Why Pray if God Already Knows What We Need?

By Kyra M.

During my sophomore year of college, I learned that my older sister had cancer.

I can still remember how I found out. It was a Friday in February—the 13th, in fact. I had just left the Testing Center at my college after a disappointing test and was trudging home in defeat. I turned my cell phone back on and saw there was a new voicemail from my parents. They told me that my sister had just had an MRI and it was confirmed—“she has a tumor.” I nearly tripped on the sidewalk as I heard those words and completely forgot about my test.

The next few weeks were a roller coaster. First they said the tumor wasn’t cancerous — then it was. Next, they were confident she would make it and then they said she had a 40% chance of survival. After I had cried my heart out over that news, another doctor said she would be just fine and not to worry, but I didn’t know if I could believe him. With all this uncertainty and difference of opinion, I felt worried, scared, and frustrated!

And so I prayed. My family prayed. My parents told everyone they knew about it, and they all prayed.
And I wondered why. Why were we asking everyone to pray for her? Was it like some mass petition where if enough people prayed, God would heal her? I didn’t think that was how God worked. I had been taught that prayer is the way that we align our will with God’s will. So if all our prayers would do is reconcile us to whatever God willed, why ask for more of them?

Even though it’s been a few years since my sister successfully finished her treatments, I’ve held onto these questions without a fully satisfying answer. I don’t think there really is one all-purpose, general explanation about how prayer works when there are so many different scenarios and circumstances. However, though the particulars may differ from case to case, I have faith in these constants when it comes to prayer:

  • God loves us. Above all, God wants to see us happy. When we are hurt, frustrated, or grieving, He knows how it feels and He aches with us. When prayers aren’t answered the way we like, it is not because of indifference. God has all power. It is in His power to cure every migraine, tumor, or any other trial we may face. The fact that such a Being exists is enough to give me comfort, regardless of the outcome.
  • Prayer can change the outcome. It’s almost comical how quickly prayer works when I’m hunting for something. Time after time, if I humbly plead to God to help me find something, the next place I look is where I find the item. In the Bible Dictionary article in reference to prayer, we are taught that “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.” If we never ask, then how can we expect anything to change?
  • Ultimately, God has a plan for each of us, and He knows what is best for us. In Isaiah 55:8-9, He tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Although we may not understand why an untimely death or unfair trial had to occur despite heartfelt prayers, God knows, and He knows how to comfort us. As penned by Thomas More, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”

When it comes to prayer, I feel like a prophet who said, “I know that he [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” I don’t know why my sister survived while others don’t. I don’t know why otherwise healthy people end up with cancer. I don’t know why every heartfelt prayer isn’t answered the way we would like. But what I do know is bright enough to overpower the darkness of my doubts. God truly is a powerful, perfect, loving Heavenly Father, and He does hear our prayers. If we show faith in Him, be it through our own prayers or even by humbly asking others for theirs as well, I know He will answer our prayers and He will give us the strength to accept whatever answers may come.

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