Prayer! Huh! What is it Good For?

Does prayer do any good? Can prayer change anything? Is it actually a way to communicate with God or is it just a way to meditate? Is it simply the polite, Christian way to respond to sad news, or is the God of the Universe really listening to us?

It’s natural to wonder about this. These questions have been articulated, debated, picked apart, held up to the scriptures, and very smart and holy people have ended up on both sides of the discussion. You can read about their findings in countless books and articles. I won’t rehash it all here, and after I publish this I'll think of five more great points for each side of the debate.

However, at the Ten Ten Group, we think it’s healthy to live in that tension. Prayer is more than how we should respond to sad news, of course. It’s also more than a way to meditate or center ourselves. But that doesn’t answer all of the questions about prayer. First, let’s talk about why we pray. At Ten Ten, we’ve come around three main motivations that push us to pray each day. These aren’t the only reasons, but they are reasons.  

  • We pray because it’s how the soul breathes, by uniting to and praising the One who made us and for whom we were made. The soul can’t live without breathing.
  • We pray to know the heart of God, which helps us grow in confidence that He has our best in mind, that He is at work for our good (Romans 8:28).
  • We pray to ask God for help, because we are utterly helpless on our own.

This last one is where so many people get tripped up, and this is where that healthy tension comes in. Maybe you’ve wondered, “If God is perfect in all of His ways, why do we even bother praying for things? Can prayer change God’s mind? Would we even want it to, since He is all-good, all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful?”

As Christians, we try to believe that He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and that His way is perfect (Psalm 18:30). And yet, we ask Him for things. Is this a distrust in His perfect ways?

Simply put, it can’t be. God said we should pray - not just occasionally, but all the time (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Not only are we instructed to pray, but to ask for things!

He gives in the measure we ask.
— St Therese of Lisieux

Peter Kreeft, is his book “Prayer for Beginners”, highlights this by referencing Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Scripture tells us to ask! Saint Therese even said, "We can never have too much hope in God. He gives in the measure we ask."

When I hear this, I feel good about asking for things in prayer. Then, I’m reminded of a quote I’ve always loved from another great saint:

I used to believe that prayer changes things. Now I believe that prayer changes us and we change things.
— St Teresa of Calcutta

See, I do believe God is working on a bigger timeline that what we can see (Psalm 90:4). I do believe He knows what I need before I ask (Matt 6:8). I do think most of the time, I’d be better off praying for the ability to see God moving in my life and to trust Him rather than asking Him to change everything.

As a result of this battle of the Thereses’, I wind up right back in the same tension. So, I’m choosing to live in the tension.

I’m always going to ask God for things. Big things. Impossible things, even. I believe He’s in the business of miracles, and I bet He loves when we have enough faith to ask Him for one.

Still, I’m not going to treat God like a shooting star, and make a wish whenever I happen to look up and think of Him. I’m going to pray for deeper trust. Sometimes, I’m going try to ask Him for nothing at all - just open hands to receive what He gives me.

I’m praying for you all. Or maybe I’m not, because God already has your best in mind. But I probably still will. I haven’t figured it out.

Dominic Quaglia