Why do we even pray?


I know this is not a new question, but… why do we even pray?

This is my first post here, and I feel a little strange asking religious questions to a bunch of strangers online. However, I’m not sure who else to ask in order to get a variety of opinions. Please bare with me as I am not trying to be offensive. I am truely confused and just seeking answers.

I was trying to look up an answer to this question in a book I have called Catholicism the study edition by Richard P. McBrien, but all I got was a copout answer.

He (and I) asked “Can we change the course of events through prayer? Can we alter God’s will and so receive some blessing that otherwise might pass us by? Can we fend off some evil occurence by specifically imploring God to save us [or others] from it?”

I (try to) pray for the victims and families of people who have had horrible events happen in their lives. For some obvious examples, I have prayed for the thousands of people affected by Katrina, the parents of slayen children, and even the familes recently affected by the earthquake in California. But, does it help?

Many say that when things work out the way we want that God answered our prayers. However, when things don’t work out the way we want then it was God’s will.

That seems a lot like fate to me.

How do we know that God’s will was not what we prayed for in the first place?

Next, if fate exists then why do we pray? Fate, by definition, is pre-determined.

I personally do not believe in fate. I, like St. Thomas Aquinas, believe that God gave us freewill so that we were able to ***choose ***to believe in God or not.

This brings me back to my conundrum. Why do we pray? If you do not believe in fate then you probably believe that your prayers may influence God and affect the future. If you DO believe in fate then prayer (and religion in general) doesn’t really matter because your fate would have already been set. This includes your intentions, your actions, their outcomes, AND even whether you believe in God or not!

I know my question sounds cynical. Yet, I am not trying to make people angry. I am trying to find help. I am trying to find answers.

In the book Catholicism, the section on prayer continues. It states that “prayer is a conscious, deliberate coming to terms with our actual situation before God.” I agree. However, that definition is far too simplistic. When I pray that a family member or friend is not dead after a horrible storm, I am not saying to God, “I know this person may be dead.” That is just obvious. I am saying, “I believe that you are the One True God. The One who has the power to save this person, and that I am acknowleding that you are the only One that can save this person’s life.” Furthermore, I believe that God is all powerfull AND all knowing. This not only pre-supposes that God can change the course of someone’s life, but also that God already knew how much I did not want this person to die. By praying, I am telling God something God already knows. Do I (or you) honestly think that if I don’t pray to God to save a person’s life that God will not already know my thoughts? By definition, doesn’t that mean that God did NOT know my thoughts? Therefore, if you believe (as I do) that God is all knowing then prayer is unnecessary because God Already knew what we were going to pray for.

Some of you may be offended by my previous line that Richard McBrien’s answer was a copout. For that I appologize. But, I simply cannot understand that “prayer (simply) …does not effect a change in God but in ourselves.” When I am praying for safety of those who are less fortunate then myself, I am not just accepting that I care for people that are less fortuante. I am asking for God’s help in caring for those that are less fortuante! I already know I care about them. Prayer doesn’t make me care about them more. Instead, when they suffer unduly, it makes me question the purpose of prayer. In makes me confucedus.


It is a very good question. There are two kinds of prayers, meditative and supplicative.

It is the second type that makes no sense. To “ask” for something presumes that God can be influenced, which is in dire contradiction with the assumption that God is immutable. Just one of the examples of doublethink - the many contradictions that believers engage in. This is probably not they want to hear, but the truth is often not pleasant.

As Ambrose Bierce said in the Devil’s Dictionary:

To pray (v.): To ask that the laws of the Universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.


Prayer cannot change God’s mind. But prayer can allow you to know the will of the mind of God. So, for example, if you prayed for the health and well-being of another, it may indeed bring an efficacious effect to the person being prayed for, either in mental well-being or even a miracle bringing good health.

In short, your prayers are not useless. True, when you pray the Lord already knows what you (and others) need, so you are not really petitioning the Lord as so much as being invited by God to know His will in prayer. In other words, when you pray I think it is better to see it as a calling of the Holy Spirit, an invitation from God to partake in His grace and sharing it with others. Prayer is talking to God. And, like prophesy, sometimes God is actually speaking through you, revealing His will to others via your prayers.

In fact, He may even be providing the grace for the person’s healing via the invitation from God to pray for others-- so don’t stop praying. Some would say that our failure to pray for others leads others to the loss of their salvation, but I personally have a hard time with this myself.

If indeed all responsibility and onus was on us to pray for someone – and their salvation was jeopardized by our lack of prayer – this would mean that we are, in a sense, more powerful than God. In this sense, I think the person who refused to pray for others would suffer the spiritual consequences whereas that person who was not prayed for would suffer physically but be provided another means by God for spiritual salvation.

