Four how questions arise from Jesus’ discussion of prayer in Matthew 6:5–15: How often should we pray? Where should we pray? Should we use patterned prayers? And what should we pray for? We have answered the first three questions, but before answering the fourth, I want to take a look at something Jesus says in Matthew 6:8: “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Later, he says, “your heavenly Father knows that you need [food, drink, and clothing]” (6:32).
Why does Jesus tells us that God knows what we need even before we pray to him? For at least one very simple reason, I think. He wants to assure us that God always has our best interests in mind. Often, we let the anxieties of life pile up on us before we take them to God in prayer. We forget about God until the very moment we realize we cannot live without his help. But God has not forgotten us. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:26; “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” God already knows our needs, so when we pray, we can rest assured that he desires and has the power to meet them.
But if God already knows our needs, why do we need to ask him to meet them? Soren Kierkegaard hints at the answer when he writes, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” God could meet our needs without our prayers. By asking for our prayers, he meets a need deep with us that we may not even know we have—our need to depend on him.
Consider what John Calvin wrote in this regard: “Believers do not pray with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray in order that they ma arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from anxiety by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things.”
“By our praying,” Martin Luther concludes,” we are instructing ourselves.”
Because God knows all things, including our needs from hour to hour, we can be confident that he will take care of us. This confidence is evident in Paul’s assertion that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Not all things that happen to us are good, of course, but God can turn even bad things to good ends. The real question is whether we love God, and express our need for him.