In my experience, if you ask the typical Christian if he prays, he will look at you guiltily and say he sometimes remembers to pray before meals and sometimes goes to church.
This is a problem.
Like, a really, really big problem.
But I think if you ask the same Christian why you should pray, they will give you the same answer that I gave when I was first asked: because God wants us to pray.
This is true. God does want us to pray. But I think if we take a “God told me so” approach to God, we end up with an arbitrary rule-maker instead of a loving Father.
If God loves us so much, why does He want us to pray?
There are many lovely definitions of prayer, but when you strip them all down to practical terms, they essentially amount to this: talking and listening to God.
Prayer is Essential to a Relationship with God
If we accept God as a loving Father, why does He want us to pray? He wants us to pray for the same reason that your parents want you to call them on the phone: He wants a relationship with you.
You do not have a relationship with God if you do not pray.
I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true.
"Prayer does not help our relationship with Jesus. Prayer is our relationship with Jesus.” Mark Hart.
If God is meant to be the most important person in our lives, and we never talk or listen to Him, we are not living up to our end of the deal. If someone tells you that they converse with their spouse only on Sundays, you can reasonably assume their relationship is falling apart.
Paul tells us that, through baptism, we are adopted children of God. Jesus calls us His friends. This relationship with God is not only a duty: it’s the greatest invitation anyone has ever received.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he says that a friendship with the gods is impossible because they are too far above us. But our God, more powerful than any god ever imagined, gives us that invitation Himself.
When We Pray, We Become More Like God
This point here is actually fairly intuitive when you think about it. The more time you spend around anyone, the more like them you become.
There’s a reason a boy becomes more annoying than you ever thought possible when he reaches middle school: he’s spending time around other annoying boys.
When we spend with God, we become more like Him. And if God is Goodness itself, then anyway we become like God, we become better.
The only objection I could see to becoming more like God (that’s not based on evil intentions) is because, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we often think God is boring.
We fear becoming a shell of our former selves and our friends will be repulsed by us as we spend every waking moment as though we are in a Eucharistic procession.
But earlier, I stated God is Goodness. God is not boring. Read any of the Gospels, you will not find Jesus to be a boring god.
This is why, when you look to the saints, even though they were all just about as close to God as humans can be while still on earth, you will find more diversity than modern universities even pretend to desire.
To take Chesterton’s example from The Dumb Ox, Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas, two of the Church’s most beloved saints, were, aside from their mutual love of God, complete opposites.
Thomas Aquinas was a fat man (hence the moniker, ox) who devoured books even more so than food. He spent his life as a monk and became one of the greatest minds this world has ever seen.
Francis of Assisi was a thin, even wispy man, who sought poetry over books, lived in constant aestheticism, and was thought to be charismatic by his supporters and insane by his detractors.
God made us to be like Him but in our own individual manifestations. God did not create such diversity among us so that we could come back to Him as cookie-cutter drones on an assembly line down the exact same straight and narrow path.
Paul tells us that we are either slaves to sin or to Jesus (Romans 6). We experience more freedom by choosing to be a slave to Jesus because Jesus loves us and has a stake in how we turn out. The Devil does not care how we end up in Hell so long as he gets a good barbecue out of it.
You will only become as you are meant to be if you pray. Prayer will not warp you; prayer will complete you.
Prayer has Power
Prayer is not merely therapeutic or motivational, only capable of changing ourselves and nothing around us.
If you look in the Bible, or at Church History, you will find endless examples of miracles resulting from prayer.
I myself know many people with direct or indirect testimonies of miracles resulting from prayer.
Even aside from the miraculous, Saint Monica prayed every day for her son to repent from his heathen and heretical lifestyle: her son is Saint Augustine.
I recall my parents always praying for me and my siblings to grow up as happy Catholics. Thus far, their prayer has been answered in all seven of their kids (which is a statistical miracle if you look at the state of the modern Church).
The common response you will hear from non-believers is that if God were real, then He could do whatever He wants whether we pray or not.
This is true.
However, God has invited us to be His disciples and to carry out His mission on earth. Even most non-religious will recognize we have free will and that our actions have power.
Similarly, when we pray, we are invoking the power of God, which has power even beyond our actions.
It is also through prayer that our actions become sanctified. At the wedding at Cana, Jesus did not just make wine materialize, even though that might have been more impressive. Instead, the servants first filled thirty-gallon stone jars with water, and their offering was sanctified and made great through the blessing Jesus made upon them. (John 2).
The feeding of the five thousand first required a boy to offer Jesus his five loaves and two fish. (John 6:9)
If you are still skeptical of prayer, I challenge you to try to accomplish any ministry without prayer. An unintentional experiment I ran when I was a retreat missionary was every time I did not pray going into the retreat, I ended up hating it and being bad at my job. Only later did I realize it was a lack of prayer. When I did pray before the retreats, they went well and I loved them.
The longer I work professionally in ministry, the more I am convinced that nothing difficult and worth doing can be done outside of prayer.
And we have a better chance of winning the Tour de France without steroids than finishing the race to Heaven without prayer.