Doesn’t God Already Know My Needs?
“Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints.”
As we saw last week, praying in the Spirit speaks of a prayer that transcends the mere words as spoken from our lips. As Paul continues with this sentence in Ephesians, we can see that he writes of other aspects of prayer as well. As with the thought of praying in the Spirit, these other aspects will also require some study on our part to see what he means.
Our Petitions to God
We saw when we considered “The Sword of the Spirit,” that the Word of God is the primary way in which God communicates to us. But in order for us to have a meaningful relationship with God, there needs to be a two-way communication. We also need to be able to converse with him. In much the same way that God speaks to us through his Word, prayer is the way in which we communicate to God.
Actually, in many ways prayer actually corresponds to the Word of God, except it is we who are speaking to God instead of him speaking to us.
It is in the Bible, God’s Word, where we learn of God’s perspective on matters, and even the problems that he is facing. God is not reticent about sharing his frustrations with us concerning unfaithful people and rebellious children. In his Word, he explains to us why there are difficulties in the world, and how he believes that we could help in these matters.
It is also in his Word that God tells us of his love for us and of his devotion to us. It is there where we learn of the astounding measures that he has taken to redeem us to himself, even though there was nothing about us that would merit him taking this extraordinary action on our behalf. From the earliest of days, he has told his people that he would never leave them nor forsake them. Scripture is abounding with assurances from God about his faithfulness toward us.
Prayer is all of those things—except it is we who are telling these things to God. We tell him of the difficulties we face in our own lives and the difficulties of the world, but we also assure him of our devotion to him. As he tells us that no matter what may come, he will never leave us nor forsake us, in prayer we also promise the same measure of our devotion to him.
Prayer corresponds to the Word of God in that it completes the communication relationship between us and God. God’s word is he speaking to us, and prayer is we speaking to God. As a Christian life cannot grow unless we read and study what God has to say to us in the Bible, neither will our lives grow if we do not share our perspective with God.
Doesn’t God Already Know My Thoughts?
But you might ask, “Doesn’t God know my thoughts even before I pray?”
The writers of the Bible certainly believed so. King David said in one of his prayers, “Even before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, O Lord” (Psalm 139:4, 24-25).
The gospel writers certainly believed so. They stated several times in their writings that Jesus knew the thoughts of the people with whom he was speaking (Matthew 9:4; 12:25; Luke 5:22; 11:17; 9:47; John 2:25).
Paul believed God knows what we are thinking. He wrote, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile” (1 Corinthians 3:20).
Most importantly of all, God actually tells us that he knows our thoughts. Speaking to the prophet Isaiah of the nations, God tells him, “I know their works and their thoughts” (Isaiah 66:18)
“Even before they call, I will answer, and while they are still speaking, I will hear,” God says (Isaiah 65:24).
Also, seeking to encourage the young King Solomon as he began his reign of Israel to do so with integrity, God tells him, “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV).
And to the prophet Jeremiah, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10).
When Jesus was teaching his followers about prayer, he told them, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose 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 6:7-8 BSB).
If it is a fact that God knows our thoughts and the desires of our hearts, we might rightly ask the question, “Why do I even need to pray to God?”
This question brings up one way in which our prayers to God differ than his words to us. That is, besides all of the other aspects of prayer that may correspond in some way with God’s Word, another reason that we pray is that it is a manner in which we seek guidance from the Lord.
To Hear Our Own Voice
There are at least a couple of ways in which we gain guidance from God in our prayers. The first is actually quite practical and should even be apparent to us, because many of us use this principle even in our daily choices.
When we are confronted with a decision, it often helps to explain it to another person—any person. Even if the other person has no idea on how to advise us, the simple act of stating the details of the choice helps the decision-maker clarify it in his or her mind so that the solution actually presents itself. We often do not know what we may think on any particular matter until we make the effort to verbalize it into comprehensible thoughts. Sometimes, as we explain the difficulty, the answer becomes self-evident.
It is one of the reasons that I normally will not speak extemporaneously, at least if it is on a somewhat difficult subject. It is my practice to write into coherent sentences what I am going to say. I find that the act of writing itself clarifies the issues in my own mind. I sometimes will tell someone, “I can’t know what I think about this until I write it down.”
It is much the same as we explain a difficulty to another person. Once we put all of our scattered thoughts into some coherent sentences, we can see both the problem and the solution much more clearly.
The Invalid of Bethesda
There is a story in the Bible that somewhat corresponds to this in the matter of asking God for something. It is found in the Gospel of John, chapter five.
As the story goes, there was a pool of water, which the people called “Bethesda” near the Sheep Gate in the city of Jerusalem. The pool was a gathering place for those who were sick, blind, lame, or paralyzed. They gathered there because they believed at certain times, an angel would come and stir up the waters of the pool. After the stirring, there was a belief that the first one of these needy people who was able to step into the waters would be healed of whatever infirmity that he or she had.
I am doubtful that this actually was the case with the pool. I do not think it was some sort of “magical” pool of water, but that it was simply a local legend that was believed by many of the city. I have seen several places similar to this in various parts of the world, different sites or objects that the local people considered to have healing properties.
Nevertheless, whether or not the pool Bethesda was truly magical is not important at this point. What is important was that there was this belief among the people that it actually did have the power to heal. Specifically, there was one man in need of healing at the pool who had been convinced that he could be healed at this pool.
The man had been an invalid for an astounding thirty-eight years. It was his hope that someday, when the waters became stirred, he would be able to make it to the pool first. We do not know exactly what the man’s disorder was, but it seems that he was unable to use his legs.
One day Jesus arrived at the gate and saw this man in his condition. He asked him, “Do you want to be made well?”
