For most of my life I didn’t understand the point of prayer. God knows the future, I can’t change His will – why bother praying? In Making Time for Prayer I talked a little about why prayer matters for us as individuals, but just as important is why our prayer matters for those we love. But if everyone has free will, and we can’t change God’s will, what exactly can our prayer do for them?
God has given prayer immense power because through it we can release graces that He has been waiting to bestow on us and on others. Does He need our intercession to dispense His grace? Of course not. But He loves us and wants us to participate in the work begun by His Son. So God has ordained that for certain graces to be released they must be called down by you and me in prayer! This is why St. Paul wrote, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1).
I had a teacher explain it in this memorable way: if a parent wants to bake cookies, he doesn’t need his three-year-old’s help. In fact, letting little Johnny help will result in the process taking longer, creating more of a mess, and the cookies themselves coming out not quite as perfectly. But the father loves his child, and so it’s his pleasure to make Johnny happy by letting him help. It lets Johnny know his dad loves him, that he’s important. It’s an analogy that fits well with prayer because our Father doesn’t need our prayers to rain down any of His blessings. But He loves us, and has given us the dignity of knowing that what we do matters, for ourselves and for others. So He chooses to let us help through prayer (needless to say this holds true for many other actions related to salvation).
Yet the analogy eventually breaks down because whether or not the cookies get baked doesn’t matter, but whether or not we pray is of the greatest importance. If our prayers have an effect, the natural corollary is that a failure to pray also has an effect (or lack of an effect). If God has reserved certain blessings to be released only when we pray, then that means He won’t release them unless we pray. Sometimes I honestly don’t feel like praying, but this thought always drives me to my knees. My prayers matter, they are needed. And so are yours, for your family, friends and all others you pray for!
It can be tempting to view prayer as an obligation or a burden, but in truth it’s an immense privilege. Through prayer, God has given us the great gift (and, admittedly, responsibility) of being able to play a part in the salvation of others. How amazing is that? You and I get to affect other people’s eternities!
I can’t wait for the day when all will be revealed in Heaven and we (God willing we’re there!) will know the many people whose prayers and actions brought us closer to the Lord. And we likewise will be able to see the incredible effects our prayers and good deeds had on others, even on those we never met. Oh what rejoicing there will be as we thank the Lord for all the people who have made a difference for us, and together spend eternity glorifying Him!
Special thanks to Dave Turri for witnessing to this truth in such a powerful way that (way-back-when) it made me rethink my prayer life