Here’s St. Augustine on the perennial question of prayer: If God knows what we need before we ask him, what’s the point of prayer?
Why we should pray, when he knows what we need before we ask him, may perplex us if we do not realize that our Lord and God does not want to know what we want (for he cannot fail to know it), but rather wants us to exercise our desires through our prayers, so that we may be able to receive what he is preparing to give us.
His gifts are very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it… The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed.St. Augustine, quoted in Wright, J. Robert, Readings For the Daily Office From the Early Church, p. 377.
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words, too:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
It seems that in prayer we exercise our desires, as St. Augustine said, and we also exorcise our desires. In prayer, if we will be honest about our desires, God will help us discern where our desires have been misdirected, where we have settled for making mud pies in the slum instead of packing for our holiday at the sea.
We pray because there is no other way to sift and sort through our lives profitably. We must lay the reality of our lives before the Lord honestly and trust him to lead us into life as he expands our capacity to receive the good gifts he longs to pour out upon us.
There is simply no other way to do this than learning to pray. In prayer our desires can be discerned and our capacity for participating in God’s life can be expanded.