Pray with Purpose

purpose of prayer

I’ve become a student of prayer lately, seeking to understand and expand its place in my walk with God.

For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:8

If it’s true that God knows what we need before we ask then the obvious question becomes:

Why Pray?

God uses prayer to change our hearts and our hearts’ desires. 

In Exodus 32 Moses prayed to stay God’s vengeance on the Israelites, who had forsaken God and his law by worshipping a golden calf even as Moses was on the mountain receiving that law on their behalf.

The conversation went something like this (Exodus 32:9-14, The Message):

God said to Moses, “I look at this people—oh! what a stubborn, hard-headed people! Let me alone now, give my anger free reign to burst into flames and incinerate them. But I’ll make a great nation out of you.”

Moses tried to calm his God down. He said, “Why, God, would you lose your temper with your people? Why, you brought them out of Egypt in a tremendous demonstration of power and strength. Why let the Egyptians say, ‘He had it in for them—he brought them out so he could kill them in the mountains, wipe them right off the face of the Earth.’ Stop your anger. Think twice about bringing evil against your people! Think of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants to whom you gave your word, telling them ‘I will give you many children, as many as the stars in the sky, and I’ll give this land to your children as their land forever.’”

And God did think twice. He decided not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.

At first blush it appears that God is having a temper tantrum and Moses’ prayer helps calm him down. But that’s not consistent with God’s character. Viewed through the lens of who God is, this exchange becomes not about our unchanging God, but his desire to change Moses.

As Moses not only interceded for, but learned to love the stiff-necked, hard-hearted people he had been called to lead, God refined him as a leader, making him stronger, bolder and even more humble, thus equipping him for the challenges ahead.

What to Pray?

God is quick to answer prayers that glorify him in the world.

I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

John 14: 13-14 MEV

Recently I’ve been praying for reconciliation of a broken relationship. Moments later I sat down to my Bible study and the first thing I read was a direct response to my prayer. The next morning at church the sermon was about how we, as followers of Jesus, are called to take the first step to pursue reconciliation when someone has harmed us…because that is how we rescue and restore that other person to a right relationship with God, and it is what it looks like to love others as we love ourselves.

Similarly, a friend of mine has been struggling in her marriage, feeling anger and frustration over her husband’s shortcomings. Persistent prayer led her to shift her focus: She began praying for God to search her heart, to show her where she was contributing to the strife. And lovingly, he was faithful to do so, convicting her of her own negativity, and guiding her with specific steps she could take to improve her outlook and well being before seeking to remove the splinter from her husband’s eye, so to speak.

One of the most profound experiences of God’s presence in my life came at one of the lowest moments of my life. It was a time when I deeply needed to feel his comfort, in the same way that an embrace from a loved one brings consolation in grief. I poured out my heart need as I fell into a restless sleep, and when I awoke at daybreak, the first thing my eyes saw was a cross glowing outside the window on the house across the way. Later, in the full light of day, I tried to discern what had created the optical illusion, the moonlight glowing off the brick perhaps; it didn’t matter. I had received exactly the assurance I needed when I needed it.

These encounters with God through prayer are so faith-affirming and joy-filled, how can we experience them more often? There are a couple of things that I’m finding to be helpful:

  1. Practice. The more I pray the more attuned I become to experiencing God’s response.
  2. Others focus. The more I pray intentionally for others the more God creates in me a heart for the unloved and even the unlovable, and helps me to see each person as he does, an infinitely precious child of the King.
  3. A goal of relationship. When the goal of my prayer is a closer walk with the Lord or a closer relationship with others, especially for the sake of reaching them for him, those prayers seem to get answered in the most miraculous of ways.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Here’s the other thing: Just the act of asking God opens our hearts to receive his answer. 

Have you ever received unsolicited advice? Chances are you either resented it or didn’t even hear it. I think the same is true of prayer.

The reason God invites, implores and prompts us to pray is because by the very act of asking we adopt a receptivity to God’s presence, seeking his perfect wisdom and will for our lives.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.

Matthew 7:7

Want to read more on prayer? Check out Can You Hear Me Now?Our Daily Rhythm #1 or Peace is Data-Free.

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