If we remember that the Father already knows our needs and desires, then the idea of prayer is strange. For in prayer we never tell the Father anything that he does not already know. A questioning friend might ask again: â€œWhy pray if we say nothing that the person to whom we speak does not already know?â€? Indeed, critics of prayer have asked this kind of question for millennia.
One very common response is to say that if we think we pray so we can tell our Father in Heaven something he does not already know, we make a mistake. But it is not a mistake to speak with him, offering our thanks and adoration, and telling him our thoughts, frailties, needs, and desires. The mistake is to think that the purpose of prayer is to convey information. The mistake is in having the hubris to believe that our prayers might teach God something. We are the ones who are to learn through prayer. The Lordâ€™s Prayer as given in 3 Nephi (13:9-13) omits the request for daily bread, suggesting that the importance of prayer has to do with our acknowledgment that we are dependent upon him rather than with our petitions that he will assuage our difficulties. On this view, even when I speak of my needs I do so as a way of remembering my powerlessness and his omnipotence rather than as a way of asking him to for aid. He already knows what I need and has determined to give me what he will apart from my petitions.
In spite of that, however, we are commanded to pray in our fields and over our flocks (Alma 34:20), in a context that makes it difficult to interpret this as anything but a command to petition God rather than only to learn about ourselves and our relation to him. Indeed, Alma speaks of Christ succoring his peopleâ€”aiding them, relieving them, protecting them (Alma 7:12). (In fact, one can read the verse as teaching that he must learn to succor them.) If Christ has taken a body on himself so that he can succor us, then surely it is appropriate to ask for that succor. On this view, my petitions have an effect on what God will do. If I do not ask for aid, he may not give it. His response to my needs is at least partly dependent on my expression of those needs.
Is there some third way between these two understandings of prayer?