Why Do We Pray After All??

In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, the story’s hero, Odysseus, makes a terrible mistake: ticking off Poseidon, the god of the sea. He’s in a sticky predicament, because his road home requires an extensive sea journey. After years of vain efforts against Poseidon, Odysseus finally seeks the wisest man who ever lived, and finally solves his god problem. Just pray to Poseidon, offer him an enormous sacrifice, and voila, you’ll make it home safe.

For Odysseus, prayer is instrumental. It’s a means to an end: getting home. He doesn’t pray to Poseidon because he loves him; he prays to get something.

So is Christianity like this? Is prayer a means to an end?  In one sense Jesus answers yes,

…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)

Jesus says that prayer is a means to three ends:

1. Answers. God wants us to ask, that he might supply. He wants to be our strength when we are weak, our help amidst temptation, our provider. If we face a physical need, or sickness, it’s good to pray for healing, in God’s will.

2. God’s glory. When we pray, our need glorifies God as the all-sufficient, gracious, fulfiller of every human deficit. When he answers prayers we cannot take credit, instead we thank him.

3. Spiritual fruit. Christian maturity develops in our lives when we abide in Christ, because he is the sole source and power for sanctification. Prayer is active abiding; by prayer we trust and look to Jesus. Little prayer signifies that we functionally look to ourselves for strength and sanctification.

But Jesus’ advice on prayer doesn’t end there. He forces us to dig deeper into prayer,

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give to you. (John 15:16, emphasis added)

Why did Jesus choose and appoint us? So that fruit might grow in our lives. So that we might pray to the Father. Jesus is making it clear that prayer isn’t merely a means to an end, it is the end. It’s the very reason he saves us! So that we can be in a life-giving, life-transforming relationship with the Father. Prayer achieves the great end of communing with God.

Here’s where the Bible turns a unique corner in religious history. We don’t come to God like worms, whom he grudges and despises. We come to God because he’s invited us. We come as adopted sons and daughters, longing to spend time with our dear father.

Prayer is both a means and an end. Yet, whether means or an end, it’s all enabled by God’s gracious invitation to undeserving people. Personally, do we enjoy the means and the ends Jesus invites us to enjoy? Do we accept Jesus’ invitation to be in relationship with him in prayer? Are we enjoying the relationship god offers?

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