God Doesn't Need Prayer. So Why Pray?
Life is Really Busy
No doubt. Life is busy. There are so many things vying for our attention, so many things pulling us in all sorts of directions. It can feel like we are in survival mode, struggling to breathe and stay atop of the waves that are swirling and crashing on our heads.
With so much happening in the day to day, is it really realistic to add one more thing? Do we need to pray? Surely, God doesn’t need our prayers?
What is Prayer?
First, we have to figure out what prayer is. The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, refers to prayer in this way:
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
How beautiful is that explanation? It makes prayer seem so simple, almost effortless, like breathing. And for St. Therese, prayer was like breathing. She often said, “everything is grace.” In the good times and the bad, she turned to our Lord in gratitude, supplication, praise, and petition.
Prayer is a gift to us from God. He knows that we will only find holiness in recognizing who we are before Him. Before Him, with everything else stripped away, we are son or daughter of Him. In true humility all of our boasting and false pride fall away, and we begin to see the beloved child of God that we are, in prayer.
When we come to Christ in prayer, we receive the living water welling up to eternal life. Prayer is to the soul what food and water is to the body. We need it.
Prayer is words and gestures. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the whole person. The Scriptures often speak of prayer as coming from the heart. In Latin, the word heart is “cor.” Prayer truly comes from our core, our innermost being.
In prayer, we come into communion with the Almighty God, we become one with Him. We begin to enter into the very life of the Most Holy Trinity. In the Godhead, the Son offers Himself eternally to the Father in the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the mediation of Christ, prayer enters us into the heart of God Himself.
The Battle of Prayer
The Catechism, in chapter three of part four, refers to prayer as a battle:
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer. (CCC 2725)
The battle for our soul is raging. We are caught in the midst of a war between Christ and the forces of darkness. The Enemy wants to convince us that prayer is unnecessary. Satan wants us to see prayer as a psychological activity, rather than a communion with God. Satan wants us to believe the lie that we do not have time for prayer.
Prayer does not need to be productive. It needs to be honest.
The Vigilance of the Heart
Prayer requires recognizing distractions. When we are distracted in prayer, God is enlightening us with what we are attached to. Then, we will be able to intentional fight against those disordered attachments that are keeping us from God and the abundant life He offers to us.
We must be vigilant in prayer. We must not seek the externals of prayer. What I mean by this is that there are different extremes to be avoided. On the one hand, we can desire mental clarity and believe that prayer is useless and unproductive if we do not immediately get the answers we seek. God answers prayer in His own ways and in His own time. And second, we must avoid the sensitive extreme where all we desire in prayer is the consolation of God or emotional highs. Sometimes, as a gift, God grants a powerful emotional experience in prayer, but this is not the end or goal of prayer.
There WILL be times when our prayer feels dry. We will feel discouraged in prayer. We may feel disappointed because we do not want to let go of the attachments that God has revealed to us that need to go. We might recognize the depths of our sins and feel despair. We might resist the idea that prayer is a free gift. In all of these cases and more, we must ask for the grace to persist in prayer and cooperate.
Temptations in Prayer and the Need for Trust
Jesus says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).” Do you believe this? Or do you lack faith? If this is you, then pray for faith. Pray to be led to trust.
Another temptation to overcome is acedia. By living a live of exorbitant comfort, a decreased vigilance, or a carelessness of heart, we may fall into a form of depression about doing what is good and right. This is acedia. “The greater the height, the harder the fall. Painful as discouragement is, it is the reverse of presumption. The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy (CCC 2733).”
There is so much more to say about prayer, but for now, let’s look at the simple question: “why pray?”
We pray, not because God needs it, but because He loves us. We respond in prayer. Prayer is God’s action first and our response. When we pray, as baptized Christians, it is the Holy Spirit working in us, helping us to pray. Prayer draws us closer to the Almighty and helps us remain docile to His movement in our lives.
Every human person, in Baptism especially, is called to holiness, to be set apart for God. How can we possibly accomplish this if we do not know Him? How can we imitate Him, if we do not make time to encounter Him? How can be hope to spend eternity in Heaven with Him, if we do not desire to spend time with Him here on earth?
Why pray? The more pertinent question is: why not pray? It is one of the greatest gifts you will ever be given in this life. Take hold of that beautiful gift to the full.
Be a saint.