If God knows our hearts, why pray? Does God hear our collective prayers more than our personal ones?

Dear Maggie,

Why do we pray as a congregation in petition, if the Father already knows what is in our hearts? Also, does the Father hear collective prayer more clearly than when we offer our prayers in private?

Patiently Petitioning

Dear Patiently Petitioning,

Thank ye for yer profound and difficult question.  It’s one a’ those questions that theologians write their dissertations on, so I can just take the slightest a’ stabs at it.

God is one who seems to desire to work with us in our freedom.  This means that though God understands us inside and out, God still wants to engage with us in conversation about our wants, our hopes, our desires.  There are even points in the Bible when it seems that God is open to negotiation such as when Abraham prays for God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. 
I’m always struck by those times when Jesus is traveling around the countryside and someone with an obvious disability comes to him and Jesus says “what can I do for you?”  When I read that I’m thinking,

“well it is obvious Jesus, he’s blind and wants to see,” but Jesus doesn’t work like that.  Jesus wants the person asking to direct the healing out of their own freedom.  That’s how Jesus engages us with prayer.

Sometimes prayers can also be ways in which we align our lives with God’s way and life.  When we pray for those in prison or those in poverty, we are learning that God’s people will pray for us if we need to take a stand and go to prison (as with St. Paul and Martin Luther King Jr.) or be in poverty (as with the Koinonia Community in Georgia that was boycotted because of their stand for racial justice).  Collective prayer is not then more effective than private prayer, but it is a different kind of conversation with God. 

Sometimes when we pray together it is also a way we pray on behalf of the world what it cannot pray for itself.  For instance, when we confess our sins we are confessing both on our own behalf but also on behalf of the world that won’t confess.  Our worship on Sunday morning is not simply a time we withdraw to get spiritual nourishment, but is a time when we help bring God’s kingdom into its fullness.  Our liturgy is not “the work of the people” but rather a “public work” such as the building of the road.  It is something we are doing for the world. There is no better way for us to fulfill God’s mission than praying together.

So pray alone and pray together, God wants a relationship with each of us and God wants to join us together to be Christ’s body incarnate in the world. 

I hope that helps ya just a bit.

Blessings and peace,