I’ve often wondered why we’re told to pray for other people. Why doesn’t God just help them? Why do we need to pray that they will make good choices or that they will be converted?
The Lord’s prayer that Jesus gave us starts with recognizing God as God (“hallowed by thy name”) followed by an alignment of our will to His will. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth means “in our own lives.”
What is heaven? It’s a perfect place of peace and joy.
Why is it perfect? Because there, God’s will is done without any resistance. I imagine that the distribution of God’s will, which is a desire to bless others, is transferred from Him to those in Heaven and is returned to him without being even slightly diminished. There’s no loss of that will and no obstruction of that will in Heaven. It is circulated without diminishment and is the true and only perpetual energy source.
But on earth, God’s blessings flow to us and we trap them for ourselves. We may return a little of his blessing to him in the form of praise but only a portion. We hold much of it to ourselves and don’t share it with others. That’s not entirely our fault. That’s the result of living in a fallen world.
But back to the will and why we pray for others. I think we are asked to pray because God does not impose his will on anyone. Instead, he relies on human will to be in alignment with His. He can take that human will and use it as a substitute for others’ will. Rather than imposing His own will, he takes our will and gives it to someone else who needs it.
For instance, say a man is struggling with sexual addiction and his will is in a very weakened state. He may want to be over with the addiction, and he may very well try willing himself not have that compulsion, but his will is not strong enough to pull him out. He keeps falling into that habit. God wants to pull him out of the cycle, but He won’t impose his own will and just reach in and remove the man from that addiction. That’s also because a part of the man still clings to it. The fleshly side which wars against the spirit has its own will and wills that the man do things with his body that his spirit may rather not do.
When we pray for that person, our human will is given as a substitution for the other human’s will. God doesn’t impose his will, but he can take our will (so long as it is aligned with his will) and use it to the benefit of those for whom we are praying. That’s why it’s so important we pray for others. They may not have the strength to overcome their fleshly will but if God can add to their will our will, the odds of them overcoming their spiritual infirmities are greatly increased.
There are two types of prayers for others: 1) prayer for their material well-being. 2) prayers for their spiritual well-being. What about the prayers for physical things? Doesn’t God know what people need and why doesn’t he just bless them with the material things they need? Why would we have to pray, for instance, that a kid have enough to eat?
Again, I think it’s about will substitution. Of course it is God’s will that everyone have plenty to eat. The kid doesn’t have enough to eat because his or her parents are poor. And they’re poor for a number of reasons, not the least of which is avarice. Rich people above them hoard wealth and do not distribute it well. There’s a bottleneck in the distribution of God’s blessings here on earth. In heaven, God’s will is to bless everyone and no one tries to trap the blessings and keep more of them so that he or she can be above others. There’s equal enjoyment of God’s will. But on earth, we know there are oligarchic leaders who are consumed with lust for power and wealth. They trap so many of the blessings God intends for his children. And his children don’t receive their own share of the blessings because they follow their own will, not the will of the father. In other words, they don’t truly pray “thy will be done.”
So we pray for others so that God can take our will (aligned with his) and substitute it for others who lack the ability to pray for his will to be done in their lives.
When I look at prayer in this way, it makes the task more meaningful. It means that I’m giving God something that he takes and uses for others. It’s not just vain words or kind platitudes. It’s some concrete thing that God can take and use to bless others.
That’s how we cooperate with God in the salvation of the world: Align our will to his, and then pray for others.