If God Already Knows, Why Pray?
The Bible teaches that God is all-powerful and sovereign over his creation. But the Bible also teaches that prayer is commanded by God and is a tangible way by which we can affect ourselves and creation. How can we hold such seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time? This week, Vince is joined by Kathy Branzell, President of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, to discuss some of the practical realities of prayer in the midst of trials. What do we do when prayer seems hopeless?
Question Asked in This Episode: “A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 24, and I’m having a difficult time praying about it. I don’t see the point of praying if the outcome is already determined. Prayer is something that I have always struggled with. If God is all-knowing and he has the future mapped out, what is the purpose of prayer? Does prayer really have any influence on God? In addition, if he already knows all of our thoughts and ways, as is said in Psalm 139:1-3, what is the purpose of expressing them to him verbally?”
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. There are two things that Christians agree on. The first is that God is all powerful and sovereign over his creation. The second is that prayer is not only commanded by God, but is a tangible way in which we can affect ourselves and creation.
Michael Davis: Where many get confused is the efficacy of those prayers. At certain times our prayers can feel amazing and God seems so close and so present. While at other times it feels like all we are doing is talking to ourselves. Even more conflicting is when we desire to pray for or against things that seem to be a foregone conclusion.
Michael Davis: When is prayer useful and when is it useless? Can our prayers really change God's mind? But before we get started though, I am saddened to say that Jo is traveling today. I am excited to announce that we have with us, Kathy Branzell, President of National Day of Prayer, in the studio with us today. Kathy, if you'd be so kind, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about National Day of Prayer?
Kathy Branzell: Oh, well thanks. It's so good to be here. National Day of Prayer, a lot of people, let me tell you something people are usually surprised to find about National Day of Prayer. We're not just that one day a year ministry. People are like, "Oh yeah, that one day. When is that? There's a flag pole." No, that's not us. "Oh, you're the breakfast." No, that's not us. We are the first Thursday of May and we gather tens of thousands of gatherings all across the United States to come together, pray for our country.
Kathy Branzell: But we're doing things like that every single day. We mobilize unified public prayer for America and we have prayer calls. We're out there when we're prompted to be the answer to people's prayers. And so we are praying, calling America to pray, teaching America to pray, gathering America to pray all year round.
Kathy Branzell: And the second thing is that we're a law and people are like, "Wait, you're not just a ministry, you're not just an organization?" No, we're an actual law. This started way back with George Washington and the Continental Congress, but presidents have called our nation to prayer through many administrations. And then Truman, President Truman signed it into law that there would be a National Day of Prayer. And then it was amended by Reagan in the last unanimous vote of Congress that the first Thursday of May. So there it is, first Thursday of May. So May 7th of 2020 would be the day that our president would call us to a day of prayer for our country.
Kathy Branzell: And so we love doing that. And I'm new this year. I've actually been with National Day of Prayer for 19 years doing various projects and I was on the board of directors. Many of you know those who came before me that I loved and respected and got to work with Vonette Bright, our founder, Ms. Shirley Dobson who was with us for 25 incredible years growing us to the glory of God. And then Anne Graham Lotz was an interim with us for a year. Dr. Ronnie Floyd for the last couple before going on to Southern Baptist Convention Executive team. And then there's me and people are always saying, "Wow, you stuffed into the big shoes." And I always say, “a closet full,” and I am grateful. So grateful.
Michael Davis: You know it's so great to have you with us, Kathy. And Kathy just spoke at our chapel, our weekly chapel here at RZIM and you encouraged us and the team just so much. So thank you for making the time to be here and for trusting us with some of your story this morning. And I look forward to sharing more about that on the episode as well.
Kathy Branzell: Thank you for the invitation.
Michael Davis: Absolutely. So let's get to the question. This question is from Brittany. “A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at age 24 and I'm having a difficult time praying about it. I don't see the point of praying if the outcome is already determined. Prayer is something that I have always struggled with. If God is all knowing and he has the future mapped out, what is the purpose of prayer? Does prayer really have any influence on God? In addition, if he already knows all of our thoughts and ways, as it said in Psalm 139, verses 1-3, what is the purpose of expressing them to him verbally?”
