Honest Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer

  • by Ann Manley Work

“Why should I pray?"


“If God is all wise and all powerful, isn't prayer presumptuous?”

“How can I pray in faith and at the same time leave a matter open to God's will?”

These questions were sent to staff members with Cru’s prayer ministry almost 30 years ago, but they continue to be relevant today. At the time, staff members Ben Jennings, Ev Davis, and Leonard Mahoe put together these responses, which can help today just as they did then.

QUESTION #1: “If God is sovereign, why should I pray?”

It’s true: God is all-wise and all-powerful. The decisions He makes are always right. It is also true that God has a plan for the world, and He knows how He wants to bring it about.

It's difficult to understand how God works out His sovereign will, but we can give you two reasons why we should pray.

First, prayer is not an exercise designed to make God do things our way. Prayer, which is simply talking to God, is our means of developing an intimate relationship with Him. Surprisingly, that's exactly what He wants with us (see John 17:20-23, James 4:8).

Jesus even commands us to pray and ask. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” John 14:13 says, “ And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

Second, Scripture indicates that prayer is God's primary means of accomplishing His will (John 15:16).

He has chosen to live His life through us and produce His intended fruit through prayer. He has chosen to act in response to prayer.

QUESTION #2: “How does prayer work?”

The second option is more likely. God has known from the foundation of the world what He's going to do. Graciously, He lays part of His plan on our hearts, prompting us to pray. Then He works through our praying.

Let's put this into practical terms. Let's say you are spending some time in prayer. You have yielded your will to God and are experiencing His presence. As you talk with Him, if you have a burden to pray for something, you can assume that this is the prompting of the Holy Spirit (John 15:7).

QUESTION #3: “Why should we worship God? He already knows how great He is without me telling Him, doesn't He?”

The word “worship” comes from an old Saxon word that means “worth ship.” It points to actions and attitudes that indicate an object’s worth. Worship of God is not a ceremony; it is our way of expressing our recognition of God’s worth.

We worship God not because He needs it, but because we need it. Meditating on His attributes and praising Him boosts our understanding of Him and provides a necessary foundation for our faith. These elements are necessary components in worship.

We can’t trust anyone or anything – God included – more than we know it. You won't sit on a chair if you're not sure it will hold you. And you can trust God only to the degree you know He is trustworthy. Worship plays a vital role in this kind of trust.

QUESTION #4: “What does it mean to pray 'in the Spirit'?”
[see Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Corinthians 14:15]

The Bible instructs us to pray with both our human spirit and with the Holy Spirit.

Our human spirit is the faculty by which we contact God and His realm. So we can define “praying in the spirit” to mean pure, worshipful prayer, in which you are communing with and focusing on God.

It's possible to pray with our minds but not our spirits. Many of our dinner prayers, for example, are merely said out of habit and memory – we aren't really thanking God, just doing our duty.

However, we also need the Holy Spirit to pray with us. The Holy Spirit, God's Spirit, helps us pray as we should. Notice Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

QUESTION #5: “How can I find the balance between praying in faith and leaving a matter open to God's will?”

You have suggested an answer to the question in your question itself. The key is to “pray to God in faith.” The joining of true faith in God with prayer can bring about the delicate balance you seek.

Notice we said faith in God. You are not called to have faith in faith, as if believing hard enough will bring about the desired outcome. Your faith must rest in God Himself.

And what must you believe about Him?

  1. Believe that He exists. He is all powerful, all knowing and everywhere at the same time. That means He hears all of your requests.
  2. Believe that He knows what you need. Romans 8:26 says that the Spirit helps us in our praying. He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
  3. Believe that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). But Romans 8:27 and Revelation 2:23 tell us even more: Jesus searches our hearts and communicates our needs to the Father. These verses combined give us insight into prayer as a function of the Trinity in which we have the privilege of participating. Jesus searches the hearts of His intercessors and picks up there the groanings of the Holy Spirit. In turn, Jesus presents His findings to the Father. Jesus amplifies, perfects and authenticates our prayers according to the will of God.

    As you pray earnestly in your spirit, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit join you to initiate, interpret, clarify and translate your prayers into actions that will extend God's will on earth (Matthew 6:10).
  4. Believe that God’s will is best – no matter what it is. All our prayers must be lifted to God in an attitude of submissiveness and left in His hands, awaiting His decision.

    Your prayers should not be offered as a means of twisting an answer from God, but as yearning supplications for the right answer, whatever He wills it to be.


Read more about prayer:


Adapted from the article “Unraveling some of the mystery surrounding prayer…Honest Answers to Tough Questions” by Ann Manley Work, from the Sept/Oct 1986 issue of Worldwide Challenge.