If God Already Knows, Why Pray?
Immediately following Jesus’ denunciation of the religious hypocrites in Matthew 6:5, who satisfied their craving for men’s approval by praying out loud on street corners, and his exhortation to those listening to not be like the Gentiles who “think they will be heard for their many words,” (Matthew 6:7), He made this amazing statement about the Father, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Jesus calls him not “the Father of Heaven and Earth,” though that surely is true, but “your Father.” The believer in Christ has a relationship that the unbeliever does not have. God is the Father of all in the sense that He is the Creator “from whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6), but He is the Father, relationally, only to the believer. The unconverted remain “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10). This relationship, which is based on grace alone through faith in Christ alone, thrives when we take our needs to the Father in prayer.
Legitimate questions might be asked, such as “If God already knows what we need, and the always-faithful Father has promised to meet our needs, then why bother to pray? Will he not meet our needs anyway?” However, if it were true that confidence in God’s omniscience and fatherly care discourages prayer, then Jesus would have stopped there. But he did not. Instead, he continued, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven’” and continued to teach the disciples how to pray, which included asking God daily for our most basic needs (Matthew 6:9-15).
The reason is quite simple. The process of prayer is more about changing us than it is about moving God to action. It is an act of worship, whereby our hearts are exercised in faith, not merely a religious ritual or another means to make our personal Christmas wish-list known. Yes, God is sovereign. However, in the exercise of his sovereign will, prayer is often the appointed means by which he meets our needs. The reason for this, I believe, is because our greatest need is not something we can lay our hands on. It is the transforming work of God in our hearts. It is the recognition of helplessness and the cultivation of humility, which gives rise to the discipline of self-debasing prayer, which we so desperately need. This is infinitely more valuable than any other need we may ask for, or gift we receive. When Jesus promised a “reward” for those who pray in secret, perhaps this refining work of God in our hearts is at least partly what He had in mind.