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Wide White: Do you believe in prayer?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Do you believe in prayer?

I've long struggled with prayer. I know it's a critical part of life as a Christian but I've had a hard time feeling any attachment to it or seeing its real-world application. I'm not exactly sure what to do with that. Pray for more meaningful prayer?

I tend to approach the world with blunt realism. When I see a study showing the same results in both medical patients receiving prayer and those receiving none, I think, "See, what's the point?"

I started thinking about this again yesterday when a few friends Tweeted about praying for a little girl battling cancer. I read a bit about her story and current situation on her CaringBridge site (WARNING: don't click through unless you're prepared to cry). It's heart-wrenching.

What really killed me was this question from the 7-year-old girl:
And then the question again that pierces our hearts daily, "Why hasn't Jesus used his power yet? He's so much stronger than cancer, why?"
I have absolutely no idea how I would answer that question.

As a Christian who purports to believe in prayer, I feel like I should have an answer to that question. But I don't and that seems like a problem.

So I'd like to know, do you believe in prayer? Why or why not? How would you answer this question? Why pray for healing when you know that there's a very real chance of no healing? If healing doesn't take place, how do you explain it to the child (or spouse or yourself) asking what the purpose of prayer is? If you're healed and you attribute that to prayers being answered, how do you address the person who prayed and wasn't healed?

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14 Comments:

OpenID secretsofawannabehousewife declared,

I'm an atheist, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt, but I was always led to believe that since God has a plan, we can't really pray for circumstances to be different. What we pray for is our hearts to be stronger in order to handle the situation.

I don't know how I would be able to answer the little girl's question, though, because my only instinct is that it's all up to chance. Probably not the best answer to give a little kid.

2/03/2011 7:27 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

I believe in prayer. I believe it is powerful and that it plays an important role in community building. I think when we pray vocally as a group, it's a great way to center ourselves on shared goals and desires. It's a great way for us to express our hopes and desires for the future. I think that expressing gratitude through prayer is an effective way of learning humility. I agree with the previous commenter that prayer can be an important meditative way of strengthening ourselves.

But I don't believe that praying for something is an effective way of changing situations. I believe in a very hands-off God, who doesn't intervene in things here on Earth just because we ask Him/Her to. That's just not how God works.

2/03/2011 9:19 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Interesting perspectives. I don't think I struggle as much with introspective prayer, though I can't say I still grab hold of it like I want to and feel like I should. I struggle more with prayers of petition, making requests of God to impact a given scenario. If I'm going to believe the biblical accounts of his intervention in various human affairs, then I'm going to be hard-pressed to think that God doesn't intervene in things here on earth today.

2/03/2011 1:04 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Oh, and to secretsofa..., I try not to take what anyone says with a grain of salt. :) The clarification does help in simply setting the tone for your perspective on God and prayer in the first place.

2/03/2011 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

I find prayer, especially when directed at a single incident or person, to be a selfish act regardless of how soothing it may be to people.

2/03/2011 9:38 PM  
Blogger Keithslady declared,

Your comment helps clarify your question. It's more a question of "Do you believe in prayers of petition?" I haven't researched it, but does the Bible give us any examples of generically praying for those who are sick? Are we commanded or encouraged to pray for the sick? The disciples were told to heal the sick. Jesus healed the sick. That was miraculous healing with power. I've heard of some today--typically in third world situations--who heal the sick and are witnesses to miracles. I've heard of some in the western world, too. But they tend to be hands on, personal accounts of healing. So, I would separate the question of prayer, and prayers of petition on behalf of the sick.

I've heard it said that prayer changes us not God. But that can be a canned way to excuse God for not doing what we want. We get pretty vague when it comes to answered prayer in areas we don't understand or aren't even sure will be changed by prayer anyway.

We've been reading through Luke in the mornings and studying it closely (5 months, 7 chapters). In Luke 7 when John's disciples go to Jesus to ask if he's the one they're looking for or if they should look for another (note--genuine inquiry not a challenge or demand for an answer) he tells them to report to John--(paraphrase)tell them the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them. I asked the children which of those is the easiest to do. All agree it was the last. But, do we even do that? If we're to be like Christ that list would be a top one to follow, starting with the simplest, telling the poor the good news. If we don't even have the faith and desire to do that I don't think, even through prayer, we should be trying to heal the sick or raise the dead.

