...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14) And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-7).
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (Revelation 8:3-4).
“If God already knows everything that’s going to happen, then why pray?” Sometimes this question comes from an honest curiosity. Many times, however, it comes from our own hearts when we feel like our prayers are hitting the ceiling. “After all,” we begin to think, “God’s strong enough to get his will done without us. So, it doesn’t really matter, does it?” This is the first step down a slippery slope that leads to our spiritual apathy.
Does God know the future? Yes. Does God control the events of the future? Yes. Does that therefore mean that we shouldn’t pray? No. Why? Because God is a listening God, and he delights to act in history in response to our prayers.
The times of the kings of Israel were marked with great highs and some startling lows. In the midst of this roller coaster, God made a promise to his people. If they would humble themselves, turn from sin, and seek him in prayer, God would listen. The same is true today.
But of course, we don’t believe that God will really just listen to us. That’s why we decorate our simple cries to our Father with extra, superfluous, religious language. We don’t really believe that God is good enough to know us and our needs intimately. We work those religious reflexes in a vain attempt to get God’s attention. What we don’t realize is that this lack of faith in God’s listening skills actually shuts his ears to us.
Christian, God is listening. He hears and he answers your prayers. “But I’ve been praying for years and he still hasn’t come through.” Now think of that for a moment. If my children ask me for something, I will often say, “Yes, but later.” Why should we be surprised if God says the same thing. Sometimes, God tells us “no,” and other times, “yes.” Whatever we pray, we always get an answer, because God has a will concerning everything we bring to him.
In Revelation, we’re told that our prayers arise before God like sweet smelling incense. Another image is that these prayers fill up bowls, which God pours back out when he answers us. What’s the point? The point is that God takes our prayers seriously. He hears. He listens. And, because of Christ, we know that he responds. The promise he gave us is that our “heavenly Father already knows what we need.” He has provision prepared for our prayers. Let us then happily and humbly ask him.