Book Extract: The Purpose of Prayer

The following extract is taken from Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic by Henry Neufeld.

I often tell classes on prayer that prayer is more than 90% about getting you onto God’s program, and less than 10% about petitions. You commune with God, and God puts you on the right track. The time when your faith will move mountains is the time when your faith has you so tuned with God that you want the mountain to move at the same time God does. I would affirm with scripture that God does perform miracles. (I keep the proviso that we might find that all miracles actually aren’t—that they are simply the operation of some of God’s natural laws that we didn’t know about.) I even affirm with scripture that God acts in answer to prayer. How this works, I don’t really know.

But getting these things to happen is not the purpose of prayer. In fact, prayer designed largely to get things my way is likely to be very unsuccessful. And in most cases, prayer answered is going to be hard to demonstrate. How do you know that your prayer had an impact on a particular situation? The fact is, outside of communion with God, looking through the eye of faith (and faith is itself a perspective) you cannot feel or know that some action is a “special” act of God. Faith sees what the sign is pointing to.

Now this may not seem too exciting. You mean I must pray and pray and pray, and what changes is really me? Isn’t there an easier way?

Not really. There is no easier way. Our interaction with God is a relationship. That explains why we are to ask, when God already knows. If prayer is about getting the stuff that we want, is there any purpose in asking God, who already knows? But relationships take time. They require communication. There’s nothing quite like asking my wife what she thinks, even though I might think I already know. Is there any reason to tell her I love her over and over? She already knows. (Anyone who doubts me on this is welcome to try the experiment of silence on their spouse. Just don’t complain to me about the results!)

Prayer is the means of communication in our relationship with God. If we have communicated, prayer worked. No, it’s not testable, but those of you who have communed with God understand the experience. If we present it as such, and not as a way to get God to bend to our desires, I think we will find our discussions much more fruitful.

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