Why Pray?
“When I pray, coincidences happen;
when I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening.”[1]
William Temple
I get a lot of questions about prayer. Perhaps you do too. Those new in the Christian faith, or those deepening their faith, or even those who remain outside of the faith are always curious about the mechanics of prayer and whether I believe that prayer really is necessary or makes a difference. I have been asked these questions long before I was ordained as a priest, a vocation that some seem to think qualifies me as a “professional pray-er!”
Too many times, the questioner has had an experience of unanswered prayer which is behind this question, “Why pray?” And since I have also had unanswered prayers, I take this question very seriously. I pray because Jesus prayed. All. The. Time. And Jesus calls his followers into a life of prayer as well, giving us instructions in prayer through the gift of what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It is both a prayer in and of itself as well as a method for prayer given to us by our Lord.
When we read Jesus saying “[Y]our Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8b) it is natural to ask, “Why pray?” Why pray if God already knows what our needs are and how he is going to respond to them?
In his essay “The Efficacy of Prayer,” C. S. Lewis asserts that our prayers and actions do not really change God’s mind or God’s over-all purpose. But, says Lewis, our prayers and actions can collaborate with God such that God’s “purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.”[2] Similarly, several generations later, Rowan Williams writes of the purpose of prayer, “We pray, we act in ways that have some chance of shaping a situation so that God can come more directly in.”[3]
Prayer does not likely change God’s mind but changes us. Prayer places us in the presence of God and that is a healing and precious and precarious place to be. In that place of prayer, we become vulnerable, vulnerable because we are asking for something that is beyond our power or means to provide. We risk not getting what we want when we pray. Prayer, in essence, is the path of humility. And, that is something God can work with, if Psalm 25:9 is correct when it says, “[The Lord] leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.”

[1] Original cite unknown. Quote found in N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 68.
[2] C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, found in The Essential C. S. Lewis, ed. Lyle W. Dorsett (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1988), 381.
[3] Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 45.
The Rev. Sharron L. Cox
Associate for Spiritual Formation and Pastoral Ministries
If you know someone who would like to receive our daily devotions,
please forward your copy to a friend.
To reply to this devotional, please email
the Rev. Sharron Cox at scox@stmartinsepiscopal.org.