Again, this doesn’t mean that our prayers make no difference to the salvation of others. It does, and God does invite us to know His will for others via the prayers we pray for them. But I think we need to be very careful to not be so full of ourselves as to think that God will not save them if we don’t pray for them.

People will indeed suffer for not praying. But the person who will mostly suffer (on a spiritual level) is the person whose heart was so cold as to not pray for the salvation of others around them. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

PS: Don’t forget that sometimes our prayers are answered with a, “No.” We often go looking for other answers at that point if we are not prepared to accept God’s will. :frowning:


Your post started off very good. But I don’t think that anyone really cares what Ambrose Bierce said in the Devil’s Dictionary to be honest. :slight_smile:

I’m guessing, since you didn’t even suggest that God was speaking through them via prayer, effectively revealing Hs will to them and others in away similar to prophesy, that you haven’t really thought about this that much. I’m also guessing that you don’t really care to look that hard either.

Just to be clear, I think you have provided some utterly pathetic answers to a very beautiful question. Perhaps you should actually seek out the Catholic faith by listening to Catholics who have actually thought about these questions instead of appearing to be trolling a Catholic forum. It would certainly be less embarrassing for you as you trip, fumble and erratically rampage through China store like a blind drunk elephant.

Indeed, in case you haven’t noticed, your own answer from a possibly atheistic framework leads to a potential example of doublethink - emerging from yet *another contradiction * that unbelievers engage in – such that they think they are experts in others beliefs (and even understand the Catholic faith better than experienced Catholics do), even though they don’t actually listen to the answers given by believers (especially Catholics) in the first place.

This emerging contradiction orginates in the sad fact that the doublethinking atheist cannot even offer a basis for presupposing that good even exists.

As Paul Copan notes,

“To ground an objective moral order, the atheist must show how naturalism furnishes an ontological framework for the intrinsic dignity of human beings, universal human rights, and moral responsibility. The atheist has shown no such ontological foundation (based on naturalism) to account for intrinsic human dignity, human rights, etc. Therefore, the atheist’s attempt to ground an objective morality fails.”

And this indeed is doublethinking (a simultaneous belief in two contradictory ideas) on the part of the atheist. So perhaps a better question is:

Why is an atheist answering spiritually orientated questions which are directed toward Catholics?

If you are an atheist, this is probably not a question that you want to think about, but the truth is often not pleasant. Hopefully you are not an atheist though. And, by the way, if you’re not actually looking for Catholic Answers, why exactly are you here again?



Hmmm, why not? What he said is true.

Obviously you don’t know what doublethink is: to hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously and believing both of them. In this case to believe that God is immutable, and also believe the efficacy of supplicative prayers.

Having fun and learning. No, not about God. I know everything about God that can be known (having been a believer myself). I am here to learn just how far some people are willing to go in self-deception. And the answer is: very, very long indeed.

Since you did not like Ambrose Bierce, here is another little limerick:

They say that God is immutable,
And their reasoning is truly irrefutable.
When He acts as He should,
They say He is good,
When He doesn’t, His ways are inscrutable.


That was pathetic. Obviously you don’t care what others think or believe. Maybe God said no to you enough times that you decided that He doesn’t exist. Do you not know that when God says “no” to us, it is because it is outside His will for us? And then there are times He says “not yet.”

But there are enough people who act like little children and throw temper tantrums when they don’t get there way. They decide they know better than God, and/or know God enough to make judgement on Him. And who are you to do that?


So then you are actually not here to learn about the Catholic faith. You also apparently know everything there is to know about God. And you also believe that people who believe in God are engaged in self-deception.

Have I briefly summarized your position correctly?

Again, why is an atheist answering spiritually orientated questions which are directed toward Catholics?


Partially, yes.

Well, maybe I was a little bit exaggerating. I know a lot about gods in general and the Christian version in particular. Of course I only know what people think about those beings. Personally I never met a god, and I suspect none of the Christians either.

Many times they do, in my opinion.

Pretty close.

It was not directed toward Catholics only. When I see a post, which directly asks for the opinion of Catholics only, I respect it, and do not post in that thread. Also, since this thread was moved to the Apologetics forum, I will not return to it. I only read the Philosophy forum.


Your loss, not ours.


Back to the OP…

I have had that question myself. It does seem like fate. I don’t entirely know how it works. I do think that it is like a conversation with God. I don’t think you can ask for things to happen, but good will and hope can subconscously make you do those things…if that makes any sense. I would like some more answers as well…


I think it comes down to passages in the Bible like this…

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.

