Children have a way of shedding light on a question or topic we hadn’t thought of or paid much attention to. Suddenly, a topic they might casually bring up becomes extremely important and sends us into a research frenzy in search of the correct answer. A few weeks ago, a coworker shared stories about her young children with me, some of which included teaching them lessons about God. Her son asked why we pray for others if God knows the outcome.
While discussing prayer and God’s omniscience with my coworker, I dug deep down in my memory to recall catechism lessons from Catholic grade school. I shared some answers with my coworker, but felt the need to consult my parish priest for further insight.
Ultimately, I understood that prayer deepens our relationship with God. My parish priest proposed the alternative: “If we never needed to pray, we would never think of God. We would forget him and our relationship with him would atrophy, if not entirely disappear.” Jesus tells us to pray as he prayed. James 4:3 says, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” And in somewhat of a response, John 16:24 says, “Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” As we pray, our desires can become purified. Perhaps we begin praying for “x” outcome, and as we pray, we come to realize “x” is not the best option and instead we are called to “y”. Prayer serves to change us.
While God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, he has also provided us with free will. We must pray and discern which choices lead us to follow God’s plan. As St. Thomas Aquinas says in his work Summa Theologica, “We pray, not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers...” (Pg. 3492)
Praying for others is a way of loving them. Prayer for others allows us to grow in compassion and keeps us from focusing on selfish concerns. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that even since Abraham’s time, people have interceded (asking on behalf of another) in prayer for one another. It is a “characteristic of the heart attuned to God’s mercy.” (CCC 2635) Intercession for our fellow man is an act of selflessness, even to the point of praying for our enemies. “The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries, ‘for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions,’ for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.” (CCC 2636) Sometimes we can be God’s instrument by providing comfort or assistance to a community member in need when we learn of or are asked to pray for someone. We can become God’s answer to a prayer.
While we do not know why God may grant one prayer and not another, it’s important to know God loves us and desires what is best for us. And being in a close relationship with God is best for us. As my parish priest said: “the ‘stuff’ God grants is secondary.”
For more resources on prayer, please visit the Catholic Apostolate Center Prayer and Catechesis Resource page.