Prayer: Why do it Anyway?

May 11, 2008 at 5:52 pm 10 comments

The subject of prayer has been widely debated over the years. We’ve discussed this topic on several occasions including Simen’s What’s the Point with Prayer?, MysteryOfIniquity’s Prayer: Communion with yourself, and LeoPardus’ Praying my way to losing faith.

Slapdash recently made this comment on one of our posts:

For me, the issue of (unanswered) prayer was the first, primary, and most important thing that unraveled my faith.

Christianity is completely schizophrenic when it comes to prayer. On the one hand you have loads of scriptures inviting us to pray – to pray about everything, to pray without ceasing, to pray boldly, to pray specifically, to pray with the faith of a mustard seed – and our prayers will be answered.

On the other hand, based as far as I can tell only on the Lord’s prayer, Christians insist that you add “not my will be done, but yours” to every prayer, thus effectively giving God an ‘out’ any and every time your original desire doesn’t come to pass.

Therefore Christians can always claim that God answered their prayer – just sometimes not in the way they wanted! heh heh, God’s so much wiser, he didn’t give me any of the jobs I prayed for, instead he had me on unemployment for five months so I could learn more reliance on him. Praise God for answering prayer!!!

The more sophisticated Christians I’ve known have started saying that prayer is primarily a discipline for our own edification/learning – prayer’s not for God, it’s for us, and the outcomes of our prayers are much less important than the fact that it brings us into communion with God.

That’s an elegant way to explain away the many scriptures in the new testament that command us to pray, and promise that we can move mountains if we do.

The chorus to Martina McBride’s hit single “Anyway” states:

Musical NoteGod is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway

My question is why?

- The de-Convert

Entry filed under: The de-Convert. Tags: , , , .

The Christ-Centered Marriage Should we embrace moderate Christianity?

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. writerdd  |  May 11, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Here’s something I wrote about prayer recently (as an atheist). I am ashamed to say that I quote myself a lot, but I just can’t come up with a better way to say this:

    In the movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) tells a young boy whose mother has just died, that we don’t pray to get what we want or to ask God to do something for us, as if he were a big Santa figure in the sky. “That’s not why I pray, Harry;” Lewis told the boy, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless; I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”

    We pray to change ourselves. I love this sentiment, because I believe that prayer is a form of meditation that puts us in touch with the strength and compassion deep inside our own hearts. Although I personally don’t believe in gods or the supernatural, I definitely believe in the power of prayer. It is a force that can bring love and goodness into the world because prayerful meditation makes us shut out the bad news and stress of every day life, and puts us in a position to allow our own compassion to come to the surface.

  • 2. Walking Away  |  May 11, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Great post. I linked here today because I was going to write on this very topic but your post says it all. Thanks.

  • 3. LeoPardus  |  May 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    I think dd has it very much spot on.

    In the EOC they have methods to develop a prayer life. The methods are very like what you would encounter in Eastern religions that do meditation a lot.

    There is mantra (Usually the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, forgive me, a sinner”) over and over. Usually one inserts short prayers for whatever is on your mind between repetitions. Often one develops breathing patterns with this sort of prayer. The idea/goal is to tie the prayer to breathing so that you end up literally “praying without ceasing”.

    This is supposed to mellow one out and it does a good job. I still use the mantra sometimes when I want to destress or enter a meditative state. Works pretty well.

    So, like dd, I think prayer or mediation can change us, calm us, help us to be more dispassionate, and more readily caring.

    A flip side to this is that I don’t think the self-centered prayer that is generally practiced does this at all. “Get me a job, and heal Aunt Maude, and give my truck better gas mileage, and find me a parking space, and me, my, my-oh-my” type of prayer just concentrates on whatever is bothering, worrying, or concerning me. That won’t calm one a bit. And it won’t make one more compassionate toward others.

  • 4. grizelda3  |  May 11, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Leo,

    Thank you for this post. Prayer, petition, intention–they all have their disqualifiers, their ‘outs’. I also liked your post about ‘praying my way to disbelief’. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there is no god, but continue to pray, as you did, ‘god if you’re really there…”
    It’s nice to be in such good company.

    -griz

  • 5. kat  |  May 11, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    some ppl just seriously think by praying god will grant their wishes. my x husband always gets his grandmother to pray whenever he’s working and it looks like its gonna rain (he does cement work and rain will ruin the job) – and get this “it works everytime!”
    he just turned born again and now whenever he has good luck he says its god “rewarding him”

  • 6. LeoPardus  |  May 12, 2008 at 1:05 am

    griz:

    Welcome. So you’re recent to the de-convert experience. Hope it’s OK with you. Many (like me) find it traumatic. If you’re in that crowd, know that it does settle down.

    Looked very briefly at your blog (’cause it’s late). Have to look more later. I like the title of the blog, and what little I read so far.

  • 7. CheezChoc  |  May 12, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    Just a few random thoughts…. a friend’s dog was seriously ill and a mutual friend asked me to say a little prayer for it. I didn’t…not because I don’t like the dog or the friends, but because I figured the dog would live or die regardless of any prayers. The dog lived despite my lack of praying. But if it had died, I would not have blamed myself.
    Another anecdote: a cousin is bipolar, driving his very religious parents crazy, wanting to go off and live in the freezing cold streets, not wanting to take his meds, etc. Cousin implores the rest of us to pray for him. Well, she’s been praying for him for years but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. If anything, he is only getting worse. What difference would my prayers make if added to the mix?

  • 8. Thom  |  May 24, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    On that reasoning, during most of my Christian life I considered requesting something of god to be similar to requesting something of a major corporation via a letter.
    God obviously had reasons for the things he did, the universe was a complex system which must be managed carefully, and if one of the pawns was meant to, for example, suffer and die, then I could no more expect god to rewrite his scheme as a reply to my prayer then I could expect Pepsi to bring back Crystal Pepsi.

  • 9. worg  |  June 12, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    The truth is, there is no god, and you are praying to the lonely, empty, infinite sky.

    All your protestations to the contrary are meaningless. Why should your god answer your prayers when ten thousand others, and all their worshippers, are all dust?

  • 10. Abdul  |  March 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Oh, Richella, I feared this when I heard where he went to sohcol. I am praying that God grants His strength to your friends and their family, as well as for your dear son and your family. I am reminded, “A life unled, a tale unspoken; there are no words, for our hearts are broken.” We here on earth may not have the words, but comfort can be found in our Lord. I’ll add this request to our prayer line, too.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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