Just a thought.

(Have you seen Faith Like Potatoes? It's a good personal challenge kind of related to this.)

2/04/2011 8:53 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

You're right, it was more a question of believing in prayers of petitions. As with a lot of posts like this, I think I start with a big thought and then talk my way through the post until I've sorted out what it is I'm really driving at. Should have gone back and edited the title of the post.

I haven't seen Faith Like Potatoes, but I'll have to check it out.

The tough thing is as resistant as I am to believing that prayers of petition are really effective, the Bible seems to say they are. Isaiah 38:5, for example: "Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life." The man was supposed to die, asked for more life, and got it as a direct response to his prayer. There are numerous other examples like that. Hmm...

2/04/2011 9:09 AM  
Blogger Emily declared,

"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

"And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."

James 5:13,14

2/08/2011 9:42 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Exactly, Emily. The Bible supports prayers of petition. However, if "the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up," how do you respond when the Lord doesn't raise him up? How do you respond when the prayer of faith doesn't save the sick? It happens all the time. Do you still believe the prayer of faith saves the sick when the sick isn't saved? That's what I don't really understand.

2/08/2011 9:46 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

I think that more often than not, the Bible presents the way we wish God worked, not necessarily how he does work.

2/08/2011 10:00 AM  
Blogger Emily declared,

I'm afraid I am not good at expressing what I think, but here's a try. I don't claim to have all the answers. I honestly don't know what I would tell a child. I believe God is sovereign. He already knows how he is going to work. We are commanded to pray in faith for our requests to be answered, but if we don't get what we were looking for, we know that it was not His perfect will for us to have our way. I do not look at God like a vending machine where I can insert a prayer and out pops my every desire. If my prayer is not answered, I would say it was not God's will to answer it, and I would have to try to be content with that.

2/08/2011 11:37 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

I'm not sure anyone has all of the answers, Emily! :)

What you said is what I find so confusing about all of this. If God is sovereign and already knows how he's going to work, what's the point of prayer? I mean, sure, if it's commanded then we can do it because of that, but what purpose is there beyond the fact that we're commanded to do it? How do we really engage in prayer in a meaningful way aside from simple duty? I totally agree with you, God isn't a vending machine, but having said that, if he says "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" (among other similar passages about prayer), does it mean we don't have enough faith if our prayer isn't answered?

Being that the whole thing confuses me more than anything, I probably should just shut up about it. It's just such a fundamental tenet of Christianity that I think it's worth trying to sort out.

2/08/2011 11:59 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

I'm usually not much help in conversations like these because I don't really believe in a sovereign and independent God. Many Christians find me quite heretical. I like the story of Abraham bartering with God, even though I know it's more myth than history. When I pray to God, I'm really praying to myself. Any power God has, I also have. I give God as much power as He gives me, because I am in Him, and He is in me. I don't hope for anything from an outside God. I make my own Zion. I find my own peace. I'm building my own Heaven on Earth.

In other words, our error is not questioning why God intervenes in some situations and not in others. Our error was in attributing past successes to an outside God in the first place.

But also, what the hell do I know?

2/08/2011 12:17 PM  
Blogger watchman declared,

I don't believe in prayer (the way it is put here) one small iota. Yet, I pray all the time. To be honest, my prayers float into the vast Other that is God, where my language rules don't apply. At least, I hope so.

God is the great paradox of our experience. He is the wholly Other. So, to say that he does not exist is to say that he does. So, when I pray, I attempt to experience the paradox, the Other. Within the Other, lies the truth that the sick are the truly healthy and the grieving are the truly happy. The King of love is the King of Cruelty.

So, then, prayer is an act of submitting to a paradox - entering a world that is not. This is the only prayer wherein I have ever found hope. Yet, such hope is only the product of despair.

2/08/2011 2:53 PM  

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