A New Question – Prayer

We’ve been receiving Christmas cards. They’re a bit fun, but I wonder how many people send them out, not because they just love to do so,  but because it’s an obligation. An obligation because if some certain person doesn’t get one, that person will be angry or hurt or feel excluded. An obligation because this is just what we have always done so we keep mindlessly doing it. An obligation because we have to keep up the facade that we are doing just fabulously fantastic, and we need to let all our even near acquaintances know that we are great, even if we aren’t. I’m not trying to be a downer on Christmas. I love Christmas. And I recognize that it certainly is completely possible to just love sending Christmas cards and to do it for pure and honest reasons. But I’m suspect what is behind the majority of card sending, especially when I get one that has some pretty picture, a machine printed message, and a signature. What’s the point of that? Anyway, this is a side issue and an introduction to my main question.

That question is about prayer. One of the cards we have already received (And maybe that is part of the message of this particular card that the senders are doing so very fabulously good that they sent their cards out before Thanksgiving even. But maybe they are just very organized and know they will be busy and not have time to do it after Thanksgiving.) told about a significant illness requiring hospitalization for a few days but that the end result was complete healing which is certainly a wonderful thing in my book. The card went on to describe how there were numerous prayer chains reaching up to the heavens and that if it wasn’t for those prayers, the result would not have been what it was. The author went so far as to imply that the prayers were THE REASON why this person got better. It felt a bit hollow as I read it initially, and as I read and re-read, I wondered what benefit there was in all that, hanging that entire thing on prayer. It just doesn’t seem to sit well inside me, like hoping in a pipe dream or a fairy tale of some sort, almost like falling for some dishonest propaganda or something. And knowing the person who wrote this like I do, I can’t help but wonder if there was a sense on their part that they must approach it in this fashion or else they wouldn’t meet the approval of others in their community of friends, family, and acquaintances. Let me try and clarify a bit.

I’m a physician and take care of gravely ill people in the ICU all the time. It’s a regular part of my existence. And I’m not trying to say that it is the physicians who cured this person and that they are the ones responsible for the healing. I don’t have a physicians-are-gods complex, and that’s not what I’m getting at here. I see people day after day get better and respond to proper medical treatments. It doesn’t take any prayer. You have an ear infection. You get an appropriate antibiotic. And you get better. Without prayer. It doesn’t take any prayer. Get as complicated as you want to get, and it still works the same way. It doesn’t take any prayer. So why add it in there? I don’t pray that God help me eat my dinner well. I don’t pray that God help me know when to go to the bathroom. I don’t pray that God help me remember how to get to WalMart. So why add prayer in here?

At this point some may say that studies have shown that people who are prayed for have better outcomes, and you’d be right. But you wouldn’t be fair unless in your statement you also acknowledge that there are at least an equal number of studies that show no difference between prayed for and non-prayed for and that there are also studies that show those who are prayed for actually do worse. Which means, to me, in the end that there is at least no scientific evidence that praying for others results in disease healing. It’s a wash. But prayer in this way seems to me to be something that we use as a tool to accomplish something for us. In this case, healing, and also maybe being able to talk about how much prayer you were doing and how it is more important to you than food and water. I think I remember Christ telling us to pray in secret, and in the model of prayer he gave us, I don’t see anything about asking God to accomplish things for us. That doesn’t then mean that it’s improper for us to do so. But too often it appears to me that we are praying selfishly and then liking to talk about how we rely so much on prayer. That kind of praying and placing faith and hope in a God who responds to that kind of praying seems to me to be completely useless.

Now this pessimism doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to prayer and that I think it’s worthless. In fact, I think it can be very valuable. For one, the act of praying forces us to slow down and self-reflect which is a good thing in this fast paced culture. Yoga does a lot of the same thing, and I think yoga could be prayer in action. I’ve even prayed some while doing yoga myself. But I think the main value in prayer is not at all that we can ask God for things like healing or wins or losses or parking places (Yes, I know someone who believes that God gives them parking places close to the door when they pray for them.), but in the humility that it brings the person who is doing the praying. Honest communication with God that is not focussed around bargaining or asking for this or that or that is not for the purpose of later on declaring how much you pray and how much you rely on prayer for your very existence, brings forth the acknowledgement within ourselves that there is something greater than ourselves responsible for our existence. And that kind of humility is something that is very obviously critically needed in a world where the powerful and seemingly invincible in sport, business, and government repeatedly fall victim to their money and their attitude and their lust for more power. If you don’t have something or someone or both in your life which do a good job of keeping you humble, of helping you realize that you do in fact need other people, you are heading for a painful decline. Prayer, when approached with an appropriate attitude and mindset, I think accomplishes just that.


10 responses to “A New Question – Prayer

  1. Scripture says that every good gift comes from the Father above. So I would think it would be appropriate to thank him for any healing. And to me there is nothing wrong with believing prayer had a part.

    But as a pastor I think of a high school senior, Cody, who was a nationally recruited linebacker. He was found to have Ewing’s Sarcoma. There was surgery and all the appropriate following treatments. Our church prayed and I prayed. I donated blood for him. I anointed him with oil and prayed for his healing. I also held his funeral.

