If God is aware of what we need before we ask Him, what is the purpose of intercessory prayer?
We all know that a prayer is not some kind of magic “spell” men can use with God. The act of praying has nothing to do with reciting or inventing some hocus-pocus formula that allows us to bend time and events to alleviate our fears and satisfy our desires. The teachings of Christ are clear on this point: “And when you pray, don’t keep babbling like pagans:they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6:7).
As strange as it might seem, prayer has no effect on God — it affects us.
This is why the Apostle Paul calls us to “pray continually” (1 Thess 5:17). We must turn continually to God, open up ourselves to His presence, listen to what He tells us, introduce Him into our lives and into those of our brothers and sisters, unite ourselves to His will. Behind every individual supplication, there is a fundamental one, which is our desire for God. Without it, we risk to find ourselves in spiritual contradiction that will undermine our spiritual life. It consists in expecting all sorts of things from God, a hodgepodge, when we actually expect nothing of him.
God is happy when we pray
St. John of the Cross warns us: we should prefer the God who gives, to the gifts that God gives. In the same logic, we should understand the first words of Jesus in the forth Gospel: “What is it you seek?” We are anxiously looking for so many things! He, Himself provides the right answer: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). This also enlightens us as to the precise sense of our “intentions” in prayer.
We can easily ask God for thousands of things, involving the global issues of our lives as well as the tiny details, on the condition that these things are directly or indirectly related to the glory of God. As St. Augustine said in the conclusion of his letter to Proba about the prayer, “we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord’s Prayer.” The prayer that God grants us is the very same prayer of Christ that becomes our own: “Thy will be done!” So, we can now go back to our initial question, why inform Him of our wishes, if our Heavenly Father knows what his children need even before they tell him and if he always wishes to give them the best?
We can say that this Father is not paternalist. He does not wish to save us against our will. He is happy when a drop of our love, our involvement, including our participation in a prayer, adds to or rather unites us to the powerful and pure current of perfect prayer, that of the beloved Son, which is always granted. When we are praying in his Name and the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God.
Father Alain Bandelier