Why Pray?

Prayer might be mysterious, but it is a great gift from God:

My title question is not a rhetorical nor a theoretical one. It is a very real question, and one that all believers should contemplate. Many matters come to mind here. Part of the issue has to do with the fact that if God is omniscient and knows all things, then why pray? He already knows everything about us and what we need. He gains no new information and insights from us when we engage in petitionary prayer.

So why pray? Zillions of great books have been written on prayer, many of which deal with these very sorts of questions. Here I want to look at just one volume, and only part of it deals directly with prayer. It has actually been out for a while now, but I recently revisited it. I refer to God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith by Bruce Ware (Crossway, 2004).

You might recall that this author had previously penned God’s Lesser Glory (Crossway, 2004), in which he took to task the openness theologians who say, among other things, that God does not have exhaustive knowledge – certainly not exhaustive foreknowledge as is normally understood.

In God’s Greater Glory he looks further at some of these matters, especially focusing on the providence of God. Those wanting a helpful and thorough biblical and theological treatment of the issue of God’s sovereignty and how it ties in with human moral culpability and responsibility will find much of value here.

But even if you do not buy his theological stance on these issues, his closing chapters are both pastoral and practical. Thus Chapter 7 has to do with how all this ties in with prayer. And there we get the questions I already mentioned, such as: ‘If God already knows everything, why even bother to pray?’

He begins his chapter by reminding us of some basic biblical truths. While God made us and the world, he did not have to. He is complete and sufficient in himself. Indeed, the three persons of the Trinity have always enjoyed fellowship and community within the godhead. So God did not NEED to make man. As Ware writes:

God exists eternally independent of creation, possessing within himself, intrinsically and infinitely, every quality and perfection. All goodness is God’s goodness, and he possesses it in infinite measure. All beauty is God’s beauty, and he possesses it in infinite measure. All power and wisdom and every perfection or quality that exists, exists in God, who possesses each and every one infinitely and intrinsically. Therefore, God needs none of what he has made, and nothing external to God can contribute anything to him, for in principle nothing can be added to this One who possesses already every quality without measure. Instead, everything that exists external to God does so only because God has granted it existence and has filled it with any and every quality it possesses (Acts 17:24-25).

But God did create us. Not because he had to but because he wanted to. And Ware reminds us of this basic truth: while God is fully and perfectly self-sufficient and dependent on no one, we are fully dependent on God. Like a newborn baby, we are completely helpless and unable in the least to survive and thrive on our own. We owe everything to God.

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God's Greater Glory: The Exalted God Of Scripture And The Christian Faith by Ware, Bruce A. (Author) Amazon logo


This is where the amazing biblical truths about prayer come into play. Although God is perfectly sovereign and complete in himself, he has chosen to use the prayers of his people for his purposes. Again, he need not have even created us, let alone deign to take into account and make use of our prayers.

And again, God knows all about us and all about our needs. As Jesus said about our need of daily bread and clothing, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:32). So is prayer a waste of time then? Jesus did not think so.

Says Ware, “Clearly, Jesus doesn’t see a conflict between 1) our complete and total inability to inform God of anything, and 2) our prayers being meaningful, significant, and necessary.” He offers two major reasons why God has designed that his people pray. The first is this: he devised prayer “as a means to draw us into close and intimate fellowship with him.”

At this point let me interject with a quick personal story. Last night as I was looking at my Jilly dog, I thought that she too misses and is sad that Averil is gone. The trouble is, she cannot reason it through and properly process it all. She simply has a hole in her doggie soul.

But then I thought, ‘Am I really much different?’ Sure, I have reason, I have knowledge of God, I have a Bible, I have theology. But still… I too have a hole in my soul. I still also hurt and grieve and wonder why. Yes, I have plenty of biblical and theological answers, but still the questions remain, and the hurt goes on. So in a sense I am really not unlike Jilly in this regard.

So when I pray – or more often, when I just cry out to God with groanings and tears – I am not contributing any new knowledge or understanding to God. He fully knows what I am going through. And it is that process of drawing near to God in prayer which is what really matters. Says Ware:

One great and glorious reason why God devised prayer was as a mechanism to draw us to himself, to help us see how much we need him, to face us constantly with the realization that he is everything that we are not. We are weak, but he is strong; we are foolish, but he is wise; we are untrustworthy, but he is faithful; we are ignorant, but he knows everything; we are poor and empty, but he is rich and full. Imagine this: although God does not need any of what we bring to him in prayer, he longs for us to bring all that we do and so much more! He wants us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) in part because our need for him never ceases. Prayer is not instituted, then, as a means of helping God out. Just the opposite, it is for our sake, and for ours alone. In God’s commands to pray, we are compelled by the force of divine authority to come and drink of the living water, to receive bread from heaven, and to realize afresh moment by moment by moment that all that we long for, and everything that is good, is found in one and only one place: in God….


