Why Do We Pray? We Pray to Know God

 
deepsest“What should I pray for? What do I really want?” Here the Bible challenges us to ask a different question. In fact, what we pray for is not even the most important question. It is why we pray.

We Pray Because God is Worthy of Our Prayers

As it turns out, praying is not primarily about us at all. It is all about God.

We pray because what we really want, above all else and in the deepest places of our being, is to know God. That is our heart’s desire, whether we know it consciously or feel it deeply. That does not mean that we should not pray for God to heal a sick child or to heal a broken marriage or to bring peace to a conflicted part of the world.

These prayers are worthy; we are right to pray them. Yet the supreme end of all praying is to know God, however worthy our requests are. God is our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. Everything we are — our ability to move and think, our capacity to love, our inclination to pray — depends on God. He is like the air we breathe, like the food that feeds us, like the water that keeps us alive. C. S. Lewis wrote,

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on… God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

We try to satisfy our deepest longings with lesser things, however good those things are. But it is all in vain. God Himself has given us those things to enjoy, but He never wants us to mistake them for what is ultimate and essential. Thus, as Lewis observed, God withholds the happiness and security we want so that we won’t settle for anything less than God Himself.

When our relationship with God is foremost to us, all other loves, longings, and pleasures actually increase. Lewis writes:

When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards that state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

We pray, then, not to get something but to know someone, like a lover who relishes a relationship for its own sake and not for what he can get from it, such as pleasure or security or popularity. 
  
Whether we know it or not, we long for God’s presence above everything else, for God is our true home. That is really why we pray. That God answers our specific requests is wonderful. But it is all secondary.

Our deepest longings are for God.

But we might not always feel that way. I know that I don’t. Perhaps you don’t either. I want to know God, to be sure; but I would like to have my family back, too. It is hard not to long for the things that matter most to us. Nor should we even try. Our challenge is to love God more and to seek Him above all.

The epic story of Job underscores this point. Job is a good and righteous man. He has a big, happy family, great wealth, and a sturdy faith. Even God seems to marvel at Job. But Satan challenges God to a contest. Satan thinks that Job is a good and godly man because God has been so good to him. Deprive Job of his prosperity, Satan says, and Job will turn against God.

So God lets Satan make life miserable for Job. Job loses all his children, his wealth, and finally his health. Three friends visit Job to comfort him and to offer him advice. Relying on conventional wisdom, all three try to persuade Job to repent of his sins, for in their minds Job is suffering because he has sinned against God. He is getting exactly what he deserves.

Job refuses to accept this explanation, believing that there is more going on than meets the eye. He knows he is not perfect, but he also knows that there are far worse people than he is who have not suffered to the same degree. Job argues with his friends, he struggles to understand, he wrestles with God.

But he does not forsake his faith, nor does he curse God.

Finally, God becomes immediately, overwhelmingly, and undeniably present in Job’s life. The story does not tell us how. Job describes this ineffable experience in a series of rhetorical questions that God asks of Job. The questions underscore God’s greatness and power. The questions also make Job cower, put him in his place, and make him feel as small and insignificant as a fleck of dust. When the experience is over, Job can think of nothing to say, except — amazing as this sounds — to offer an apology for his presumption and ignorance.

He is simply overwhelmed just being in the presence of God.

Thus, he says to God:

I know that You can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. — Job 42:2-3, Job 42:5-6

Job encountered the living God in some kind of mystical experience. That much we know. The encounter stretched language and logic to the limit. Words failed him. Job became utterly still and silent, struck dumb by the unspeakable presence of God. He had no more questions, he made no more demands, he claimed no more rights. He simply bowed and surrendered because he had finally received what he most needed and longed for — an encounter with the living God.

Do I believe that this is truly what I want? Is this what you want? Perhaps not. But it is what we need all the same.

Excerpted with permission When God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer by Jerry Sittser, copyright Zondervan.