Who hopes for what he already has?

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

In this passage from the Bible found in Romans 8 we see that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf in accordance with God’s will. So when we have the urge to pray, if it truly is from God, we see that the Spirit of God is moving through us to pray and voice God’s will.

The Bible asks, “Who hopes for what he already has?” And I think this is critical to understanding what the Bible is saying. We are not, technically, just *hoping for something to happen *when we pray. We are opening our hearts to the Spirit of God and aligning our wills with God’s will so that He can reveal the true path He set forward for us via our prayers.

Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” I think many misunderstand this to mean that we need to force ourselves to believe something. But I think that’s the opposite of what the passage actually means.

Some people look at a passage from the Bible like James 5 and conclude that we need to really, really, really pray hard in order to force God to make something happen, something not much different than a Genie in a bottle granting wishes. But I think this kind of “faith” is highly self-destructive because no amount of prayer is going to change God’s mind-- His will is already fixed in perfect Holiness.

People who engage God in prayer over and over again asking for the same thing in a vain repetition are basically engaged in the kind of pagan prayers that God abhors. Repetitive prayer isn’t bad. But vain repetitive prayer is. They’re not seeking God’s will. They’re trying to get God to do their will by pestering Him over and over again about the same thing.

Someone might object and ask, “Then why does the Bible say to call the elders to pray for someone’s health if God’s mind can’t be changed?"

I think the answer is simple: The elders praying for the sick person is a sign from God that He is actively working toward the person’s well-being. It is evidence that God is dwelling among the believers to bring about a gift of His grace. The elder are not “invoking God” via their prayers. God is “invoking the elders” via the Holy Spirit and manifesting among them, revealing His presence (and will) via the prayers they utter.

The same thing can be said about fasting before prayer too. If the believer feels that they need to fast this may indeed be a sign that God is getting ready to reveal something to the fasting person via their prayers, that God is calling them by the Holy Spirit to utter His will.

In a sense, prayer is not radically different from prophesy.

  1. Both reveal future events.
  2. Both reveal God’s will.
  3. Both are able to utter miraculous information or reveal a miraculous event.
  4. Both are actions of the Holy Spirit working through the believer.
  5. Both are edifying to the faith of the person engaged in the particular action.

One major difference between the two is that (under the Old Covenant) a person who prays is not “stoned to death” if their prayer is not answered.

Another major difference between the two is that (under the New Covenant) no “new information” will be revealed during prayer that can be added to the deposit of the Catholic faith. Subtle nuances can be revealed within the existing body of information found within the deposit of the faith-- but nothing new will be added which contradicts the previous revelations already closed.

Anyway, I think this is what Mark 11:24 means when it says, “…whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours…” If a prayer is from true faith that comes from a genuine belief, then we are not “hoping” for anything. We are “declaring” what God has revealed to us, which is why I think Paul corrects anyone who “hopes for what he already has.”

Who hopes for what he already has?

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

If it is a true prayer, we are not “hoping” at all. We already “have it” and are merely waiting for God to give it at the appropriate time.

There’s also the whole matter of praying for something that God does not will too. It’s been touched on above. But that’s a whole other topic in my opinion.

Now I admit that I could be wrong. But that’s how I see it. It’s not that prayer has no effect. It most certainly does have an effect. It’s just that the effect is not originating with the person praying. It’s originating with God who is calling them through prayer (via the Holy Spirit) to align them to God’s will and even reveal His will for special events (if necessary for the believer’s behalf).

That’s how I see it anyway. I think this is in agreement with Catholic teaching too.


This is the way it was explained to me:

We pray to God because it is God’s will that we pray to him. It is written on our hearts and souls when we are made, that we will desire to pray to Him. So we send Him prayers of praise and thanksgiving. We are also to ask Him for things. Its not that He changes his will when we pray to Him, but that He has willed various outcomes depending on whether we pray or not. Like if I don’t pray for patience, I’m not likely to get much of it. When I pray for patience, God is very generous. Its the same with all of our needs. (Our selfish wants are an entirely different matter, lol. :smiley: ) God will send us what is best for us when we pray to Him. It is also his will that we love and pray for others. So yes, it does help when we pray for people that are suffering in some way or other. Also, your prayers have more effect if you are in a high state of grace, and the disposition of the person you are praying for also matters.