But that’s not all. Amazingly, God longs for us to know yet one more thing, and it is this: God loves to share the bounty. He loves being the Giver. He loves granting to his humble and dependent children what is best for them. He takes great pleasure in being the source of “every good gift and every perfect gift,” and he is lavish and generous and gracious and compassionate so that “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). Therefore, he summons his people . . . to pray.

Secondly, God devised prayer “as a means of enlisting us as participants in the work he has ordained, as part of the outworking of his sovereign rulership over all.” Our prayers do in fact make a difference. Yes, God is God, lacking nothing. Yet he has chosen to work through his people and their prayers. This is mind-boggling stuff. It is all about participation with God.

Ware writes: “Although God is fully capable of ‘doing it on his own,’ nonetheless, he enlists his people to join him in the work that is his, and his alone ultimately. And one chief means that he employs for our participation with him in this work is prayer. He offers five considerations on all this which I will here just present in outline form:

First, and central to what follows, God has designed not only that prayer come to be, but that prayer sometimes be a necessary means for accomplishing the ends he has ordained….


Second, prayer functions as a tool designed by God to enlist our participation in his work as we are led, by the Spirit, to have our minds and wills reshaped to the mind and will of God….


Third, prayer is God’s tool to enlist our participation in his work as we pray on behalf of others and so minister God’s grace to them….


Fourth, prayer enlists our participation in God’s work as we are made more fully aware of what he is doing and, as a result, praise him when it is accomplished….


Last, prayer is a tool designed by God to enlist our participation in his work as we persist in prayer, sometimes for long periods and through agonizing trials….

And as he states in his final paragraphs of this chapter:

Both God’s self-sufficiency and his sovereignty have wondrous implications for the Christian’s life of prayer. Even though prayer is not necessary to God, and even though his work could fully have been accomplished without the use of prayer, yet God has chosen the instrument of prayer to be a great and gracious gift to his children. By prayer, we are drawn into relationship with the One from whom all blessings flow; and by prayer, we are called into participation in the work of the One from whom all sovereign rulership is made known. Because God is self-sufficient, we come in prayer with joyous anticipation, knowing that in God’s grace he offers of his fullness for our emptiness and of his wisdom for our folly. We believe the word announced, that God “rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6b), and so we come and seek God in prayer, and we find in him our comfort, our strength, our direction, our forgiveness, our joy, indeed our life. And because God is sovereign, we come in prayer believing that God has ordained this instrument as his gracious tool by which he enlists us into participation in his glorious work. We are not mere bystanders, though many of God’s works simply unfold before us as we are granted eyes to see and to rejoice. Rather, we are involved participants through prayer in the very work of God himself, as prayer is made a necessary means for accomplishing much of God’s ordained work.


What satisfaction there is, then, to live life before the face of this God. Although he is both self-sufficient and fully sovereign, in his grace and love he calls us into rich and wondrous relationship, and he beckons us into meaningful and fruitful participation with him in the work he wills to accomplish. Even though prayer could be rendered pointless in light of God’s character, it is his very character itself that summons both our relationship and our participation with him. It is all of grace, then. All of God’s love. All out of his longing that we, his people, enter into the fullness of who he is and what he does. Yes indeed, the life of truest satisfaction is the one lived coram Deo.

Amen to all that. So does this now answer all our questions and solve all our problems? No. I still have heaps of questions and issues. But knowing that God DESIRES our fellowship and knowing that he has established prayer as one means by which he accomplishes his purposes, that has got to be a very good starting point indeed.

The truth is, we need not understand everything there is to know about God and prayer in order to keep praying. Whether we have things figured out to our full satisfaction or not, we are still commanded to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). So that we better do.

[1989 words]

5 Replies to “Why Pray?”

  1. At last! Thank you so much, Bill. I’ve been holding out to see what you had to say about prayer for ages and I certainly will be consulting the book/s that you’ve profiled in this section. Yes, prayer is an opportunity to contact our Lord and Saviour and in doing so, become aware of His will for our actions in our everyday lives, but sometimes too, to provide consolation to a wounded and grieving soul when one has gone through bereavement, as you and I both know. I suppose I have some other questions related to this, though (i) What would you consider the historic classics of Christian prayer? (ii) Are there particular forms of prayer that can help different aspects of our spiritual lives in Christ? More on this subject, please!!

  2. Thanks Rhona. Well, I typed the word “prayer” into the search field (top right) and 1280 article hits came back. So I guess I have written about prayer fairly often!

  3. Thanks Bill, you have covered the question ‘When God already knows everything, why pray?’ I like to remember the verse in Genesis 1:28 ‘And God blessed them and God said unto them, (Adam and Eve) “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ which to me means, we have been given this earth to look after, but as we’ve made a mess of it by not following his commandments we need to be like Jesus and get before God to pray about fixing things as Matthew 7:7-8 says ‘Ask, and it shall be given you’ seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:’
    You probably have covered all this in your other articles but here is a 26min video about prayer I just heard this morning for those who may or may not have time to read books on prayer https://www.bennyhinn.org/its-high-time-topray/?goal=0_03b5145c9e-42c418bc9a-170771269&mc_cid=42c418bc9a&mc_eid=0c4c805ea7

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