I have filled with my handwritten prayers. What I have found is that helps me stay focused. It is sort of like an ongoing letter to God.
In those pages, I have expressed my anger and disappointment in what has happened. I have also written prayers of great thanksgiving. It is my place to be honest about what is going on in my life and express my feelings freely. It is a great relief to be able to have such an ongoing conversation with God because it helps me know every day that what I am and what I do matters.
That is what connecting to something greater than yourself will do. My faith provides that for me and my prayers help sustain my faith. Those prayer journals have brought me through some absolutely terrible times in my own life. While at the time I might have been questioning the good those prayers were doing, I know now that they were my lifeline.
That is the value of prayer.