I don't understand prayer; can you help?

I am having a very hard time understanding the purpose of prayer. I do understand that prayer is communicating with God. I get that telling God my joys and sorrows is a good thing and praising God in prayer is important.

What I don’t understand, is, for example if someone is ill. And they ask me to pray for them. I understand talking to God saying “God I don’t want this person to be sick” but where I get lost is asking for healing for that person. If God wanted the person healed, wouldn’t he do that anyway? Why does my asking for healing change things? People say “God answered our prayers” after someone seriously ill recovers and I don’t get that. Wouldn’t God have healed that person without people praying for them?

Another example, praying for vocations (since this was the theme of last Sunday’s Mass). Doesn’t God WANT great priests and religious? How is it that by my asking God to bring us priests, how does that make it happen? If God willed it, wouldn’t he already do it? I just don’t get it.

I hope I’m being clear with what I’m finding confusing and am anxious to hear your response.


The most basic prayer is not the prayer of petition, which you say you don’t understand. The most basic prayer consists of acknowledging the truth of who God is; that since He generously created us and sustains us, we owe Him our thanks and submission. This is the prayer of worship or adoration.

The prayer of petition consists of our responding to His command to ask Him for what we need. We do this, not to inform Him of what He does not already know. He wants us to pray in this way because it to helps us to realize How much we need Him and also this acts as an expression of our love for each other. By putting our trust him Him, we are actually loving Him—which at the same time, is very good for us. To ask is a humble act. We are most pleasing to Him when we act humbly, not to mention how much more easy we are to live with on the part of those around us.

That was a good question. Thanks for asking.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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