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What is the Purpose of Prayer...?

05/10/2014 05:34 PM - Permalink

I saw a concerned post from someone on the Internet the other day that was asking about prayer.

Their question was, "What is the purpose of prayer, if God is going to do what He wants to do anyway?"

Obviously this person had been taught to believe or had experiences that indicated to them that prayer was not full of purpose.  

I've learned a decent amount of things from studying the scriptures, and having Godly leaders and teachers in my life who are dedicated to God and prayer. Hoping to help someone who's feeling like God doesn't care what they think - or that God has no purpose for them on earth. So I thought I'd record some of my thoughts on how God considers our will and purpose, including prayer, and how God turns anything but a deaf ear!
  Let me preface by saying I am a Christian - and I believe the Bible is the living Word of the only true and living God.  My responses are entirely from it.  If you favor another perspective, you'll not find it here.  I have nothing from another religion or text to offer.

God is sovereign, that is true - and when He has decided a thing in His sovereignty, it is settled. But in Genesis 1:26-28 (Bible Gateway passage: Genesis 1:26-28 - New International Version), God also gave man dominion over the earth:

26 Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

This decree, by the word of God, gave us dominion over 4 things:

  1. Fish of the sea
  2. Birds of the heavens (sky/air)
  3. Livestock and over all the earth
  4. Every creeping/living thing that creeps/moves on the earth

Outside of 1 - 3, number 4 provides me with the most interest. 

Firstly, the list is pronounced twice.  The first is the numbered items I described above, and was during a proclamation of God's intention.  The second time, number 3 is omitted and replaced with number 4, since it covers that as well, and is the proclamation / decree itself. 

Why does this matter?  Well, nearly everything physical can be described as being in 1, 2, or 3.  #3 even has the provision "livestock and over all the earth."  So why is #4 needed in that environment?  Same reason number 3 wasn't needed in the actual proclamation.  But, I believe it (#4) has 2 other levels of impact, that God fore-knew and intended, because there are two other "living things" that "move on the earth" that are not physical:

  1. Satan, and his angels
  2. God

Now, I'm not saying at all that God is subject to man on the earth.  Of course, God is sovereign, and the authority man has here is from God. 

But let's refer back to God's point to man in verse 26.  God made man in HIS image and likeness.  God is king of His own domain (heaven) with absolute authority.  He wasn't making robots that look like Him when He made us.  He was making us to truly be LIKE Him, which requires we also wield authority over our own domain (earth). 

Let me say again, I've been a student of the scriptures all my life, and while I have not yet, nor shall I ever, complete my study of them or understanding of them, what I have studied has led me to understand this: God's desire was for man to rule earth just like God rules heaven. 

Besides what I described in Genesis 1 above, there are other places this point is made known:

- The Lord's prayer (that Jesus told the disciples to pray) has a hint of this as well.  He told us to pray (Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 6:9-13 - New International Version) "Your kingdom come... your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  Points being: 

  1. While Jesus in other texts declared God's kingdom is "at hand", God's kingdom is not yet fully here.  Otherwise, what would be the point of praying for it to come?
  2. God's will is not fully done on earth.  Otherwise, what would be the point of praying for it to be?
  3. God's will is done in heaven. 
  4. Jesus is telling us simply asking for these things can cause a change - and increase the likelihood that it will.  Otherwise, why ask?

- God desires to fellowship with us - meaning to experience things with us... affect us... and be affected by us.  He pictured this clearly when he described Christ and the Church as having a relationship like a man and his wife... both are influenced... and they share many experiences.  (See Ephesians 5 and many of Paul's other books.)  Further proof that God can be influenced by prayer is in Moses' plea with God in Exodus 32:9-14:

9 I have seen these people, the Lord said to Moses, and they are a stiff-necked people.10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.
11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. Lord, he said, why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever. 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Moses seemed to here change God's mind.  But God is sovereign.  So either this wasn't an issue God had fully settled with Himself, or He was counting on Moses' objection - and to answer it in Moses' favor. 

