Thursday, August 25, 2011


What is prayer? Talking to God. Every Christian knows that. But what are you talking to God about? What is your purpose in praying? That's where you start getting different answers depending on who you ask, and where and when you ask them. Because you can talk to God about anything, for any reason. But what I want to talk about right now is petitionary prayer: when you ask God for something.

Not the earliest, but probably the most well-known, instance of petitionary prayer is found in the Lord's prayer: give us this day our daily bread. Asking God to give you your food for the day. But there's more. James tells us "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). What's more, 1 John tells us that "If we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." (1 John 5:14). Possibly the coolest example of petitionary prayer is found in Daniel. Daniel sees a vision and fasts for three weeks, praying to God that he may understand the vision. At the end of the three weeks, an angel appears and says, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words" (Daniel 10:12).

James links the giving of wisdom to the asking for wisdom, and John says God hears us "if we ask." Some Christians seem to think that the only purpose prayer has is to draw us closer, spiritually, to God. To align ourselves more closely with him. And that is indeed one of the main purposes of prayer, possibly the main purpose. But it is not the only purpose. Look at Daniel's prayer. The angel has come "because of [Daniel's] words." Daniel's prayer literally sets celestial events into motion, resulting not only in an answered prayer but also an angelic showdown between the "prince of Persia" and Michael the freaking archangel. That is unbelievably awesome.

Prayer has the power to literally change the world: without Daniel's prayer, we don't have that vision. We don't have the explanation--at least, not in the same way. The Bible would be different if the authors had not prayed.  And I think Christians every day operate on this basic assumption that prayer can change things, even if unconsciously. When you pray for someone to get well, what are you praying for? Are you asking God to merely watch something happen that was already going to happen naturally? Ludicrous. Why are you praying at all, if you are asking that? You are asking God to supernaturally heal someone. To change the world, or at least the small bit of the world that you and your friend inhabit. Christians have the unique privilege of talking to God, and the Bible teaches us that when we ask God to change the world, he will. We need to use that privilege.


  1. Great stuff, as I've just started teaching a six month study to my adult Sunday School class on prayer. I liked that you termed it as a "privilege". Do we remember that it is just that?...not enough of the time, I'm afraid.

  2. Question: Is "Michael the freakin' archangel" in the NIV or NAS version?

  3. That would be the ESV, I believe. And I agree that we forget that it is a privilege. Not only that, but we forget that it is awesome. Asking the all-powerful Creator to change the world can become a mundane habit, about as interesting as brushing our teeth.