It seems like a question that does not actually need to be asked. The man was lame, and he had been lame for thirty-eight years. He was at the pool where people believed that they could obtain healing. Certainly the answer to the question should be rather obvious.
Jesus also certainly knew the answer to the question that he asked the crippled man, but he was seeking to get the man to explain his need. The man did not simply say “yes, I want to be healed” but he explained his present difficulty of getting to the water in time.
The man replied, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me.”
Whether or not the man realized it, he verbalized this shallow perception of his need and what it would take for him to be healed. The solution that he was seeking was actually no solution at all. He did not need someone to help him to the water, he needed Jesus to heal.
This is more often the case with problems that we face than we realize. Like the lame man, we often look at our difficulties as if there was some perceived instant solution that could make it all right. We look for some “magical” answer to our problems.
It is this type of belief that keeps the lottery industry so healthy. It feeds upon people who are often hurting but who believe that one day they will buy that one lottery ticket that will get them to the pool at Bethesda first, and all of their problems will be made right. All the bills that they have accumulated because they were seeking fulfillment in life by purchasing “things” would be paid if they could just get that lucky number.
But these people do not need a magical number. They need Jesus.
They need Jesus to say to them as he said to the crippled man at Bethesda, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
There is more to the story of this lame man at Bethesda, but the point right now is that by verbalizing his perceived solution to his condition, the man should have realized that he was looking in the wrong place for healing.
To Hear the Voice of God
This leads us to the second reason that we are to pray, even if God already knows our thoughts. To do this, we again can look to some words of King David. “Let all the godly pray to You while You may be found” David writes.
He then expresses his confidence in God when he continues: “Surely when great waters rise, they will not come near. You are my hiding place. You protect me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.”
David was expressing these words during a time of apparent great distress, confirming to God his commitment to remain faithful despite the difficulties that he was facing. He was also seeking guidance from the Lord. We do not know the specifics either of David’s difficulty or of God’s instructions, but we do have God’s promise that he would give guidance.
The response of God to the David’s petition: “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will give you counsel and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or mule, which have no understanding; they must be controlled with bit and bridle to make them come to you” (Psalm 32:6-9 BSB).
God promises to instruct us, but we often look in the wrong places for his instructions and in the wrong manner.
In a Quiet Whisper
In the book of First Kings (chapter 19), there is an account of the prophet Elijah who at the time of this narrative was fleeing in fear for his life from the wicked Queen Jezebel. During his flight through the wilderness, on one of the first nights as he lay under a tree, Elijah actually prayed to God that he might die.
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.”
But the Lord did not take his life. God instead put Elijah into a sleep, which from worry may have begun a fitful rest, but then into a deeper, healing sleep. After what must have been some hours, he was awakened by an angel, who gave him a cake of bread and provided for him a jar of water. Elijah fell again into sleep. Some time later, he was again awakened by the angel who again fed him.
“Get up and eat,” the angel told him, “or the journey will be too much for you.”
It indeed was a long journey. After forty days Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb, “The Mountain of God.” It was there where he was expecting to hear from God.
At the mountain, Elijah entered a cave to spend the night.
The Lord said to him there, “Go outside and stand on the mountain. Behold, the Lord is about to pass by.”
Expectantly, Elijah went to the mouth of the cave. As he stood there, a “great and mighty wind tore into the mountains and shattered the rocks.”
Elijah may have thought, “Surely in such a forceful display of power, I will hear the voice of God.”
But we read, “The LORD was not in the wind.”
After the wind, an earthquake began to rumble under the feet of Elijah. But God did not speak to Elijah in this demonstration of power.
Then a fire, but neither did God speak to him in the fire.
The Lord is a mighty and powerful God, so like Elijah, we may also expect God to speak to us in great thunderous and impossible to ignore manifestations of might. But it is only the insecure who feel the need to speak in false displays of power. It is the Wizard of Oz who hides behind a curtain and pulls the levers to activate his frightening displays.
None of these, the great wind, the earthquake or the fire—none of them held the word of God. At some point during these natural disasters, Elijah had been driven back into his cave. He had stood on the mountain as he was told, but still no word had come to him from God.
But then, back inside the cave, he began to hear the sound of a gentle, almost imperceptible sound of a soft breeze—a still and small voice. This was the voice that he was to wait outside for! He returned to the mouth of the cave to hear what God would say to him.
Once again at the entrance to his cave, he prayed to the Lord. He told God of his problems and how he thought he had done everything right in his service for God, but how it seemed to have all come to nothing.
“The Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left, and they are seeking my life as well.”
He told the Lord of the depression that he was feeling—a depression so deep that he wanted God to take his life.
In the silence of the breeze, God spoke to Elijah. God told him the next action that he was to take, and he encouraged him when he told him that there were still “seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Most often, we also will hear the voice of God only in quiet whispers. If you seek him, he will give you quiet assurances in what you must do and of his concern for you.
The word of God often comes to me by quiet and inward convictions that have been formed by the reading of the Bible, and also confirmed in those Scriptures. For me, the voice of God is not heard in thunderous orations and noisy events. It is heard in moments of solitude and contemplation.
“Be still and know that I am God,” he tells us in the Psalms (46:10)
God told David that he was not to be like the horse or mule, animals which have no understanding of why they are going to a certain place and must simply be controlled and directed with bit and bridle.
Nor does God want us to be led along like a mule in our lives. It is not the intention of God that the direction in our lives simply be dictated by events that come to us, but without having an understanding why it is all happening. He does not want us to be mindless about the purpose and goals of our life.
If like David, we first express our unwavering love for God and our confidence that he will provide both a way and an answer, God will give his assurance of his counsel and care.
Jesus once said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not understand what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15 BSB).
In the end, prayer is the way in which we speak to God, but we see that it is also a way in which he speaks to us.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit…For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10,16 BSB)
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