One of my son’s asked me this the other day. It surprised me, because I know he is someone who prays a lot. My first response was to ask if he was finding it a challenging time to pray- we all have the desert times- and he said no. What he was really asking was, since God knows all of what we want and need, and he knows what we are thinking, what is the point in also specifically talking to God- isn’t it redundant? And also, does praying change God’s mind about anything? If not- what are we doing praying?
Here was my answer to that. One main purpose of prayer is to build a relationship with God. You can’t know someone unless you engage with- and listen to- them. God already knows us better than we know ourselves so it can seem like there is nothing to be gained from more interaction. However, we have so much (an infinite amount, really) to learn about God. So we benefit from being still and listening- but also to going to our Father in heaven and sharing our burdens with Him- not because he doesn’t know about them already but because our bond with Him is strengthened when we turn to Him. Like all relationships, they require an investment of time- that is prayer. It is also the right thing to do to thank God for all the blessings He gives us, and prayer is a time to say thank you!
For the second part of the question- does prayer cause God to do something different than He otherwise would- I looked to the Bible. The recounting of the conversation between Moses and God about what the punishment should be for the wayward Israelites who were worshiping a golden calf in Exodus is a good example:
Then the LORD said to Moses: Go down at once because your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly.8They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing down to it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”9e I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are, continued the LORD to Moses.10Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.
11* But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,f “Why, O LORD, should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand?12Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning wrath; change your mind about punishing your people.13Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,g ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’”14So the LORD changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
Of course God knew the hearts of every person, so it isn’t that he got new information, or had wanted to do one thing but Moses talked Him out of it. This is one of many opportunities where God allows His people to come to Him and to actively illustrate that He listens. He hears our pleas and He wants us to come to Him with our desires. We can also go to God and ask for what we need, and He hears us. God invites us to be with Him in prayer- what a gift and an opportunity for unsurpassed joy! One of the most stirring things I have witnessed was Pope Francis praying last Friday for the world in the Urbi et Orbi blessing. What a beautiful and humbling example for all of us!