Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

The Purpose of Prayer

by Fr. J. Ronald Knott

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I still remember standing in front of church a few years back having a discussion with some farmers about whether to pray for rain. The majority thought it was a good idea. Whatever their personal beliefs about the effectiveness of such prayer, the majority were not about to show any doubt in front of their pastor.

One man, however, risking the ridicule of the more pious, stepped up to the plate. "Why pray? God's going to do what God's going to do anyway."

That discussion raised prayer's most fundamental question: "What is the purpose of prayer?" The majority believed that their prayers might influence God to pay attention to their plight and send the rain they wanted. The minority believed that what he wanted didn't matter to God, and he would have to accept whatever God already had in mind to do with his rain.

Both, however, approached the situation with one of the most basic misunderstandings about prayer. The purpose of prayer is not to inform God about our needs nor to influence God to change his mind about meeting our needs. The purpose of prayer, fundamentally, is to get us to change and want what our good God wants to give us.

In this regard, my prayer has changed radically in the last part of my life. I used to pray that I would get assigned to the parish I most wanted, that I would win the lottery or that I would get an "A" on a test.

I was usually disappointed in the short run, but in the long run God gave me all I needed and then some. The parish I least wanted turned out to be better. I didn't win the lottery, but I have never been in serious want, either. I didn't always get an "A," but I did graduate with pretty good grades. All in all, I have to admit that if I had gotten all that I asked for, my life would not be as full as it is today.

My prayer now is more about asking God to help me trust him with the things that happen in my life. My prayer now is not about trying to change God or asking him to change my circumstances, knowing that great blessings often lie hidden in circumstances that only appear to be bad at the present time.

When you pray, do you ask God to change and conform to your will, or do you ask God to change you to conform to his will? This change of focus could radically change your prayer life for the better.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.


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