Vince Vitale: Well, Brittany, we are so grateful to you for being willing to write in this question, just for trusting us with what's going on in your life and in your friend's life and we're so sorry to hear that. I know in my family and in Kathy's even just recently we've had some really difficult news and boy, I've just been wrestling with the brokenness of this world. Thank you for trusting us with this question. There's so much to it. There's a few different questions in it. We're really looking forward to speaking to it.
Vince Vitale: But I guess I would initially just encourage you. It's okay that you're having a difficult time praying. And my thoughts went to several different people in the Bible. My thoughts initially went to Jesus as well. And I think of those words, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those seem like difficult words to me. And in most of the relationships that I've had in my life, the conversations that are most difficult to have, have often been the most meaningful and the most necessary as well. So just because it's difficult right now, I think through this episode we're still going to want to encourage you to pray.
Vince Vitale: And Kathy, I thought we might just start there first and ask a question of what is prayer? Because there's several questions in Brittany's larger question about prayer, but if we don't know what we're talking about, we can't answer them yet.
Kathy Branzell: Right. So prayer is an intimate conversation with somebody you have a relationship with. And for us, we get to talk with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The one true God, the one who created all that exists in the universe, gave us life and then gave us his son to have eternal life. And prayer, I love Ian Bongs, his quote is, "Our prayers move the hands that move the universe."
Kathy Branzell: And so we think of all these things when people get sick, it's like, "Well, who do you know at such and such a clinic? Or who do you know in the health system? What strings can you pull? Who can you get...How can we go talk to the CEO if there's a problem? How can we do this? How can we do that?" And realizing that we get to go talk to the one, the one God who can do something, who loves us more than we could ever understand.
Kathy Branzell: And so understanding that prayer is a conversation. It's talking and it's listening. It's trusting. It's raw sometimes with your emotions, it's honesty. You touched on well, if he already knows what you're thinking, if he already knows what you're feeling. But in a relationship, you share what you're thinking, you share what you're thinking. If you have a husband, if you have parents, if you have a best friend, you talk about things. And prayer is just that.
Vince Vitale: I love that quote, was it “we move the hands of the hands that move the universe?”
Kathy Branzell: “We move the hands that move the universe.”
Vince Vitale: Wow. Fantastic. And then that goes right to your question Brittany as well. This question of “do we actually have an influence on God,” and there was this additional point that you asked relevant to that, in particular, “what's the point of praying if the outcome is already determined?” If God is all knowing and he has the future mapped out, what is the purpose of prayer? In other words, given that he already knows what's coming and therefore it seems like it can't change, how can we be those ones that move the hands of God? What would you say to that thought?
Kathy Branzell: Yeah. Because we have to remember that our prayers move his heart as well. And so yes, God sees the end from the beginning in his whole kingdom come, will be done. Absolutely. I understand the idea of it being mapped out, but there are so many blessings that we miss because we don't ask. I would say there's really three pieces to why...We'll keep it simple. Why bother praying? And the first one, it's a release.
Kathy Branzell: So right now, Brittany, you are carrying the burden even maybe of being responsible for how you could help Brittany, how you could solve this problem, how you can might make life easier? What doctor should she be seeing? What should she be eating? Who? All of these different questions. And the scripture verse that I'm thinking about right now is, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy Laden and I will give you rest."
Kathy Branzell: And in that verse, in the original language, that word “heavy laden” is a nautical term for a boat that is carrying more than it was built to carry. And it is dangered of capsizing and sinking. And you need to cast your cares on him because he cares for you. And so there needs to be that release of responsibility to the hands that move the universe.
