Recently my pastor offered an interesting analogy about prayer during his homily at Mass. He said prayer is like a man sitting in a small boat, who is holding a rope attached to a large rock. When the man pulls the rope, the distance between the rock and the boat is reduced. But the rock is not moving toward the man in the boat, of course; the man in the boat is instead moving closer to the rock.
The rock is God, and the rope is prayer. When we pray, the distance between God and ourselves is reduced. But we don’t pull God closer to us with our prayer, we instead draw ourselves closer to Him.
This reminds me of a comment C.S. Lewis made about prayer. When his wife was dying from cancer, he often went into a chapel and prayed fervently. One of his friends saw him and asked, “Are you imploring God to answer your prayer and heal your wife?”
Lewis shook his head and replied, “No. I don’t pray so God will want to do my will. I pray so I will want to do His will.”
Lewis understood the boat-rope-rock analogy. He knew that his pulling on the rope (that is, praying), was drawing him nearer to the mind of God, not vice versa.
Prayer is a weird thing. (I’m pretty sure there is no Bible verse that phrases it quite that way.) I mean, think about it: Scripture has countless verses that say things like, “Pray without ceasing,” and, “Whatever you ask for in prayer shall be done for you.”
The story of the wedding feast at Cana, found in John’s gospel, chapter two, is a powerful example of God answering a fervent prayer when He did not originally plan to do so. Jesus flat-out said to His own mom, “Why does that concern me? My time has not yet come.” However, in response to His mother’s request, Jesus performed the miracle that was labeled His “first sign.” I’m pretty sure He did not show up for that wedding thinking, “OK, folks, tonight is ‘Sign Time!’ Let’s get this ministry off and running!”
But on the other hand, Scripture is very clear that God is sovereign, and He knows the past, present, and future of every person’s life. If we pray for something particular to occur, and it’s not part of God’s plan, then it’s not going to happen.
So, does that mean prayer is a waste of time? Does that mean the future is already carved in stone, so our prayer is just a futile exercise?
No, not at all. It is true that God is sovereign and omniscient. And it’s true that He already knows every single event of our lives, even the future. But He also knows that we need prayer. Prayer is not merely an activity where we “place our order” for the stuff we want. Prayer is not a cosmic version of Amazon. We don’t browse Heaven’s website until we find something that catches our eye, press the “Buy now with 1-click” button, and then wait for the delivery truck to pull up in front of our house.
Prayer is intimate conversation. Prayer is how two people get to know each other better and trust each other more. Prayer is how a relationship is formed and grows.
Since the relationship here is unequal—the Creator, by definition, is far greater than the creature—we must remember that prayer is not a technique to convince God to think like we do. Prayer is a way for us to grow and mature and begin to think like God does.
C.S. Lewis had it right. Prayer is the thing that helps us to know and do God’s will. And that analogy I heard from my pastor is right. Prayer is not pulling the rope to bring God to us, so He becomes more like us. It’s pulling the rope so we draw closer to Him and think more like Him.
We still should pray for the things we need and want, but most of all, we should pray to know God’s mind and make His will our will. Please tug on that rope, each and every day.