The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (fifth edition) defined prayer as ‘a solemn request or expression of thanks to God or to an object of worship.’ The footnote of the Christian Community Bible (Catholic Pastoral Edition – p.155 of the New Testament) says that: To pray is to take the time to listen, to meditate in silence on the work of God, secretly present, and slip into His will. Other sources have defined prayer as communication with God, and the raising of our heart and mind to God. Whichever way you see it, all these definitions are interconnected, as they talk about: communing with God (expressively in words or meditatively), an act that can only be attained spiritually (as it involves the raising of our mind and heart to Him), and waiting on God for answer (either by silently listening for it, or leaving the worry and battle of our life to Him, or working in faith in accordance with our request of Him), thereby completing the process of communication. Therefore, praying encompasses all the above definitions and can also be simply put as ‘a spiritual and conscious communication with God. It is conscious because the parties of communication ought to be aware of each or one another. And with God, this means that the praying person is aware of his oneness of heart and mind with God attained by his spiritual elevation to Him.
Some common statements of condolence are made in turbulent times with the intension of consoling the aggrieved. These statements include: Take heart, it is an act of God; It is the will of God; All things work for good if you believe in Him. As true as these statements might be, their effectiveness is dependent on the discretion at the time and the attitude of conveying them, otherwise the aggrieved would undermine the sympathizer’s appreciation or grasp of the bitter situation or simply regard him or her as unpleasant. Almost everything (good or bad) is attributed to be the will of God, and might at times cause some aggrieved persons to ask in frustration: “Why bother to pray if only His will is done?” This thereby discourages some from praying and encourages some others into crime (since it may not be God’s will to be caught in the act or be prevented from causing others pain). This text is not to explain why bad things happen to people, neither is it to validate or dispute the claim that all is God’s will. Rather, it is to answer the reason for which we pray. We pray for the following reasons:
We pray to keep up good relationship with God as our Father, our brother and our friend (as in the Holy Trinity). Relating with the Trinity evokes some feeling that overwhelms our whole being and brings us to some height of joy and peace that seem inexplicable in worldly terms and understanding. It is a beginning of one’s heaven on earth, as one shares in the joys of the angels and saints above. Little wonder heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner, because his point of remorse is his point of contact with God. It is as joyful in heaven to get the attention of men as it is for men to give that attention. The Lord gave a lot to attract the attention, even to the point of giving His only begotten Son. And so, it would be unbecoming and ungrateful of us not to give Him the attention, but be shamed when stones come to live to do so instead (Lk. 19:40). He is happy when we recognize Him and His meaning in our life, and we are equally happy sharing in the spillage or fullness of His own happiness. Praying is not a cumbersome ritual, but something we do for our own happiness, shared with heaven, indefinable in human terms, and unattainable without contact. And as if this is not enough, we get to benefit also in the feeling of truly being His sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends – by sharing in the gifts and virtues of His Spirit, manifesting His works and abilities to the glory of His name and the good of mankind. And furthermore, to be perfect as He desires us to be: for in showing me your friend, I will be able to tell who you are. Making a friend of God through prayer can make you outstanding in the eyes of men – because as a friend influences you to be like him or her, so will God do to you.
There have been testimonies of people who were greatly burdened by sins and depression, which only took them a kneeling to God to be renewed and greatly relieved. We pray in order to ease ourselves of unnecessary burdens and carry the yoke of Christ instead (do not think the journey is smooth – but with God, the yoke is made light – Mt. 11:28-30) A relationship is built with the Lord in prayer as in a couple who make time to communicate with each other or as in parents-children and teacher-pupil interaction, which leads to great understanding of the other and a rediscovery of oneself. As you bare your burdens to the Lord, He bares the knowledge of Himself to fill your emptied heart, thus the enlightenment that changes your perception of life and way of living.
We pray also to see, where we are blind. Every member of a body is important; it takes losing one to appreciate this. A blind man does not see the light of day or even that of night, and so this is considered as an unfortunate illness, even when all his other senses are fully activated so as, to an extent, make up for this deficiency. A man who is spiritually blind lives in waste, as he is blind to his purpose in life as years pass by and his time shortens. His purpose would sooner be given to someone else (Mt. 25:28-29 & Lk. 13:6-9) to fulfill God’s will still. So we pray in order that God might heal our spiritual blindness so that we might see His purpose in our life towards fulfilling His will on earth as it is in heaven rather than relinquishing it for someone else and delaying its fulfillment – for heaven and earth will pass away, His word will still be done (Lk. 21:33). The Israelites lengthened a journey of probably forty days to forty years because of their stubborn blindness towards their God. In addition to knowing His will, we pray for His spiritual strength and guidance to encourage and strengthen us towards reaching out and taking steps to fulfilling this will, as well as teaching and directing us in His wisdom on how to go about it.
Finally (but certainly not the last of reasons), we pray to obtain certain favours from God. We desire to own our own house, car, and clothes, among other things, for comfort rather than necessity. The Lord encourages us to ask, seek and knock and we shall receive, find and be let in (Mt. 7:7); after all, where does our help come from, but from Him who made heaven and earth (Ps. 120). Some may question that some people, who neither believe nor pray to God, enjoy this comfort. It is pertinent therefore to note that God created all things, and all glory go to Him for such grace and every other grace. Therefore, we should take into cognizance the example of the rich fool (Lk. 12: 16-21), and avoid playing the ‘innocent-ignorant’, because the penalty might be more serious than the truly ignorant – Lk. 12:47-48 – (even a pagan shows gratitude to his god).
Does anyone still question why we pray? If so, there are more reasons in addition to the above, which I pray God reveals to the person/s, to convince them. But to those who for their adamancy to remain doubtful of the usefulness of prayer, and instead take life for granted (by committing crimes), it is an advice that you at least give a chance to prayer. This is because sometimes it is for your sakes that God does spectacular miracles to win your faith (for blessed are those who do not see but believe – Jn. 20-29); otherwise, be set for the reward of your evil: Prov. 16:4 – God made everything for a purpose, even the evildoer for the day of punishment.
By Ifeanyi O.C.
Written 30th of September 2005