Many are asking in these days: What is the purpose of prayer? It doesn’t appear that prayer really works because I ask God to stop this senseless war in Ukraine and save the lives of those who are most vulnerable, and it doesn’t seem to affect the situation at all. Others of you are praying for the Lord to heal someone you love from cancer and the tumors continue to grow. Some of you have begged the Lord to bring you a spouse or a child and the heavens seem shut up and silent. What is the purpose of prayer?
Well, this scripture promise from Jeremiah 33 helps us with this perplexing question.
First of all, it is imperative to note the fundamental essence of prayer is calling out to God. When do we call out to God? When we have a need. We are in the deep end of the pool and in situations when we are way over our heads. A.W. Tozer highlighted this truth long ago in his book The Pursuit of God: “Need always precedes a serious pursuit of God.”
This leads us to the fundamental purpose of prayer. I do not believe there is a better question to this challenging question than the insightful words of George MacDonald:
Is the chief end of praying to get our prayers answered? Why pray at all? Is the basic purpose of prayer to get things from God? Certainly, the Bible assures us that God hears us and, in response, gives us what we need. But is that the basic reason Jesus taught us to pray? ‘What if God knows prayer to be the thing we need first and foremost? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer is a supplying of our great and endless need — our need of Himself?’ God wants us for himself.
The fundamental purpose of prayer is to get God, to pursue God, to align our wills and purposes with His. However, it is not wrong to pray to get things from God but we must remember that it is not the fundamental purpose of prayer.
What are some things that God promises to give when we seek Him in prayer? According to Jeremiah 33:3, when we seek the Lord in prayer, He gives us understanding and insight into the marvelous truths of His Word. This is why we cultivate the discipline of Scripture prayer… of praying God’s Word back to him. The Lord desires to show the implications for our lives of particular texts, commands, and promises of Scripture. He does this as we digest and meditate on them through praying them back to the Lord in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication (prayers for ourselves), and intercession (prayers for others).
Secondly, when we seek the Lord in prayer, He reveals to us his purposes in our lives. The Lord indeed has a purpose for our lives. Sometimes he deliberately hides from our eyes what He is doing. He does not owe it to us to explain everything that He doing in and through us. However, He invites us to seek Him in prayer and ask Him to show us why He is doing what He is doing.
God’s hidden purposes for Jeremiah and the the people of Judah involved terribly sad things and wonderfully joyous things: God’s discipline and judgment of His people as well as their restoration and future prosperity. Through time spent with Him in prayer, God tells Jeremiah that He will judge His people because of their sin and rebellion. They learn of the ultimate horror: The Lord hiding his face from his people (33:5).
Thankfully, this is not the Lord’s final purpose for His people. Verse 6 speaks of future restoration and prosperity: “I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.” The Lord reveals His purpose of salvation and restoration of his people: “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me” (33:8). The Lord promises to fulfill His covenant promises when He reveals “the righteous branch…” the one who is called “The Lord our righteousness” (33:16), none other than our glorious Lord Jesus Christ!
Jeremiah was taught these hard and glorious truths by God as he sought the Lord in prayer. The Lord wants to do the same in your life and mine. Let us call out to the Lord and ask Him to reveal Himself and His purposes to you and to the generations that come behind us.