One of the most often asked questions regarding prayer is this one: Why should I pray when God already knows both what I am going to say and what He is going to do? The issue here is omniscient wisdom dominated by love. God would be something less than loving if He were willing to do what we asked Him to do if it was not for our good; He would be something less than wise if He could be talked into something that possessed the seeds of disastrous chaos within it; and He would be something less than omniscient if He didn't already know both the issues of love and wisdom. But, that is where the rub comes in: why does God exhort me to pray when it will be His love, wisdom, and knowledge that is going to dominate anyway?
This issue gets even more sticky when we look at two particular statements made in the Bible. The first is the statement that when we do not know what to pray for as we ought, the Holy Spirit prays for us and God responds because He knows what is the will of the Spirit in our case (Romans 8:26-27). The other is the statement that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25) in light of the fact that if we sin we have an Advocate with the Father (I John 2:2) and we have an adversary called the Accuser of the Brethren (Revelation 12:10). These texts are sticky along the same lines as the question in our opening paragraph. The question is this: Why does the omniscient Spirit have to "pray" to the omniscient Father on our behalf, and why does the omniscient Son have to intercede for us with the omniscient Father in the face of Satan's accusations? If the Father knows all, how is it that the Spirit or the Son have anything to say to Him? What does omniscience have to say to omniscience?
The question comes along this line: if the omniscient Father already knows everything, why doesn't He just do what needs doing? How can prayer have any purpose in light of the fact that there is no information sharing going on?
Imagine this scenario. Before the creation of personalities, the triune God existed in a multiplicity of personalities. All three of the Persons are co-equal in their eternal and infinite attributes. So, did They talk to Each Other? What does omniscience have to say to omniscience? "I knew you were going to say that!"?
Along these same lines, we have a whole host of romantics who love to groove on the notion that the best kind of "real intimacy" is the kind that occurs when two people so love one another and study one another that they intuitively "know" what the other is thinking. A gaze, a smile, a lifted eyebrow, a stoney glare -- these supposedly communicate volumes and this kind of communication is supposed to be "more intimate", and thus "more desirable", than verbal communication. So, before the creation of persons, did the Triune God simply look at each other with smiles and twinkles of the eyes and so forth? No need to talk: perfect intimacy coupled to omniscience? And what did the creation of personalities have to do with so changing things that now the Spirit has to pray to the Father on our behalf and the Son has to intercede for us against the adversary?
What is, after all is said and done, the identity and force of prayer?
When we think of prayer, one of the first things we probably need to consider is this: communication is apparently not designed primarily to communicate unknown information. I have gained this insight from two things: 1) serving as a pastor to retired persons; and, 2) growing older myself. These two things have served to make me aware of this reality: older people often fill their conversations with others with stories that they have told those others multiple times. There are some stories that I have told to the same people several times and, if my wife hadn't kicked me under the table and mouthed "You have already told them that", they probably would have heard them more times than they have. And, I have also been on the hearing end of the same phenomenon. Is it constructive, or destructive, of relationships that this occurs?
Communication of information, of itself, doesn't build, nor demolish, relationships. But, contrariwise, the lack of communication does destroy relationships, and the act of communicating has the power to build relationships.
I wish I had a dime for every time a woman has complained to someone that her husband doesn't talk to her. I wish I had a penny for every word that women have used to communicate with those they care most about. In either case, I could fund world missions all by myself!
Why is this? Because women seem to readily understand that communication is essential to relationships and that relationships are the keys to life. Please note: I did not say "new information" is essential to relationships. Communication does not have to contain unknown material in order to serve its purpose.
So, what is the purpose of communication?
In my opening paragraph I raised the question, "why does God exhort me to pray when it will be His love, wisdom, and knowledge that is going to dominate anyway?" This question begs for a second consideration: communication was not designed by God to provide a way to dominate the hearer. We must be careful that we do not think of prayer as a way to get God to do our will. That scenario envisions a subtle motivation on our part to dominate God. Our reluctance to pray because God already knows and will only do what is within His love and wisdom indicates that we think of prayer as a way to persuade God to do what we think is best for us. Bad concept of prayer. It violates this second fundamental consideration that prayer, as communication, was not designed to provide a way for the speaker to dominate the hearer.
So, if prayer is communication; and if communication is not primarily to share new information; and if communication is not designed to set up a way for speakers to dominate their hearers; what is the purpose of communication?