Kathy Branzell: The second one is, it's respectful. If my tea glass is empty and my husband gets up to go to the kitchen and he doesn't come back with the tea pitcher, I'm not mad at him because I didn't ask him to get the tea. There's a respectfulness about asking. That's relational. It's not “I rule over you and you know what I'm thinking, so you need to be providing for me.” It builds your respect for him and it's also relational. It's conversational in that, and so it says to him, "I'm dependent on you. You are the King.” You are able, you do know the end from the beginning. Your ways are higher than my ways and thoughts, but I'm telling you Lord, I'm asking you as your child and my eyes are wide open watching to see your glory, so show me your glory and just know that I'm going to trust you with the result."
Vince Vitale: That's great. I love how relationally you frame the idea of prayer and I was wondering about that. What's the relationship between the way we are related to God and then the effectiveness of our prayers. I was just thinking this morning that when someone comes to me and they're just a complete stranger and they make a big request of me, there's almost an awkwardness there. You're not sure how to respond. There's a disconnect between the relationship and the request. Whereas if my child came to me, if a family member came to me and made a big request, I take that very seriously. Do you think that there's this similar sort of relationship between our own relationship with God and then the effectiveness of our prayers?
Kathy Branzell: Absolutely, and remember prayer isn't just asking. Now we do need to ask, but think about the scripture. We enter his gates with Thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Prayer is relational, so you might see a beautiful sunset and go, "Wow, Lord, how beautiful." You might see an adorable child and just reflect on the image of God in that child or even in someone you don't agree with or someone who's hurt you and you're just reminded of that in his word and in your relationship with him you learn a lot in prayer. You talk to God a lot in prayer and in that intimacy, in his word, he tells you to pray his word back to him. So pray his promises to him. Read scripture. It tells you about him. Get to know him since he already knows all about you. And in that then think about your relationships.
Kathy Branzell: We all have maybe one, I hope not, but I have a feeling we all have that one person in our life that only calls us when they need something. And that's not who we want to be in God and with God. We don't want to just be the “Hi, it's me again because I need something.” And so there's an intimacy in that. And also you're building up your trust in him by knowing him and you've seen him work and you know his heart for you. So even if your prayer doesn't get answered the way that you thought it should, there's a trust in him as well as an abiding in you that has bound that relationship together.
Vince Vitale: And here's a question that I had. Is prayer always helpful or are there some forms of prayer that actually can hurt the relationship? I was thinking of my human relationships and realizing that sometimes, especially with people that I'm close to, I can take conversation for granted and I can either be very rushed about it or very distracted and doing something else. And on my phone while I'm having a halfhearted conversation with someone. And so my initial inclination was to think, look, any prayer is good prayer as long as you're praying, you know?
Vince Vitale: But then I started to think about it in terms of my own relationships and realize that actually sometimes my half-hearted attempts or my non-intentional attempts at conversation actually hurt the relationship rather than help the relationship. Do you think that could be the case with God sometimes?
Kathy Branzell: Well, I think he can use it to redirect you.
Vince Vitale: Okay.
Kathy Branzell: So, well first of all I'd say if you have a "quiet time," I mean you always, always have a focus time with God beginning of the day, end of the day, your lunch hour or whatever. You have an appointment with the King of Kings, you're not going to miss that. And so-
Vince Vitale: How cool is that?
Kathy Branzell: Have that appointment and just like right now, my phone is in my purse across the room. I'm not sitting here texting other people. I'm not...Be present in his presence. And so there is that. But in this ongoing conversation that we have with him through life, you might be looking at your phone, you might be praying and all of a sudden you realize you're thinking about what you're going to have for dinner. You know what? Use it as a prayer prompt and go, "Lord, thank you that I'm going to have dinner tonight. Thank you that as I was making out this grocery list in my head, please forgive me for that distraction, but thank you that I can go to the grocery store and buy food. Thank you for the abundance that you've poured into my life."
Kathy Branzell: And so just let it be a redirection. Maybe God is putting somebody on your mind to pray for them right then and there and you have no idea why. That has happened to me very often where something has happened in my life and someone will call me the next day and say, God woke me up at three o'clock in the morning to pray for you. Are you okay? And something had happened at three o'clock that morning. And so be aware of the distractions but don't let them take you out of the throne room.
