What is the primary purpose of praying?
Most of us grow up thinking of prayer as asking God for what we want. We learn to pray by saying, “God, help me with this. God, give me this. God, bless me with this. God, protect me.” When we pray for others, we pray the same thing: “God, help them. God, protect them. God, bless them. God, keep them and be with them.” Sometimes we get what we ask for. But much of the time we don’t. So what happens when God doesn’t give us what we ask for? Most likely we just stop praying altogether. Because if prayer is asking for what you want and you don’t get it, then what’s the point in praying?
I am sure that you can remember a time when you prayed hard for something but God didn’t answer in the way you wanted Him to. You might have for someone to be healed. Or you might have asked God for a particular job or to have a relationship restored. But no matter how hard you prayed, the answer you were looking for didn’t come. So you began to wonder—am I asking in the wrong way? Is there some formula or combination of words that I’m not using?
It’s not that asking for what we want and bringing our needs before God is not a part of prayer—it is. But what if prayer was intended to be much more than that? What if prayer is more than just asking God to bless us or keep us or protect us or help us? What if the purpose of prayer that is much deeper than that? What if the purpose of prayer is not to get something more from God, but to get more of God?
The deepest desire of our hearts is not for some “thing,” but for Someone. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on… God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
We try to satisfy our deepest longings with lesser things, however good those things are. God Himself has given us those things to enjoy, but He never wants us to mistake them for what is ultimate and essential. Thus, as Lewis observed, God withholds the happiness and security we want so that we won’t settle for anything less than God Himself.
When our relationship with God is foremost to us, all other loves, longings, and pleasures actually increase. Lewis continues:
When I have learned to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards that state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.
We pray, then, not to get something from God, but to get more of God.