Friday, May 30, 2014

Prayer: to what avail?

I pray every day; a couple times throughout the day, and every night with my wife. I’ll pray anywhere and anytime where I can find peace and quiet.
Inevitably the question arises regarding whether or not prayer actually works, or whether there is any use in it. My answer: it depends. Let me first articulate where I believe prayer might be ineffective, and subsequently move on to what kind of prayer I have found to be fruitful.

Many types of prayers are pleas to God. For example, people ask God to bless them for upcoming periods, to watch over their loved ones, to heal them of some affliction etc. It is these types of pleas that I find troublesome, both in consequence and in principle.

Let’s take consequence first. Does God answer every prayer? Surely not. Obviously two people praying for contradictory things cannot both be answered. More than that, we see unanswered prayers every day. Heck, non-believers parade around scientific studies done on prayer that supposedly have demonstrated that this type of prayer does not work. I myself have asked God for reasonable things of which I never saw their fruition manifest.
Perhaps, some might say, I did not have enough faith. Perhaps. However, I have witnessed plenty of cases where those praying had more than enough faith. One such case happened at the church I attend--what could be called a mega-church. Almost two years ago the church’s pastor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. She fought it for almost a whole year. Throughout this year thousands, and I mean thousands, of people were praying for her healing, including countless pastors (from Joel Osteen to Joyce Meyer) and church leaders. Not enough faith? I think not. Yet, this faith was not vindicated, and the pastor’s wife lost her battle with the cancer. So, it seems that God does not answer all pleas, no matter how desperate and sincere.

This brings me to principle. Why, we might wonder, did God not answer those prayers and heal the pastor’s wife of cancer? Was it not His will to do so? Obviously. But then why pray, if God will not alter his will to accommodate ours? Maybe God only answers prayers when our will is in line with his will. But, God’s will will always necessarily manifest, whether ours is aligned with it or not. So, what’s the use? If our prayer is against the will of God, then God’s will won’t be changed, but if our prayer is in line with God’s will, then God’s will will inevitably happen, and there is no use praying.
So, pleading prayer seems problematic. Is there, then, any pragmatic value we can salvage regarding prayer? Yes, I believe there is.

Prayer, at least for me, is simply a time to give thanks to God, express my hope in Him, and meditate on his love, goodness, and mercy. Meditating on the love of God is incredibly transforming for me. It literally makes me a more patient, loving, caring, kind, compassionate and generous person every day. When I don’t pray I don’t feel like myself, and when I do pray I feel like my “true” self. Prayer is our connection with the divine, not a time when we come to ask God for this or that.

This type of prayer has also convinced me that it is not only Christians who can encounter the love of God. While a Muslim might think they’re praying to Allah, I see no reason to believe that they’re not in touch with God Almighty simply because they call him by a different name. We’re all tapping into the divine source of life, though we might not know it.

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