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Why Do We Pray?

Written by Mark Riner on

“Dear father in heaven…show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God!” This cry, uttered by the fictional George Bailey, has become a hallmark line in the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George says these words just before he is thrust into an alternate reality in which he was never born—all to teach him a valuable lesson.

A Desperate Cry to God

George Bailey’s prayer has always stuck out in my mind. Maybe it sticks out, in part, because of the heartfelt passion in his voice or the enticement of a classic movie. Ultimately, though, it is because his prayer is so relatable. He is about to go to jail for bank fraud and is, as he puts it, at the end of his rope. So, he cries out to God in prayer.

We all have stories like these, where, in desperate times, we cry out to God for help. We have sick loved ones, financial difficulties, and family struggles. In those times, we pray. But why?

First: Understanding God’s Sovereignty

“Sovereignty” is a big term that we use to describe how God is in control of all things. In government, a sovereign king or ruler is one that has ultimate power. He decides all things, controls all things, and answers to no one. This is our God.

Every decision is from the Lord (Prov. 16:33), who does not answer to the nations nor to man. He does, as Psalm 115 explains, “all that he pleases.” These verses, along with countless others,  tell us that God is sovereign. He is in control of all things.

Why Do We Pray?

that is one reason why we pray! J.I. Packer explains this well in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. He says,

“In prayer, you ask for things and give thanks for things. Why? Because you recognize that God is the author and source of all the good that you have had already, and all the good that you hope for in the future. This is the fundamental philosophy of Christian prayer. The prayer of a Christian is not an attempt to force God’s hand, but a humble acknowledgment of helplessness and dependence.”

We pray because we know that God is the one with the power to change things. If God controls even the most random events (as described in Proverbs 16:33), then it is God who is in control of the state of our nation, a loved one’s surgery, or, in George Bailey’s case, the outcome of an impossible financial and legal situation.

God Is Personal

Knowing that God is sovereign is not the only reason why we pray. Many believe in the sovereignty of God, but don’t pray at all! This is because we must also believe that God is personal.

In A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D.A. Carson states it this way, “He presents Himself to us not as raw power or irresistible force, but as Father, as Lord.” In other words: God relates to us and communes with us. He has spoken to us through his Word and has made himself known to us.

Think of Abram pleading for God to not destroy Sodom if any righteous people remain in the city (Gen. 18:22-33). The holy, perfect, sovereign God talked with Abram. He listened to Abram, Or think of the ultimate picture of our personal God: God was born a man on this earth, lived a human life, and died for our sin. Jesus lived as we live, he has felt what we have felt; and he died and rose again that we may live. There is no greater example of what it means to be personal and relational.

The Lord desires to be close to us. He wants us to “not be anxious about anything,” and to bring every request to him but “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” (Phil. 4:6).

God is personal, relational, and desires for us to talk to him. That is why we pray.

Belief & Trust

God is sovereign. God is personal. To many of us, these are things we have been taught our whole lives in the church. You may have even skimmed the last two sections because those two truths are nothing new to you. Yet, even those of us who know those truths often have prayer lives that don’t demonstrate a belief in them. There is a difference between knowledge and belief. What we believe is shown by our actions. That’s why we often turn to prayer in the direst of situations—those “George Bailey” situations.

Seeking God in the Everyday

Our everyday lives can be void of prayer, of conversation with the sovereign and personal God. Our everyday lives often reveal a belief that we are in control, or that we trust in something else. Ed Welch gives us insight when he says,

“Think about it. You will trust in something or someone; that’s part of being human. You will trust in your silos, your spouse, your wealth, your loved ones, your cunning, or your health—or you will trust in the Lord. Trust in things that are untrustworthy, and you are trusting in quicksand. You are trusting in things that cannot sustain the weight of your trust.”

In areas of our lives that lack prayer, it is evident we trust in things besides God. We show that we don’t really believe God to be sovereign and personal. We functionally show that we believe God is the one to handle the impossible things—like saving a spouse or healing a child—but not the everyday struggles and anxieties.

As you examine your prayer life—what you have been actually believing and trusting—let it drive you to a more continual communion. Let it spur you on to a deeper conversation with the God who is in control of all things, the God who deeply cares for you more intimately and personally than you could imagine.

Mark Riner

Mark serves College Park as the Leadership Development Pastoral Resident. He is passionate about helping others understand and apply the Bible and theology to their everyday lives. Mark loves spending time with his wife, Brittany; their two children, Maggie and Calvin; and other friends and family.

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