Perhaps our best hope for some answers goes back to the Bible. I don't mean, necessarily, the content of the Bible. I mean the fact that we have a Bible. When God chose to communicate with men, He apparently determined at some point to have what He wanted to say written down and passed around. There are two things that are significant here. First, the Bible is a finite book. Once we have read it, any further reading will only be a going back over of "old" information. In other words, the Bible exists in its finiteness as a complete message from God and after the first reading, any "communication" that God has for men will no longer be new news.
Couple that to the fact that the contents of the Bible are extremely repetitious. There are some basic themes in that book that are repeated over and over again -- i.e., "old news".
These two realities -- that the Book is finite and finished as far as we know; and that the message of the Book is repeated over and over -- indicate that communication, as far as God is concerned, is not primarily to impart new news.
However, there is another reality about the Book that we need to grasp. It is a revelation from the infinite God. That means that its design is to impart the knowledge of God to men. What I am trying to say here is that the Bible, as communication, is an attempt [I write as a man here] on God's part to unmask Himself to man so that man might know Him. This means that at least a part of the divine intent for communication is the sharing of oneself with another. This is why communication has the capacity to build relationships and the lack of it is destructive of relationships. Relationships, on the one hand, depend upon mutual sharing by the communicants. Not "news" but one's "self." And on the other hand, the refusal to communicate with someone is the refusal to enter into relationship.
Couple that to the infinity of God and we begin to understand that God has an infinite life that He has opened up to us by communication. His Word, the Bible, is a finite Book, but it is also an infinite Word. In other words, "old" information always has "new" vistas of possibility for deepening understanding. Every word of God is likened to a door to infinity. Open any door, by considering any word of God, and you have an infinite track before you into the relationship that God is willing to share with you. This means that it is not "news" (i.e., new information) that we need, but clearer insight into the relational significance of the information that we already have.
Thus, communication is the mechanism of God for deepening relational interaction. In so far as that is the foundation of life, communication is a primary mechanism by which we live. Jesus defined life as "knowing God" (John 17:3). But knowing God is more than simply hearing His words; it is understanding the true significance of His words in terms of Who He is, What He is like, and How we adjust to Him.
The identification of prayer as communication, and the claim that communication is the primary mechanism for shared relationship, has some pretty significant theological implications. One of those implications is that the Triune God is not Three Persons Who all possess a static omniscience that reduces the personal interaction of the Personalities of the Godhead to nothing. The Spirit prays to the Father, and the Son intercedes to the Father on our behalf, as an inner-triunity sharing that defines the life of God. God is not a set of three computers hooked up in a network so that what is in one machine flows to the others. He is not a static machine, or set of machines. Rather, God is a plurality of Persons Whose life flows in a never ending stream from One to the Other to the Other and back. He is a dynamic living Being. The Spirit does not pray to the Father because the Father is ignorant. Rather He prays to the Father because His desires and will, expressed to the Father, are a part of the flow of His life outward from Himself to the Father. The Father, on the other hand, does not do what the Spirit prays because the Spirit is incapable of doing His own will out of the reservoir of His own power, but because the life of God consists in the Three flowing to and from Each Other in a loving dynamic and the Father's part in that is to respond to the Spirit with perfect love and harmony.
Thus, theologically, communication is the mechanism of the life of God within Himself much like, if we can use a feeble illustration, our blood flows from heart/pump to extremities and back. That we are made in the image of God means that communication will be the same for us. It is a life-flowing mechanism that enriches our lives.
That means, then, that prayer is an expression of the flow of life. We pray to God, not because He is ignorant of our situation, nor because we seek to dominate our situation by manipulation of His power, but because He has ordained that we will live by sharing our life with Him and receiving His life for ourselves through this process of communication. Thus, the identity of prayer is communication, and the force of prayer is to step into the unending, embracing flow of the life of God.
Prayer occurs when a person begins to communicate with the Person. The life is in the Person and prayer is the mechanism by which a person steps into its flow. This cannot be done ignorantly, selfishly, or automatically. To communicate with God, a person has to come to some basic understandings about himself and God and he must have come to a position of faith in which he sees reality, at least in part, as God is. To communicate with God, a person has to come to the realization that God does not exist to pamper him as the center of His universe, but that he exists to put God at the center of his universe and respond to Him unselfishly as God does to him. And, to communicate with God, a person has to choose and will to align himself with the divine revelation so that he is actually stepping into the life of God when he prays and is not simply talking to himself and to the four walls and ceiling around him.
We are not here to die and not live. We are not here to ignore the flow of the life of God and to refuse to pray. We are not here to attempt to direct the flow. We are simply here to step into the flow of the life of God and be carried by it to wherever God wants us to be. When we pray, we are carried by the current of His life wherever He would take us.