Of course, given that we believe in an all-knowing and loving deity, it's understandable that there is some confusion over the purpose of prayer. If God is all-knowing, are we really telling him something he doesn't already know, or we like a difficult colleague with a knack for stating the obvious. ("Look, the wall is blue today!") If God is all-knowing and loving, isn't asking for something a bit like a 3-year-old asking for the shoes her mother is already getting her?
And if we're praying to gain understanding, then why the heck don't we ever hear God answer us? (Or, for that matter, why do we check ourselves into a hospital once he does?)
These are deep and complicated topics, and I'm afraid that all I can share are the meager insights I have gathered over the years, like the unwanted scraps of food that have been shoved under the table for the dog to eat. (Note to young readers: Dogs really don't go for gelatin salad.)
Here are some popular phrases about prayer, and what they mean:
- "I'll pray for you." Means: That sounds awful. "My child has just discovered recreational pooping, and I'm out of baby wipes." "Oh, wow. I'll pray for you." Please note that they probably won't pray for you.
- "I'll pray for you." Means: You're going to hell on a pogo stick. "I don't think C.S. Lewis was anywhere near as good a writer as J.R.R. Tolkien." "I'll pray for you." Please note that they probably will pray for you, with unmatched fervor.
- "You should pray about that." Means: Pray about it until you agree with me. "I'm thinking of being a stay-at-home dad, since my wife makes more than I do." "You should pray about that."
- "I have a prayer request." Means: Juicy gossip is on the way. "I have a prayer request. I just found out that Heather is pregnant. The poor woman doesn't even have a boyfriend! She's really going to need God to help her through this difficult period."
- "I have an unspoken prayer request." Means: This one is so good I'll have to share it discreetly. Come see me afterward.
- "I've been praying about this, and I really feel God is telling me ..." Means: If you disagree, then you are disagreeing with God and are headed to hell on a pogo stick. "I've been praying about this, and I really feel that God wants you to come to a hotel room with me." Run.