- God gave PERMANENT ruler-ship to a man, over land He considered "His" - when He gave the promise to David that He (God) would never fail to keep a descendant of David on the throne over Israel.  (Psalm 132:11-18: Bible Gateway passage: Psalm 132:11-18 - English Standard Version)

11 The Lord swore to David a sure oath
    from which he will not turn back:
One of the sons of your body
    I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
    and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
    shall sit on your throne.
13 For the Lord has chosen Zion;
    he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14 This is my resting place forever;
    here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless her provisions;
    I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16 Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
    and her saints will shout for joy.
17 There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
    I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
18 His enemies I will clothe with shame,
    but on him his crown will shine.

- A demon spirit in Mark 1:23-25 (Bible Gateway passage: Mark 1:23-25 - English Standard Version) recognized Jesus as "the Holy One of God" - and ... well, let's just get into it: 

23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you arethe Holy One of God. 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him!

Note: I don't trust what the demon says, nor do I base doctrinal truth on what the Bible records a demon to have said.  But in this verse, we have a strong allusion to the idea that a demon spirit recognizes the authority of someone other than "the Holy One of God" - particularly on the earth, for the demon spirit asked "What have you to do with us?" 

Another translation reads Jesus rebuked him sternly or strongly.  Why would Jesus be upset that a demon has recognized Him to be the Holy One of God?  That is who He claimed to be anyway!  As an answer to this, I've heard it preached that it is because Jesus was rejecting Satan's recognition... He didn't need it after all. 

And that could be very true.  But I actually think this verse was indicative of a challenge.  I think (and I cannot be sure, but I do think) the demon was questioning Jesus' authority on the earth... questioning if Jesus, fully the Holy One of God, was also fully a man - and thereby possesses the dominion granted *man* in Genesis 1 that would make the demon subject to Jesus through the "every living thing that moves on the earth" clause in God's proclamation of man's dominion.

- Jesus told people openly that He was the Father's only son... that God was His Father, and that He and the Father are one.  Many times, the disciples referred to Jesus as "Son of God."  Why?  Because man was more interested, and put more weight on, Jesus' identity as it relates to God.  But Jesus, most of the time being God and having Godly wisdom, did not refer to himself this way.  He called Himself "Son of Man" - and I suspect it's because He Himself saw more value in, and put more weight on, His identity as it relates to (and thereby His relationship with) man:

Matthew 8:20

Jesus replied, Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

Matthew 12:8

For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

Matthew 16:27

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Fathers glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Matthew 20:28

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 26:64

But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

I could go on... 

The point is... the Messiah - the Savior of the World promised at the fall of man to the Serpent / Eve ("I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." - Genesis 3:15) had to be a man - offspring of Eve.  Later he promises David that the Messiah will descend from David. 

It just happens that the Messiah - Jesus Christ - was (and is) God... fully God... fully the Holy One of God... ("In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." - John 1:1 and "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." - John 1:14).  But for purposes of saving us and possessing authority to take back the earth from the rule of sin after man's fall - and redeem mankind from the curse that followed sin... to be the fully realized image and likeness of God... He had to be fully man, fully submitted to God.

And He was.  And is.  Then Jesus gave that authority to us, through prayer, and like God, using our words:

Matthew 18:18-20

18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19 Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

- James 4:2 says "You do not have because you do not ask God." 

Self explanatory - this paints a converse picture too... asking is a way to have!

But prayer should not be about getting God to give you what you want.  The Bible explains that In Christ, we become new creatures - new creations - conformed to the image of His Son (Jesus - the perfect picture of the image and likeness of God).  In that, it should be the goal of followers of Jesus to pray the will of God as God has made it known to us.  (And I don't mean... "God, do whatever you want.")  God wants to know and to be known by us.  And He gave us a Bible so that we would know His will.  He wants us to rule earth with the authority of His Son - that Jesus gave us in Matthew 18:18-20 (above) - according to His will, as stewards of the earth.  :)  And we do that with our words, and by prayer. 

So to directly answer the question - "What is the purpose of prayer if God is going to do what he wants to do anyway?"...

... the answer is .... because what God wants to do... is give men submitted to Him the desires and the fulfillment of their prayer... particularly where it aligns with His own will.  :)

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, as it is written: "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived" -- the things God has prepared for those who love him--

Prayer is (or should be) less about you getting God to do what YOU want, and more about you asking God to do what YOU already know He wants.  And He wants good things for you - He wants to bless you, because He's a loving Father.

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