WHAT THE HECK DOES PRAYER EVEN DO??? What effect does prayer have? Does prayer change God's mind or actions? Would He not do what's best if we weren't asking Him? What is the point?
This is the "utility" question - What is prayer's usefulness? What does prayer do? It’s a really important question, though I want to qualify how we might ask it. This sort of “utility” question seems to be in response to a deep intuition many people have about prayer; there is something more to praying than rattling off a wish list of what we want or need, which God may or may not grant us. And when utility, usefulness, and personal gain are the primary things we are (implicitly or otherwise) told prayer is about - then I think we must ask the question, just like this... what is prayer?!?!?
There are certainly cases in Scripture, in the long history of the church, and in many personal testimonies that document God’s responsiveness to prayer. However, it seems much more the norm that this is not the primary thing.
So what is the purpose of prayer? Union with God. Prayer is about connection to God. There are a few things I suspect prayer will accomplish in the life of individuals who faithfully practice it. Primarily, prayer broadens hearts and minds; it introduces us to new ways of seeing, thinking, speaking, and acting toward God and others. If prayer is a way of uniting us more deeply to the life, heart, and mind of God in Jesus, then this seems the reasonable outcome. Through prayer, my finite perspective stretches and expands; my limited capacity finds itself swallowed up in the infinite capacity of the Divine. Prayer accomplishes a change in me. But this isn't just for the sake of some kind of inner/spiritual deepening. At its best, it absolutely has "practical" implications. This connection with God, over time, may shape and form us to know how to live and be and work in the world in a way that is in step with the movement of God. This is what we see in Jesus and what makes him SO incredibly compelling in the gospels. He lives his life in deep union with God.
I think the Scripture's idea of holiness or sanctification is primarily concerned with THIS VERY FORMATION in us! That is, it is more concerned with where your life flows from. Are you united with the Lord, the giver of life? Or are you trying to get life out of things which cannot give it? I believe this is why John Wesley liked best "to be formed in the image and likeness of Christ" or "to have the mind of Christ” as definitions/images for holiness and sanctification. These scriptural images point back to Christ’s union with God
I think the practice of prayer (while certainly multi-faceted and capable of DOING a great many things) has as its primary goal the pursuit of a deeper connection to God, who created us in love and who sent Jesus to embody a life lived in union.
Edited by Anna Grace Glaize
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