Prayer is one of the most important things we can do as Christians. It is our direct way of communicating with God, the Creator and One who sustains the universe.
There are many different things we can do do pray for. We pray for healing for those who are sick (James 5:14). We pray against works of the devil, such as temptation into sin and works of evil (Matthew 5:13). We pray that God would sustain us and give us the grace and mercy necessary to get through the day (Matthew 5:11; Lamentations 3:22-23). We pray for our political leaders, that God would give them wisdom (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We pray to confess our own sins and wrongdoing do God (1 John 1:9). We pray for God to give us greater faith (Luke 17:5). We pray for lost souls; those who have not tasted and seen the glory of God through Jesus Christ (Romans 10:1), and many, many other things.
But what’s the point of all this? Why do we even need to pray? God doesn’t need our permission or go-ahead to do anything, since he himself created everything (Acts 17:24-28) and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). These are all fair questions and points to make, as by asking them they will lead us on a quest for truth that, Lord-willing, will give us the answer.
In the broad sense, the main purpose of prayer, as is all things, is to glorify God. Paul writes that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do [including prayer], do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Apostle Peter says a similar thing, saying, “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11).
In a more specific sense, however, even though God does not need our permission or go-ahead in order to do anything, the purpose of prayer is to exemplify dependency on God instead of ourselves. So, while it is true that God can and does heal sick people without other people (including themselves) praying for their healing, it is still a beneficial thing to do because (1) we are actively acknowledging that God is in control of the situation, which should give us peace and comfort, (2) we are not only acknowledging that God is in control of the situation, but we are also trusting the he knows best, (3) and this leads us deeper into a life of active dependence upon him.
I use the term “active dependence” for a reason, even though those two words may seem contradictory. Let me explain.
This is how I would define active dependence on God. “Acknowledging and trusting the God is in control and knows what is best in any given situation and living in a way that reflects that trust.” You can see that this has two parts. The first part starts in the heart and mind, and in the second part this overflows into outward action. It is one thing to say in your head or heart that you trust God, but the Bible teaches that unless you are taking active steps to live out that faith, your faith is dead (James 2:14-26).
You cannot have one of these without the other. As mentioned above, you can’t just say you have faith in God and then not act like it because then your faith is dead, but you also can’t try to live a life of faith without acknowledging and trusting that God is in control. This is what the Jews did, as Paul writes in Romans 10:1-4.
Brothers,my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In other words, God had his standard of righteousness set in place, which was and still is faith. Earlier in Romans, Paul talks about Abraham and how it was not his works that God counted as righteous, but his faith (4:1-3, 22). But the Jews didn’t like this, so they set out to make their own standard of righteousness, namely, keeping the law that God had given them. This was an impossible task they had set upon themselves, as there are over 700 laws and instructions that had been given to them. They were meant to pursue these commandments not by their own might or works, but by faith in God. They turned the fruit of faith into the way to faith. Paul writes elsewhere that we “have been saved by grace through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
There have been many different goals, parts, and definitions, so I want to try and summarize everything in an easy way to remember.
The ultimate goal of prayer is to glorify God.
The reason we pray is to exemplify active dependence on God, which was defined as “acknowledging and trusting the God is in control and knows what is best in any given situation and living in a way that reflects that trust.”
Active dependence has two parts to it, which are acknowledging and trusting that God is in control and knows what is best (head/heart), and living in a way that reflects that trust (outward/life).
One part cannot be done without the other, as one results in a faith that is dead (head/heart without outward/life) and the other results in a works-based salvation (outward/life without head/heart).