I’ve been told that its perfectly ok to “pester” God as much as we want. The story of the Gentile (Greek) woman who kept pestering Jesus to heal her child (He finally did) and the parable of the neighbor that kept banging on the door in the middle of the night to get some bread for his guests (he finally got it) are often used to illustrate that we should keep asking for what we need. (Just my two cents. :wink: )


Short answer:

I pray because I feel closer to God when I do. I pray because praying makes me feel like a better person.


But she wasn’t pestering Jesus no more than Abraham was pestering God about the “righteous” who would be destroyed with the unrighteous. Jesus was testing her faith to see what she would do.

He didn’t make a “mistake” as some people claim either. She did acknowledge that the Jewish people were indeed the apple of God’s eye by admitting that the Gentiles were only deserving of crumbs from the table.

Here’s the story in the Bible…

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This was actually a sign that God was allowing the Gentiles to directly partake in the greater miracles of God too, leading toward the New Covenant.

…and the parable of the neighbor that kept banging on the door in the middle of the night to get some bread for his guests (he finally got it) are often used to illustrate that we should keep asking for what we need. (Just my two cents. :wink: )

Hmmm…I’m not exactly sure which parable from the Bible this is.

Could you give me a book, chapter and verse? I would like to read it more.

Either way, like I said before, repetitive prayer isn’t bad. But vain repetitive prayer is. I’m talking about this passage around here in Matthew 6:7

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Vain repetitive prayer, at is most worse, is like someone praying for a million dollars to gamble with at the Casino (instead of donating to the poor), or praying for a hot girl friend to have sex with (outside of marriage), or praying for lightning to strike someone just because they beat you in a poker game (instead of just letting go of the anger and stop gambling) or some other nonsensical request like that.

These are all extreme examples of stupid prayers that some people really do pray. Their motivations are not in the right place. They don’t really care for doing God’s will either. They just want Him to give them “goodies” without actually committing to what God calls them to do.

Indeed, in many cases the answer to a vain repetitive prayer is, “No. I have another plan for you.” It’s usually at this point that they go looking somewhere else. But, in the cases of those who continue to “pester God” with stupid requests like those noted above, they are engaged in “vain repetitive prayer”.

As Matthew 6:32-34 notes, “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

See how God already knows what we need?

Again, I admit that I could be wrong. But I don’t see anything here that disagrees with Catholic teachings about prayer. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says…


For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

You can find more here…


I, too, have wondered about the purpose of prayer.

Ever since I was younger I used to pray for the health/benefits of others. But now that I’m older I wonder about its effectiveness. If it’s true that God gave men/women free will, then people’s prayers would never be granted by God Himself.

I think there’s a big difference between ‘praying’ for people who are less fortunate and physically/financially ‘helping’ those people who are less fortunate.

Unfortunately, I don’t pray (in the traditional sense: rosary,Our Father,Hail Mary…etc) every night as I use to. As a matter of fact I don’t pray anymore at all (besides Church on Sundays).

I think prayer is more of ‘meditating’ and ‘reflecting’ on what is good and what is bad. If God is all that is good in this world and if God is the ‘truth’, then it would be better to ‘reflect’ on what is good in order to follow in the footsteps of our Lord.

In other words I continually reflect on my past/present actions with other people to determine whether or not my actions were just/righteous. I also observe the behavior of others in the same way. Doing this brings me closer to God (Whom is all that is good). Not only that but it is also helpful in rooting out those who are actually evil who disguise themselves as being good.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” - Jeremiah 9:23-24


To all: thank you for your responses! I learned and realized many things from reading your posts.

ateista: i appreciate your response. Although you may not be of my religion, prespective is alwasy nice.

Camron: your post was inspiring at times. I loved not only your Bible citations, but also refuting opposing ideas and potentially contrradictory Bible passages. However, I must say… when you attacked ateista, it seemed (to me!) to be a little hypocritical to Catholic faith. This person may have offended you and not given the answer you want to hear, but as Catholics, shouldn’t we willing to accept others for who they are and what they believe? We hope (and pray) that they may come to know the Lord through our actions, but does that me they should come to know the Lord through our verbal attacks as well? For example you said, " It would certainly be less embarrassing for you as you trip, fumble and erratically rampage through China store like a blind drunk elephant.?" That doesnt’ seem like something that represents the love Catholicism promotes.

Camron: now that I have my moaning out of the way… I would like to get into a nice debate with you. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to challange your beliefs. I think you gave the best response to my question and I would like to continue our conversation. I love your suggestion (in a simplified version) that our acting of praying is a form of God’s will. Yet, for the same reason that I do not believe in fate, I am having trouble with something you said. Namely, “In a sense, prayer is not radically different from prophesy.” This again promotes the idea of fate. If I am prophecised to pray, how do I ever get to choose to believe in God?

