Prayer remains one of the most mysterious and marvelous endeavors in which a Christian can engage. What happens, exactly, when we pray? We are not telling God something he didn’t already know. And I don’t think we are trying to talk him into doing something he doesn’t want to do. Think about it: God is infinitely good and wise. If you could talk God into doing something he otherwise would not do, would you really want to?
C. S. Lewis wrote a brief vignette to express this conundrum: `Praying for particular things’, said I, `always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to assume that He knows best?’ ‘On the same principle’, said he, `I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.’ `That’s quite different,’ I protested. `I don’t see why,’ said he. `The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.’ (God in the Dock, chap 7)
So much about prayer is beyond our understanding, but clearly it’s more than simply giving God advice. Prayer appears to be the means by which he allows us to enter into the work he is doing. He bestows so many blessings upon us without us ever asking. Yet God has ordained certain goods and gifts to be given to us in response to our prayers. This is a gracious action on his part to allow us to participate in his work. Therefore there are two things about which we can be sure: 1) When we pray, things that otherwise would not have happened will happen. And 2) when we present a matter to God in prayer, the best thing that could happen will happen.