What Is Prayer All About? – Greg Albrecht
I know that praying is not really about us, but for the purpose of helping us draw closer to God. But I have also heard that prayer for others, even when they have no idea we are praying for them, is important for and to them. How is that possible? I’m not clear how it necessarily helps the person we’re praying for in cases where that person is never aware we are praying for them. My (flawed?) premise is that God is Perfect Love and already knows the perfect solution or course of action and will not be persuaded to change His will by my prayer. So again, I ask…how does my prayer specifically for someone who will never be aware that I’m praying for him/her be important to that person? What is prayer all about?
Here are some thoughts for you to consider:
1. What is this thing we are calling “prayer” that forms the entire foundation of this discussion? Prayer is an “other dimension” activity – it is a time and way in which the physical has a nexus with eternity. We utilize human senses, emotions, heart, soul and mind – they are engaged, but with a spiritual dimension far beyond our physical comprehension. So, from the beginning, prayer is not an activity that can be nailed down with pragmatic precision, its results cannot be measured via human scales and standards. With that said, we now venture into a few specific assumptions/conclusions:
2. I believe prayer is important for others – not simply because their lot in life will be improved (because as we know prayer does not always “work” as we would like) but primarily, even when others do not know that others are praying for them, I have heard many people remark that they feel lifted up, on wings as it were, by what they presume to be the prayers of others. We are free to dismiss such thinking as superstition, but science cannot prove nor disprove this assertion. The Bible does “err” on the side of prayers for others being encouraging.
3. To your assertion – what you call your premise – I would say this:
- a) God knows all perfect solutions, but he does not enforce or bring about perfect solutions in our world. This world is not a perfect-solutions-world. God does not “will” for this world to be perfect. It never has been, but it will, when the new heavens and new earth descend to this world (Revelation 21 and 22), the old is gone, the new has come, and all things will be recreated, renewed, transformed, and made perfect.
- b) Is the purpose of prayer that God’s “will” be done on this earth, as it is in heaven – right now!?! One day, as Revelation says, the will of God will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. What is his will for the here-and-now? Big topic, but essentially, his will is for us to know of his love, to receive and embrace and accept his invitation to his kingdom, a kingdom that is now and forever, already but not yet. His will is to allow all humans to make choices – and not to force or manipulate them, not to coerce or threaten, but genuinely allow choice. This means that some really nasty things happen – and they have and they will. His will does not intervene and stop bad stuff in this world right now. If we run away from God and his invitation of love and grace, then God will chase us, hound us, pursue us – he never gives up on us. BUT – he does not force himself on us. There are no “arranged” marriages with God. Our choice – to accept or reject. I hope and believe in my faith that many more have and will accept God’s invitation, but because it’s ultimately our choice, some will reject him, even after he pursues us relentlessly.
4. To your question expressed at the end of your comments – how can prayer for someone who is unaware we are praying for them be that important to that person? Turn the question around – does someone need to know of the source of the love, compassion, grace, support they receive? If someone drops off a bag of groceries on the front porch of a person they know has a need, ring the doorbell and then run away because they want, for whatever reason, the gift to be anonymous, does that mean the bag of groceries is somehow diminished in its worth or effectiveness? The bag of groceries is a bag of groceries, whether one knows of its origins or not. But of course my example is tangible.
What about the intangible ways in which a person might be helped by our prayers though they do not know who prayed for them? How does God influence and encourage and lift up a person in heart, mind and spirit? We don’t know precisely. Can he? Yes, the Bible speaks of such examples. Does he always? No.
When someone “feels better” emotionally one day after having had a hell on earth day, does that mean that God answered someone’s prayers for that person? No – perhaps God did not depend on a person’s prayers, he actually did something positive without being persuaded or goaded into doing so! I speak sarcastically of course, for effect. Does God need our prayers? No. But, I believe, we do. Do others need our prayers? That is, will God wait until someone prays for another person before he helps them, or, as some seem to believe, as and when a “prayer list” or enough “prayer warriors” band together, and then God says, “Oh all right. I wasn’t going to bother, but now I will.” Again, a foolish divine personification, but it helps undermine some human “religious” assumptions about God and prayer.
5. Prayer, when one matures in Christ, becomes one of the most remarkably unselfish things a person can do – it’s all about the needs of others. Of course, being human, we insert our own needs into our prayers, and nothing wrong with doing so – but at its deepest spiritual levels, prayer is centered on God first, and then neighbor, and lastly, on our ourselves. That and that alone commends the practice, does it not?