Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer of Prayer: Why should we pray? (Ole Hallesby)

To many this problem seems easy to solve. We should pray, they say, in order to get God to give us something!

So simple does it appear to them.

But a moment's reflection will convince us that this view of prayer is pagan and not Christian. We all have so much of the pagan left in us that it is easy for us to look upon prayer as a means whereby we can make God kind and good, and grant our prayer. But the whole revelation of God teaches us that this is to misunderstand both God and prayer completely.

God is in Himself good, from eternity and to eternity; He was good before humanity had any occasion for prayer. The Scriptures also teach us that God is equally kind and good whether He grants our prayers or not. When he grants our prayers, it is because He loves us. When He does not, it is also because he loves us.

Others say, "No, the purpose of prayer is to tell God what we need."

But neither is this solution adequate to the problem involved in Christian prayer. By the revelation of God we Christians are convinced that as far as God is concerned it is not at all necessary for us to explain our needs to Him. On the contrary, God alone fully understands what each one of us needs; we make mistakes continually and pray for things which would be harmful to us if we received them. Afterwards we see our mistakes and realize that God is good and wise in not giving us these things, even though we plead ever so earnestly for them.

But this again throws us into a quandary as to why we should pray at all.

If God gives of His own accord, and if He does not need to be told by us what to give, why should we pray at all?

This question is not one of mere theoretical interest. It is one of great practical importance because of the way it affects our views both of God and of prayer. The question is in reality this: Why does God give us His gifts before we pray, even without our prayer, since He is Himself good, and since it is His will to give us these things, an since He does not need any suggestions from us?

In answering this question, we must take as our starting point the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:45, "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." In these words Jesus reveals clearly that aspect of God's perfect love according to which He gives everybody all that He can persuade them, in one way or another, to accept.

"On the evil and on the good," says Jesus. The evil do not ask Him for it, but He gives it to them nevertheless. The good ask, to be sure; but if they did not receive more than they prayed for, they would not receive very much. Hence both have this in common, that they receive a great deal from God without asking for it.

Why do they receive these things without asking?

Simply because God is love. And the essence of love is to give: give all it has to give, give all it can without bringing harm to the loved one, give all it can persuade the loved one to accept.

That God gives some gifts to people without their prayer and other gifts only to those who pray, can be accounted for by the simple fact that there is a wide difference in kind between these gifts.

All people accept some of God's gifts; this is true, for instance, of temporal gifts. They are given without our prayer.

But we close our hearts to some of God's other gifts; this is true of all the gifts which pertain to our salvation. These gifts God cannot bestow upon us before He can persuade us to open our hearts and receive them voluntarily. And, as we have seen above, prayer is the organ whereby we open our hearts to God and let Him enter in.

Here we see why prayer is essential.

It is not for the purpose of making God good or generous. He is that from all eternity.

Nor is it for the purpose of informing God concerning our needs. He knows what they are better than we do. Nor is it for the purpose of bringing God's gifts down from heaven to us. It is He who bestows the gifts, and by knocking at the door of our hearts, He reminds us that He desires to impart them to us.

No, prayer has one function, and that is to answer "Yes," when He knocks, to open the soul and give Him the opportunity to bring us the answer.

This throws light on the struggles and strivings, the work and the fasting connected with prayer. All these things have but one purpose: to induce us to open our hearts to receive all that Jesus is willing to give, to put away all those things which would distract us and prevent us from hearing Jesus knock, that is, from hearing the Spirit of prayer when He tries to tell us what God is waiting to give us if we will only ask for it.

[The Contemporaries Meet the Classics on Prayer, compiled by Leonard Allen, Howard Publishing 2003, pp. 7-10]