This morning at 4:30am, my phone rang. It was my mother. She was calling to inform me that my grandmother was hospitalized in the middle of the night. She was calling to ask me to pray.
What is the purpose of prayer? Isn’t God in control of all things? Why do we, as weak humans need to pray? Does God really hear us praying to Him? How is that even possible when potentially millions of people are praying at the same time around the world? All of these questions are worthy of a response. However, let’s consider the subject of prayer from two main vantage points – the privilege and purpose of prayer.
The Privilege of Prayer
In ancient times, to go before a king would be a privileged opportunity of a lifetime. Many people would live their entire lives without having the privilege to speak to the king or to stand before his throne. As we look back at Esther, she revealed to us the point that if a person was not summoned to stand before the king, to just enter into his presence unannounced would be a death sentence (Esther 4:10-11).
As we survey the worship practices of Israel in the Old Testament, we see that God provided the people with specific instructions regarding the construction of the mobile tabernacle. The book of Exodus contains the detailed instructions of this tent-like structure that was used for the purpose of worship. God desired for His people to worship Him and to worship Him in a specific manner. However, as we look at the tabernacle, it’s obvious that certain restrictions and boundaries were set in place. Only the Levite priests were called to enter the holy place to carry out the rituals of their worship practice and interact with the furniture that was inside. Behind the second veil was the most holy place and that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was located. Only the high priest could enter there into the direct presence of God and this was only on the day of atonement – Yom Kippur. All of Israel had to stand back from the presence of God.
After Jesus’ death on the cross, the temple veil was ripped in half (from top to bottom). Obviously God tore the veil and made a statement in the process. We have access to enter the presence of God through Jesus Christ. This is what the writer to the Hebrews explained in Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
We can now enter the holy places with confidence by the blood of Jesus. Jesus has opened for us the curtain – through his own flesh. What would have been a death sentence to rush before the presence of God in the holy of holies is now a privilege that God has granted to His children. It’s not that we must pray or that we have to pray. The right attitude towards prayer is that we are privileged to pray.
The Purpose of Prayer
God doesn’t need us. Sometimes we get the wrong picture of God. He is self-existent and self-reliant. He doesn’t get board and He doesn’t need companions or friends. He created humanity and all of the expanse of the universe simply for His glory. Therefore, when we pray, we aren’t informing God of anything. He doesn’t need to read the USA Today or New York Times. God possesses perfect knowledge at all times – without depending on the newsfeed from any Apple device. So, what’s the point of prayer?
The main foundation of prayer is to demonstrate our need for God. Simply put – we are needy people and our greatest need is not air to breathe or food to eat. Our greatest need in this life and the life to come is God. In one of his sermons on prayer, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Man is at his greatest and highest when on his knees he comes face to face to God.”
The right posture of prayer is humility as we consider the transcendence of God and His sovereign control over our small brief life. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines prayer by saying, “Prayer is personal communication with God.” While this is a rather broad definition, it’s true. We communicate with God and this communication involves praise, needs, worship, and confession of sin. John Bunyan, the puritan preacher from England, wrote I Will Pray With the Spirit and With the Understanding Also- or, A discourse touching prayer while he was in prison in 1662. He defines prayer as follows:
“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to the Word of God, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”
As we consider the big picture of life, we immediately come to realize that we can’t meet the multifaceted needs of our world. We can’t even meet the diverse needs of our own small life. In prayer, we beseech the throne of God in humility and confidence to ask for His will to be done. We ask for the need to be met. We pray in the early hours of the morning for our church family. As I prayed for my grandmother this morning, I’m trusting in my sovereign God to heal her body and restore her health. I can’t do that. I need God.
We need God, therefore we pray. As we continue through life, we must avoid the idea that we need Apple devices more than we need God. A person who doesn’t pray is saying – “God – I don’t need you.” May we all avoid such self reliance. When you and I battle with prayer and what to say as we pray, turn to Psalm 73:25-26 and start off your prayer with this text:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.