Q & R: Why Pray?

Here’s the Q:

I often think about why we pray. Greg Boyd on his ReKnew Blog says:

Prayer does certainly change us, but that’s not why we’re told to engage in it. We’re commanded to engage in prayer because it is a God-ordained means of impacting him and changing the world. Jesus didn’t say if we have faith and pray our attitude toward mountains would change. He said the mountain would move! Prayer changes what happens in world.
Did you know that there are more “if…then” clauses associated with prayer in the Bible than any other single human activity? For example, the Lord says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He then goes on to add, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chron. 7:14-15). The Lord is in effect saying, “I want to heal and forgive you, but I’m waiting on you to humble yourselves and pray.”

Do we pray to move God to action, or is prayer more about motivating us to take action?
I never could figure out if God is all knowing why do we need to petition “Him” to take action? I have a son, and if I know there is something that would be of benefit to him, protect him, keep him safe and there is something I can do about it, I would not need my son to remind me to take action. He’s my son. I would do what I could to help him.
For those who believe God is a deity with powers to supersede the laws of nature I suppose it makes sense to try and get his attention through prayer to take action. I no longer believe God is a deity with super natural powers. That saves me a lot of trouble trying to figure out why God would save some people on one side of the street in a tornado, and permit people on the other side of the street to be killed. For me God exists in my conscious mind.
I would be interested in your thoughts on why we pray?

Here’s the R:
Books have been written, and more need to be written, on this question. (A few books down the road, I plan to address this as part or a larger book on “what we mean when we say ‘God.'”)
The underlying issue – that you address in your note – is called “the agency of God.” One way I often address the issue is to ask, “What kind of relationship do we think the Creator wants to have with creation?”
1. One option is “the outsider with intervention privileges.” This is the traditional option that so many people – you and I included – find massive problems with. Prayer is our way of begging for intervention.
2. Another option is “the outsider with absolute control.” This is the option of predestinarian determinism (i.e. neo-calvinism).
3. A third option is “the outsider with no intervention privileges.” This is the option of deism. It solves some problems of the previous views, but leaves other problems unaddressed.
4. Another option is “the insider with no influence.” I sense that some people end up here as a way of escaping 1-3 above.
5. Another option is “an insider with influence.” This is in keeping with God revealed in Jesus … incarnational, suffering and rejoicing with creation, recruiting us to join with God in the healing of the world. Prayer in this sense is, in essence, aligning our wills/desires with God’s will/desires. That’s a different kind of relationships than 1-4, and it means that prayer is significant … but it’s not a matter of outside intervention.
That certainly doesn’t solve the problem or answer every question, but I hope it at least stimulates your thinking and proves helpful in some way.