Tag Archives: prayer

Pesky Questions: More on Prayer

When someone utters something about praying hard, there are several possible responses. One is, “praying hard, or hardly praying?” A follow up of “zing!” is optional. Hardy har har.

I recently said this (sans the zing) half under my breath to Ricktopher in response to yet another comment about praying hard. He humors me. I’m less sure about how well it was received by others. Maybe they didn’t hear it.

Truth is, I’ve been swimming with all these comments and the questions they spawn and the dad joke humor was the best I could muster at that point.

My (MLE’s) extended family has been gearing up for my grandma’s heart valve replacement in a few days. Admonitions and supplications to “pray hard” have risen from various corners. I appreciate that others in my family (my grandma included) find comfort in knowing that there are lots of people praying hard for her. (This, of course, was followed up with an acknowledgement that it’s still up to God, which I always find interesting–pray, pray, pray, pray, but it’s still up to God.) I want to be a part of this web of comfort and support. But I’ve got questions.

I’m not really sure what praying really hard means. I thought I knew, but now I wonder. Is it the amount of time spent praying? The sincerity of the prayer? Does thinking about that person or situation or being thankful in general count?

At what point does a prayer become mighty or the label “praying hard” become appropriate for one’s efforts? This all seems a little too subjective to me.

Does my inaction of not praying a prayer of supplication actually negatively effect an outcome? I’ve heard this described by some as blood on our hands. That’s a little much for me, but I find it interesting. (I wish people who believe that had as strong a conviction that our inactions often make us culpable in other ways, for example in perpetuating social injustices.)

I’ve felt guilty at times. Like when I’ve said I’d pray for someone, then forgotten. To avoid this, I’ve sometimes said a quickie prayer right away, so that I don’t forget, and don’t have to try to remember it later. Though sincere (of course I want ______’s ______ to get better), these probably aren’t what most of the pray harders have in mind.

And here’s a question for those who favor the hard prayer line: It seems like praying hard, mighty prayer, etc. is almost exclusively reserved for prayers of supplication. Why is this? How would one’s prayer life be different if one injected the same level of zeal and effort in praying hard (and admonishing others to do so) into other kinds of prayer, like thanksgiving?

If it is true that prayers really can alter an outcome, can do more than send good vibes, then it seems to me we are horribly selfish and narrow-hearted in our choices about what and for whom we pray. What if everyone with even the smallest inclination to pray did so every day and prayed for world peace? Every day (good thoughts and vibes welcomed too, of course). If prayers really do change things, then why is it that when time is made during church services to pray for the afflicted, it’s almost always so and so’s physical ailment? Where are our prayers for relationships? For the poor and the starving? For those with no hope? Prayers of contrition acknowledging our inaction to seek justice and pursue peace?

I used to think I was quite good at praying. Maybe had a gift for it. People sometimes said things indicating as much. I was comfortable in the knowledge that I “knew how to pray.” Now I’m not so sure. Pesky, pesky questions.

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Pesky Questions: Prayer, Personal Responsibility, and Pat Answers

A few weeks ago, Ricktopher and MLE were in a discussion group with a bunch of church people and the discussion topic was prayer. Everyone was asked to read a quote they were given on prayer and then say something about it if they so chose. Part of the evening went something like this:

Everyone else was saying how comforting prayer is, etc. and only citing positive examples of how prayer “works.” “You know, sometimes it seems like God’s not answering a prayer, but then one day, you’ll look back on it, and realize, ‘yeah, that was answered.’”

When it came to MLE’s turn, she said, “I struggle with prayer sometimes. What about the parent of a child who has a totally curable illness, but because they can’t afford to get them treatment, all they can do is pray? They pray, but the child dies anyway. Are they going to look back someday and say, “Woah, I totally get why my child died of that completely curable illness.”

Someone in the group responded, “Well, we often don’t know God’s ways; why he does what he does.”

MLE replied, “Is it really ‘God’s way’ for this to happen? Is this God’s justice and love? Or it is us humans, flagrantly misusing our agency? (This denomination’s big on personal agency.) (Okay, she may not have said, “flagrantly.”) Perhaps we are the ones not answering this parent’s prayer.”

Often, we don’t want to ask these questions. We’re comfortable in our complacency. But perhaps we’re called to more. Dodging self-examination and the tough questions don’t make them disappear, nor does it help those non-hypothetic people in the world who suffer like those in MLE’s hypothetical situation.

We do ourselves a disservice by trying to be, or at least appear, overly confident in our certainty. Sometimes, we don’t question because we don’t want to appear “weak in the faith.” How sad! Could it be that we cheat ourselves (and others) out of opportunities to explore our struggles with others?

Much can be gained from a rich prayer life, but what is a rich prayer life? Is prayer more than personal pep talks and/or complaints? Is it only for me and mine, with the vague cover all prayer for “peace on earth” or to “be with” or “bless everyone?” Are we ‘doing our part’ by praying; in a sense, releasing ourselves of our responsibilities? The “Well, I’ve done my part” approach.

Are our prayers for peace or for God to be with others any more effectual than those of the parent of that child?

Maybe instead of noncommittally praying for “the poor,” maybe we should ask to be made more mindful of how we can work to end poverty, then square our shoulders and roll up our sleeves.

Note: This post was prompted by a post from the nakedpastor about prayer. It includes a great cartoon featuring a person asking for showers from Heaven and getting so much water that they’re completely immersed. It’s a great post and blog. Check it out! (And, of course, that’s all his content, so please, don’t misuse the image or anything, guys. That’s just not cool.)