3. Understanding the goal of prayer: the glory of God

Before beginning anything, we all need motivation. For that, we need a goal, an aim. This goal will create a willpower which will translate into action. The extent and intensity of our motivation is directly related to the goal that we want to attain. We study to gain intellectual and practical knowledge which will allow us to have a career. We have a career to earn a salary and holidays because we need rest: “The Lord works out everything to its proper end” (Proverbs 16:4). In the same way, the extent of our motivation is nourished by our understanding of the goal of prayer. What is the point of prayer? What happens when I pray? And when I don’t pray? What is the main goal of prayer?

The goal of prayer is to glorify God. Jesus, in John 17, starts and finishes his prayer with his wish that he might glorify God, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you (v.1), and others will “see my glory, the glory you have given me” (v.24).

What is the glory of God? In the Old Testament the word “glory” is the translation of a Hebrew word meaning “weight”. Theologians tell us that God’s glory is the sum of all his attributes, appearances, interventions and character traits. This glory also means light, honour, splendour. It is omnipresent from Genesis until the apocalypse of Revelation.

The glory of God can be seen in creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). On Mount Sinai: “the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (Exodus 24:17). During the inauguration of the tabernacle: “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34). During the dedication of the temple of Solomon: “the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1Kings 8:11). We are invited to sing and celebrate the glory of God, remembering his greatness, power, works and interventions throughout history (Psalms 66:1-20). But be careful! We are not just called upon to notice God’s glory, but also to proclaim proudly it among the nations (Isaiah 66:19). The goal of Jesus becoming man, his miracles (John 12:11), his death (Hebrews 2:7) was to reveal God’s astounding glory to man: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The glory of God is like the fragrance which emanates from a bouquet of flowers, each flower represents one of God’s attributes or one of his interventions: power, sainthood, grace, justice, love, majesty, generosity, wisdom, omnipresence, mercy, anger, goodness…

Now, what is the relationship between prayer and the glory of God? Praying prepares me for welcoming and receiving the response of God and, particularly, recognising his intervention, the irruption of God into my daily life. This is the fundamental role of prayer: preparing for God’s intervention, recognising it, welcoming it and proclaiming God’s glory throughout the nations. When our prayers have the glory of God as their goal, our own requests are transformed.

Why insist so much on this point? Because the honour and absolute glory belong to God and God alone. And because prayer is one of the main battlefields on which our spiritual combat takes place. The devil never tires, he never gives up. Be careful because he is intelligent and perceptive. If many of us sometimes sense a mysterious power which prevents us from praying, it is precisely because the “Devil’s tactics” (expression used by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters) are to deny, boycott and divert God’s glory.

Too often, we are tempted to “sing” the merits of an organisation or preacher, or, quite simply, to claim the honour and glory which belong to God alone for ourselves. When we pray, we are saying to others and the devil that God, and God alone, is worthy of receiving the honour, the power and the glory. We divert our eyes from the mountains (personal problems, others) and we fix them on God, who alone can move these mountains and deserves all the glory. So let’s proudly proclaim, through prayer, David’s words: “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory” (Psalms 115:1).