On the Necessity of Petition Prayer

In a previous article, I wrote about how there is no prayer too small to be brought before the throne of God.  I wanted to follow up a bit more about the concept of petitionary prayer and why we need it.

There are generally four types of vocal prayer in Christian spirituality (by “vocal prayer” we refer to that type of prayer where we speak to God):

  • Praise = giving adoration to God in His Glory
  • Thanksgiving = give gratitude to Him for all of his blessings
  • Penance = asking God for forgiveness for your sins
  • Petition = asking God for your needs

We are called to ask God for our needs and the needs of others.  We pray for peace in the world, the healing of the sick, for our daily bread, etc.  We are commanded to bring our desires up to the Lord.

But the question arises: why?  

Doesn’t God already know what we need before we ask it?  In fact, the Bible tells us this very thing.  Jesus says, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matt 6:8)  

So if God knows what I need, why do I need to ask?  Is God like Jack Nicholson’s character from A Few Good Men who sits up there looking down on us saying, “You gotta ask me nicely”? 

Of course not.  God does not ask us to do that which is pointless.  Here are some reasons why petition prayer is necessary.

The Eternal Point of View:  

C.S. Lewis addressed this issue several times regarding God’s foreknowledge.  We say that God knows the future from our perspective. It is a mistake to say that God knows the future from God’s perspective.  

God does not exist in time.  Time exists in God.  We experience time from moment to moment, going from past to present to future.  

But for God, all of time is happening simultaneously.  What is past for us, present for us, and future for us is all happening as present for God.  He is experiencing creation, the crucifixion, and the final judgment (from His perspective) right now.   

Lewis makes the point that it is not a question of God knowing in advance what you are going to pray.  The point is that the prayer you are going to pray God is hearing now because He is in that future moment hearing it.

The Understanding of Need:  

There is nothing God needs from us, even our prayers.  We are the ones who need God.  

I remember Fr. Larry Richards had a spiritual director who asked him “What do you need from God?”  Fr. Larry responded, “Nothing, I’m good.”  His spiritual director then whacked him on the back of the head and repeated the processes until Fr. Larry admitted that he needed something.

Even the perfected saints understand their poverty before the Lord.  They need him for everything.  And for those of us who are not perfected saints, we are in even more need of God.

As I wrote in my article “Prayer is Not Magic,” understanding our need will give us humility and will actually draw us closer to Him.  Isn’t it interesting that the poorest countries tend to have the more vibrant faith and the more affluent countries find dwindling churches? One of the reasons is that when we are wealthy, we think we can have more control over our lives and exert it with our money. But the poor know that they are in constant need of God’s grace.  Perhaps this was the reason Christ always warned against wealth.

The Dignity of Causality:  

This is a phrase used by Pascal.  As I wrote before, God does not need our prayers.  And yet, He calls us to pray for ourselves and others.  He does not need these prayers, but He wants us to understand the deep power of the spiritual.  

The power is all in God’s hands, but for some reason God loves us so much that he wants us, chooses us, to be coworkers in His mission.  He chooses to let our prayers have effect so that we can experience what it is like to not only be His workmen but his partners.  He does not have to do this, but He wants to raise us up.

The Shaping of Our Soul:  

A parent goes to give their child food.  Before doing so, the parent says: “Say ‘Please.’”  After the food is given, the child is asked to say “Thank you.”  Why?  The parent is going to feed the child regardless.  The child cannot feed himself or herself.  Is it to feed the ego of the parent? Certainly not.  

It is because asking nicely and politely will help shape the child into a nice and polite person.  A parent who gives into a child after bratty behavior will be shaping the soul of a bratty adult.  

God wants us to ask for help because simply the act of asking in faith shapes our souls into people of faith.  God does not need us to tell him what we need.  But the act of telling makes us more faithful

Of course everything must be asked with the caveat ‘Thy will be done.” The closer we get to perfection, the more we can be like Christ and offer ourselves in complete abandonment to the Father’s will.  But even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ petitioned the Father, begged Him, pleaded with Him to take the cup of suffering away.  Even when the answer was “No,” Christ prayed anyway, because we must ask God for what is on our hearts.

I am in constant need before the love of God.  And so I will never stop asking Him for my daily bread.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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