Is Prayer for Us, or for God?

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Photo by Jack Sharp

Why pray to a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful? What’s the point? God knows our needs and wants before we ask. And God will work out his good purposes in his own way and time.

So, is prayer just for our own good? A kind of God-prescribed therapy to help us feel spiritual? Prayer does help us grow spiritually. But always there is a bigger picture.

There’s a both/and character to our prayers. We pray to God because we love him, want to please him, and want him to act for us and in behalf of others who need help. Or we pray to God because we want to love him deeply. We pray to God for our own and others’ good, so that God may be glorified in everything (1 Cor 10:31).

Prayer, after all, is two-way talk. It is not just us speaking to God, or God to us. It is personal and interactive. We speak to God, and the Lord speaks to us.

We don’t always hear both sides of the conversation, of course. Sometimes—more often than not—we speak to God, and we don’t immediately hear back from The Almighty.

This seems to be the experience of most people. But God does indeed speak to us in his own ways and according to his own timing. In my experience, that “speaking back” most often comes through Scripture or through circumstances—in other words, providence. Sometimes it is through another person who offers a word of advice or encouragement, and I recognize it as God’s voice.

Some people hear God speaking through dreams, through angels, or out loud. This may be rare, but many of us have heard authentic stories of God speaking in these ways. Sometimes God responds immediately, miraculously. Sometimes we have to wait. The point is to keep praying persistently, patiently, trustingly. Jesus said we “need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

The heart of prayer is this: God is person—full of lovingkindness, wisdom, and great compassion. Each of us is a person created in God’s image. Like all living, loving communication between people, prayer is for both of us. Not either/or. Because the key point is communication—that is, sharing, connecting, bonding in relationship.

God delights to do us good. He wants to see our love relationship with the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit grow in depth, meaning, and sweetness. Prayer is “for God” in the sense that it is for the glory of God—the healing, creative purposes of the Almighty. But prayer is also for us, because God is for us and wants us to grow more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the one who delights to walk together with us on the road of the kingdom of God.

Paul said, “We do not know how to pray as we ought.” But the Holy Spirit helps us. With unspeakable sighs, the Holy Spirit “intercedes for the saints” according to God’s will. As a result, we have great confidence that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:26-28).

The book Prayers for Ordinary Days is deeply rooted in Scripture. It is an aid to help us pray prayers as broad as the heart of God as revealed in Scripture and in Jesus—to pray in ways that align with Jesus’ great passion that the Father’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

Get Howard Snyder’s latest book from our store here. Prayers for Ordinary Days is composed of 365 short prayers for both those forming a prayer habit and those inwardly set for prayer as a life attitude. Each daily prayer is accompanied by a Scripture verse, hymn excerpt, or quote that extends the spirit in which it might be offered by God. Over the course of a year, these humble prayers will elevate your vision and spur you on toward a deeper and more meaningful spiritual growth.

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International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

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