Vince Vitale: And that's great. I would really affirm that too. I think those promptings to pray for people often happen for many people but we don't necessarily think to get in touch with the person. We just chalk it up to coincidence or something. Because I've had those instances too and whenever I trust God enough to actually get in touch with the person and say, "I just felt I had to be praying for you at this time. Was there anything that was going on?" Consistently, I'm amazed at what I hear.
Kathy Branzell: Yeah. And also the interruptions, don't despise the interruptions of life. And so we do because we get focused and we were meant to focus. So don't live on your phone. If you're working on something and you stop to see a text, it takes 20 minutes for your brain to get back where it was.
Kathy Branzell: But when you think about Jesus's life, let him be your model. Every day along the way he prayed, he cared for people and he shared the kingdom message. And it wasn't that he sat in one place, that he stayed in his "prayer closet." It was just wherever he was, on a shoreline, in a boat, go walking through a city, whenever he prayed, he cared, he shared.
Kathy Branzell: But while he was on mission, whatever he was up to, even praying, his disciples were hunting for him. "Come on, everybody's waiting. The sick and the lame are lining up." He's trying to give a teaching and somebody's sawing the roof off of the house he's in, those kinds of things. And there's glory in that moment. And so always stop and ask in your distractions or in the interruptions. Lord, what is your purpose here? And it takes your attention back to him and back into prayer.
Vince Vitale: Oh, that's excellent. Great encouragement for our day in particular. Brittany, I loved this, the last part of your question about expressing our prayers verbally. I hadn't quite thought of it that way, but, right, of course God knows everything. He knows the future. He knows what we're thinking. So why do we actually have to express our prayers to him and why verbally in particular? Any thoughts on that, Kathy?
Kathy Branzell: Well, we think all kinds of things. I'm not sure that I would chalk all my thoughts up to prayer, but thank you Lord. I'm still a disciple. So that means pupil, I'm still learning. I'm still a student. Verbal is a conversation, not an expectation. And so I think that there's power. Faith comes by hearing and sometimes God just lets us build up our faith in him by hearing us express it out loud. And prayer says, “Lord, I'm watching you. I'm depending on you. I'm trusting you.” And, in that faith coming by hearing it builds up your heart.
Kathy Branzell: Again, going back, it's also respectful. You're expressing this love in dependency. No, you're not saying, "I expect you to read my mind and meet all of my expectations." The one piece that I want to add here, very personally, having been on a 14 and a half year journey of brain cancer myself and was healed in 2008. But for 14 and a half years, people prayed over me.
Kathy Branzell: I didn't just pray, but people were always coming and saying, "We want to anoint you and pray for you." And it was this God, we're watching you and we love this person enough to pray for them. So realize that prayer expresses love. It's a, we're all in this together moment of I can't heal you, but I can take you to the healer. And when you have someone pray out loud for you and you get to hear their prayers, that is a mighty, mighty expression of love and power. And so that's one of the reasons that we pray out.
Vince Vitale: That's so helpful. That idea of that verbal expression of prayer, expressing love. And I was thinking if Jo was here, we would probably have a smile at this as well. Because sometimes we'll have that conversation that sometimes happens in marriage where I say, "Oh well of course you know I love you." And yes, she does know that I love her and I know that she knows that I love her but she doesn't just want to know that I love her. She wants me to express that verbally and in the same, in the other direction as well. And, I think we commit ourselves to something more fully when we say it out loud.
Vince Vitale: And this was a more trivial example, but I was thinking we both fly quite a bit, Kathy. And when you're in the exit row and the employee comes to you and asks if you're willing to perform the duties and you shake your head, “yes.” And then they're not willing to accept that. They come back and they say, "I need a verbal affirmation." Because there's this sense you've committed yourself more fully to what you're saying if you've said it verbally.
