My dad was weeping when he called to tell me his best friend had passed away. Healthy, vibrant and only 55 years old, the sly-humored everyman was brought to his knees by a heart attack while standing in his own driveway. He died in his wife’s arms a few moments later. And because this man meant so much to our church and especially my family, the abruptness of his passing hit us hard and sudden.
Over the next few days as the news of the event spread, I began to see Facebook posts and tweets asking for prayers of comfort and healing for the family. As a close-knit Church often does, our congregation was rallying around this crestfallen clan and asking everyone to seek God’s love and mercy so that He might prop them up in grace throughout their difficult time. Yet, as I read the numerous statuses and 140-character messages of caring devotion, one question began to run rampant through my still-reeling mind: Why?
It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the grieving family this great man had left behind. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I hurt for them and with them, and I shared in their sudden and brutal loss.
No, I was haunted by this question because I wondered what good it might do to ask God to comfort this family. After all, He’s a benevolent God, and there was no doubt He was already surrounding these hurting people with His love and grace and mercy without my instructing or requesting Him to do so. He didn’t need me pointing Him in their direction. He had been there all along.
As the days passed and the attention surrounding the death slowly receded, I began to wonder on the essence of prayer and why it is we pray in the first place. As Christians who strive to abide in the ways of Christ, we appreciate that our lives and their happenings are at the mercy of God’s will. How free will and God’s will harmonize together is any mortal’s guess, but we can take heart to know that nothing that happens in our lives is a surprise to God, nor outside His reach.
Everything that takes place, even as the result of our own choices and free will, are not outside His realm of divine will. As our lives progress, His plan is what shapes us into who we are called to be.
So if our lives are at the gracious mercy of His will, do our prayers of hopeful requests and fervent accolades do any good? What is the basis for our continually seeking God’s face if His will wins out every time, regardless? Is prayer of any practical use—even the times of meaningful worship and praise—when our God already knows every thought and emotion we have about Him before they even pass through us?
If this is indeed true, it would seem that God doesn’t actually need our prayers. He is in control today and always. And though we ask for this or pray for that, He knows what’s best for us and our lives, and He provides accordingly.
And yet, the very creation of our existence speaks to more.
Just like every other living creation, we were made to praise and worship our God. We were built to offer prayer and supplication to the One who breathed life into our bones. Except only humans were given the choice to forgo our charge of lifting God up through worship. We were given the gift of free will, and with it, the ability to choose for ourselves whether we want to do that which we were created to. That measure of provided freedom leads us to the realization that our prayers aren’t a forgone conclusion, but a direct choice each of us gets to make.
When we submit our prayers and conversations to Him, we are choosing to worship Him—to magnify Him in ways no other creature can.
We have the freedom of will to forgo a time of communion with Him, so when we willfully bend our hearts in prayer, we are offering the greatest tribute our feeble lives can muster. We are choosing to spend time with Him. And as complicated as we can make our relationship with Him, our ability to consciously decide to worship Him is the very reason our prayers are held in such high regard.
Our prayers may be ripe with requests or for divine favor, but at their absolute heart, we find they are beautiful conversations with a kind and loving Father who actually wants to converse with us. We may be lost and hurting, seeking direction or inspiration, or we may simply be aching to offer Him our praise, but through it all, prayer is a choice that honors God because it says we love and submit ourselves to Him.
Prayer isn’t something God needs—as if it’s a tool or a method to enact a desired response. But it is something God wants—an open invitation to grow close to our heavenly Father.
Cory Copeland is a writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Bri. You can follow him on Twitter @Cory_Copeland and read more of his writing at CoryCopeland.net.