    Of course I don’t believe dying was all that happened. I have watched people die and often heaven, whatever and wherever it is, seems to come in very close to them in the last days or hours. So praying can move us more into the heart of God, even though the results we focus on don’t seem to come through.

    Prayer that moves us closer to the heart of God is the real point, it seems to me.

  2. “we prayed over your body but nothing ever happened.” -Sufjan Stevens (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdfiXdrmXA8)

    intersessory prayer is what you’re talking about and i gotta say, yeah, i’m with ya. i think this blatant “command” of God is a false one.. to say it’s all prayer misses the hard work and God ordained ministries of those in the medical field, doctors, nurses, staff, drug companies, etc. etc. however, if praying for someone else leads them to a new insight, gives them something that they didn’t walk in with, allows them to be whole in the midst of sickness… that my friend, is what prayer should look like.

    the best prayer… so eloquent and well versed and put together for me would be the Lord’s Prayer and it “did” and accomplished absolutely nothing. and that’s why it’s everything to my understanding of prayer.

  3. I think your story about the friend who sent the Christmas card and had recovered from a serious illness could be looked at from two perspectives. First, the power and purpose of prayer, which you discussed. Secondly, the power and purpose of God.

    Why does God allow sickness? Why does God allow death? If God had the power and desire to heal someone, would he need our prayers before he would be willing to actually ‘do’ the healing? By our concept of prayer and petitioning God, it seems like we think that God will only do good things if we ask him, ask enough, have enough people asking. Aren’t we all equally important to God though…wouldn’t my single desperate cry out to God be just as loud, just as moving to God, as the prayers of a whole church full of people? Do I think I am that ‘religious’…that I am close to God…that he would hear me above others – hardly. I, in fact, often feel far from God. Yet, if God really cares about each hair on my head, I must believe that he hears my cries as well as he hears those of others. In addition, if God is truly the epitome of love, then he does not need me to do a loving act. Why doesn’t God heal all sickness? I don’t know – that is a theological realm I have not yet found the courage to enter.

    Back to the purpose of prayer. In the last ten years, I have prayed and requested many things that have not been answered or given to me. I once thought that our prayers could ‘move the hand of God’. I fully believed that with enough faith and prayer, miracles would happen. So, I prayed and I prayed. In the process, I was hurt, people I loved died, I was abandoned by Christian friends, and I felt lost and clinging to all the hope I was losing in the depths of depression. I cried out to God…I didn’t want to feel anything else…I didn’t think I could take it…the pain was overwhelming…I couldn’t remember joy. My world had fallen apart. I begged God…I cried to God…I yelled at God. I hated God, though I would never have admitted it. This was love – complete lonliness and abandonment in my darkest hour. There are those who would discuss how Jesus felt alone once too – I think think that is just a really poor, crappy answer to a pain.

    I still believe in God. I do not think that I will move mountains in front of me through prayer. I do pray, not often, and not on my knees. I don’t think the purpose of prayer is what I thought it was in the past. At least in my experience, the most helpful person in the midst of life’s pain is not the one who unsuccessfully tries to make it better; it is the person who quietly walks with you through it and allows the expression of all that is within in you. The beauty of being on the other side of something like that could not be found in a microwave moment…if all of the pain just disappeared at once. I don’t for any moment think that God wishes us pain and grief or predestines us for those experiences, but I think God’s grace allows us gain something beautiful out of it…friendships….a deeper understanding of others…love…hope. There is a song somewhere…I don’t remember the details…but it talks about beautiful scars. I am no longer the ‘perfect Christian’ I once saw myself as. I have been broken apart and my scars are deep and encompass many aspects of my life. I like to think that the scars that run through our souls are not ordained by God, allowed by God, occur because of a lack of faith or prayer, a testament to God, or necessary to God’s purpose, but I do like to think they are beautiful to God.

  4. I really liked that critique of prayer – I have many of the same sentiments that start from something very simple – sincerity.

    I think prayer is something that should be sincere – as was taught in Matthew – between yourself and God – or ‘in the closet’ type example. I find this is taught by Jesus pretty clearly but not something the church really lives up to…can’t really blame people for sharing on prayer (which should be thanks to God alone) – the church teaches it pretty clearly like that – almost showy in some ways on a Sunday morning.

    I have my qualms with prayer as it is used and taught – but in other ways I don’t have qualms with prayer…in it’s sincerest form.

  5. jeepgirl…love how you’ve expressed your sentiments.

    what a lovely thought…. that our scars are beautiful to God.

  6. If you really want a challenge about prayer I can think of nothing better than this:

    Does anyone else find this blog difficult to read with the moving spots?

  7. Doug – how are you these days?

  8. hey bud, hope all is well with you.

  9. Hi Doug
    Is it possible to get a password?
    Julia here
    PS If allowed, you can send it to my email address if that is suitable. Have a great day!

  10. societyvs

    Dude, I need a password.

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