Kathy Branzell: That's so good and I think about that just for any relationship, but this is a good way to kind of think about summarized prayer as well. Every human being needs the following things and it's great if you get it daily, but some people are just hoping for it once in a lifetime. Everybody needs acknowledgement. There are kids who go to school every day, people who go to work every day, sometimes people who come home every day and think, "I just don't want to be invisible."
Vince Vitale: Yes.
Kathy Branzell: I just want them to acknowledge that mom or dad's home. I just want them to acknowledge me walking down the school hallway. I just want to be acknowledged as a human being. Everyone needs to be acknowledged. Our prayer acknowledges God and that he is with us and he never forsakes us.
Kathy Branzell: The other thing is affection. We were built to be loved. We were built to be in relationship and people need to hear and know that they are cared for. And the other one is appreciation and affirmation. Our children need to hear it. Our spouses need to hear it and our God wants to hear it. It's not that he's up there going, "Do love me?" You know, "I need this to exist." But it's in a relationship of knowing that he is God and I'm not. And that I appreciate all he's done for me in any other relationship.
Kathy Branzell: If you have given and given and given, but never been given a thank you, you kind of don't want to give anymore, you know? And so for people, but also in our prayer, acknowledge, affirm, affection and appreciation.
Vince Vitale: That's great. Before we finish, I just want to circle back Kathy, just to the very practical sort of underlying question in what Brittany's asked, I'm having difficulty praying. On the very practical level, what would your advice be? What should she do?
Kathy Branzell: Well, Brittany, sit and determine what it is that's made this so hard for you to pray. And if it's an untruth, if it's, "Well, God, you've already got this figured out and you don't need to hear from me." Then toss out the trash and replace it with truth that you have a relationship with the almighty guide whose hands moves the universe and you're going to go to him in prayer and move his heart.
Kathy Branzell: If you just don't even know what to say, as a person who went through cancer and then my son went through cancer, we have to realize that as Christians, death is not punishment. And my son's word in the moment of his diagnosis, it was, “Either way I win.” And the doctor said, "I have no idea what you're saying." And Chandler said, "Well Doc, if by the miracle of vindication, God allows you to heal me and I get to stick around here for a little while longer, well that's a win. So great. But if God decides to take me home and I get to go be with Jesus, that's actually even a bigger win. And so Doc, no guilt, but no glory for you." That was a good moment.
Kathy Branzell: And so in that, if you just don't know what to pray, if you just don't know what to say, the Bible says that we have an intercessor, that Jesus is an intercessor for us with the father and that this spirit in you will interpret your groans and your tears. Don't be afraid to cry. Tears are not a lack of faith. They are liquid faith. And so be willing to let the spirit pray on your behalf as you just say, "Lord, you know my heart and you know I love my friend and you know I want her to live and I want her family to have her for many more years. And so Lord, please take this disease from her, but not my will. Yours be done."
Michael Davis: Well guys, we're out of time. I think that because this is an episode on prayer, I think it's only fitting. Kathy, would you mind praying for Brittany and her friend?
Kathy Branzell: I would love to.
Kathy Branzell: And so Lord Jesus, you are our guide. You are our Abba father. And so I asked right now that you would hold Brittany and her friend so close to you that they can feel your presence right now. That there was a suddenly moment in their life where they felt you, they felt your warm arms, your safety, you are their strong tower. And Lord, we do pray for healing. We are asking you for a miraculous healing to your glory, Lord, that life abundant would continue here on earth before heaven.
Kathy Branzell: Lord, we ask for your comfort, for your peace, for your strength. Lord, I pray that there would be blessings in those and for those who come to care for Brittany's friend, that in the casseroles, in the childcare maybe and whatever else, whatever she might need, we don't know her Lord, but whatever she needs that you would provide and that you would get all the glory. Lord, we do pray in your name and your will for your kingdom. Amen.
Michael Davis: Oh man. Well, Kathy, Vince, thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you guys next time.
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