Prayer really has more than one purpose. Typically we think of prayer as asking God to do something; when we pray we are attempting to move God to act. And sometimes prayer will, in fact, serve this function. Sometimes we will ask God for active recovery, and He will heal. Sometimes we will ask God for food or clothes or lease money or mortgage cash and He responds.
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More often, though, we ask God to intervene in our lives in our favor and He does not. As William Cowper writes, “Sometimes a light surprises a Christian as he sings” – sometimes, not often, and certainly not always. Most of the objections I’ve heard or read about prayer assume that the sole purpose for prayer is to have God intervene on our behalf. And people know that God doesn’t always (or even often) say,”Yes,” to our prayers. So getting God to do things for us is perhaps not sufficient reason to pray. It certainly is not a sufficient reason to keep praying, because it doesn’t consistently work.
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But prayer can serve different purposes. Grief counselors tell us that the bereaved report that telling the story over again of how their loved one died seems to alleviate the pain of it.
So consider prayer in this context. God is the ultimate secure audience, the Being of supreme compassionate love. Repeating our cares and worries to Him over and over again softens the emotional effect of those concerns and cares. So at least one purpose in asking God for things is to come to some level of internal comfort, regardless of whether our scenarios change.
Consider also that organized religion and group prayer are social activities. When we express the concerns of our life to a group, after which individuals of the group, or the entire group, really pray about our concerns, we feel validated. We learn that other people care about what’s important to us.
We also get training at (at least) pretending that what is of concern to others is important to us as well. We must put on at the façade of being taken out of entirely focusing on our own lives and caring about the life span of others. And one of the enormous advantages of acting better than we are is that sometimes, the acting leads to reality.