Christy Beth: Your response was the most offensive of everyones. You are right… I may be “pathetic,” but that does not make me any less curious about my religion. Nor does it make me not believe in God, think I’m smarter than God, or not care about others. My question was not a complaint about God saying “No.” Rather, my question was about the purpose of prayer. It was never meant to be offensive (as I stated initially). Furthermore, to state that I “decide I{ know better than God,” shows that you may not have understood my question. On the contrary, I believe that God knows so much (including what is best for me and others) that my prayers shouldn’t make a difference. I may pray for something, and God doesn’t fulfill my prayer. Then I may (and try to) accept that my prayer was not fulfilled because God know better than I do.Yet, this brings me to my original question… why bother praying. If God is all-knowing then what is the purpose of praying?

Cristy Beth: Don’t worry though Cristy because I am going to pray for you tonight that you become more accepting of other peoples’ ideas. I will also pray that you (if you are Catholic) will represent the way that Jesus wanted us to treat others. Specifically, you will not call people “pathetic,” especially when they are more confused than you. If I am right, then my prayers won’t matter, if you are right then you’ve got one great prayer coming your way tonight.


Luke 11:5-10 (in most commentary the word “boldness” is explained to mean “persistence”).

FWIW, I agree that you should not keep asking for silly stuff, or selfish wants. But if you need something or want something within reason (like a child if you have not been able to conceive), then I think its fine to say the same prayer every day for years. This assumes they are not demanding that God do their will, but asking for a gift, if it be God’s will. Some couples pray for over 5 or 10 years for a child and then they conceive. They believe that their faith and persistence caused their prayers to eventually be answered. Many believe that God will withhold giving what is requested to test a person’s faith and to teach them to be persistent.

Example of persistent prayer in action: praying for vocations
"The power of persistent prayer is far beyond what we can imagine. "


Not if they’re actively trying to convince others that their faith in God is deluded. It is a senseless tragedy when people like ateista respond with those kinds of responses and some people remain silent and “respectful” even as others end up reading their negative posts and lose faith, becoming unbelievers because no one stood up to defend the faith against such a horrendous insult against the faith.

We hope (and pray) that they may come to know the Lord through our actions, but does that me they should come to know the Lord through our verbal attacks as well? For example you said, " It would certainly be less embarrassing for you as you trip, fumble and erratically rampage through China store like a blind drunk elephant.?" That doesnt’ seem like something that represents the love Catholicism promotes.

When it comes to incompetent claims like the ones that ateista made, it needs to be pointed out in full force how ignorant their silly posts are. The Bible certainly doesn’t mince words when it comes to people who “should know better”—and ateista should know better if indeed he knows as much as he “thinks he knows”.

The Bible also had no problems recording harsh extremely responses to individuals who are polluting the faith by attempting to ruin the faith of others simply because they don’t like God’s will or are too ignorant to actually seek what God is really saying.

For example, Paul comes right out and lambastes many of his ”opponents” who were demanding that Christians needed to be circumcised in order to find salvation, which is utterly ridiculous when one thinks of the ultimate sacrifice that Christ made on the cross…

Look at Galatians 5:11-12 for just one example…

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature[a]; rather, serve one another in love.

See how Paul usages a powerful assault to reinforce the futility of their actions—and then immediately returns to the love of the Gospel message? He didn’t really want them to emasculate themselves. He was pointing out the futility of their actions and sending a verbal barb to make sure that others understood that these people are seriously in error-- because they should know better.

No. We cannot sit by and idly “respect” people who are attacking the Catholic faith.

When there is a serious danger of unbelieving people ruining the true faith of Catholics, by providing answers to questions that Catholics needs answers to, those who are capable of doing so need to respond back “in kind” to the unbelieving abusers of the faith to ensure that all people recognize the futility of their words and actions. This has happened many time in the Bible (see the example above) and also throughout Church history too (Saint Jerome is a perfect example of someone who really lambastes their “opponents” in debates).

Now you may not agree with me on this, and that’s fine—because you already said that we should be willing to accept others for who they are and what they believe. I “believe” we need to respond in kind to people who are actively attempting to ruin people’s faith—and in this particular case ateista is trying to ruin your faith by the way.

By the way, I think that Christy Beth was responding to ateista’s ignorant post too. She wasn’t responding to you as far as I can tell—except, in fact, to say that she will pray for you so that you come to know efficacy of prayer.

That’s how I read her post anyway. :slight_smile:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.