Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A brief thought on prayer

Of the many subjects that I've raved on about over the past few years, prayer doesn't get much time. I must admit, I'm wary of certain 'types' of prayer, or more specifically the way prayer sometimes gets used, and also the way the results of prayer (or lack of) can be interpreted. I'm particularly concerned about the attribution of credit or blame where prayer is involved. However, something simple but interesting occurred to me the other week.

On the subject of intercessory prayer, Matthew 7:7 is often quoted "Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you". It's just occurred to me how different these three activities are and how we normally combine them into one. Instead of 'ask, seek, knock' what we usually hear is 'ask, ask, ask'. Now that's another parable altogether!

Furthermore, I have to wonder if the addition of the 'seek' and 'knock' might be an intentional message for those who are inclined just to 'ask'. Maybe it's a subtle reminder that after praying, we need to get up off our knees and do something about it?


Jack said...

Do you believe that God answers prayer, as far as Him intervening in a physical sense and changing the course of events from what they would have been without a prayer having been said/thought? I don't, simply because of what He apparently says yes or no too - a child dies of cancer despite the prayers of many (so God said no) yet will sometimes say yes to that urgently required parking space, which many Christians actually believe happens. A 'god' like that deserves contempt, not worship.

What I do believe is that prayer can change people - if I pray for you and the difficult circumstances you are going through, I think there is a greater likelihood that I will do something tangible to help you. If you know that people are praying for you, this may provide you with encouragement and increase the likelihood that you will take steps to try and fix your problems.

JDK said...

Thanks for your comments Jack. You've hit upon exactly the kind of thing that makes me hesitant about ascribing the success/failure of particular prayers to God. Either God acts randomly/capriciously or we fall back on the excuse that God is mysterious and we can never fully understand the meaning of God's actions/inaction. Both pathways may contain an element of truth but are ultimately unsatisfactory.

Part of the problem with the interventionist model of prayer/God is linked to a theistic understanding of God - or more specifically an anthropomorphic projection of human attributes onto God. Put simply, God thinks and acts like humans. I suspect that if we could begin to understand prayer outside of this framework, we would be on a much better path.

I think you are absolutely right about prayer changing people, but I have an inkling (perhaps its just a hope) that there is something more than this. What that 'more' is, I'm hesitant to say because I don't really know myself. Maybe it's just the projection of our hopes onto coincidences, maybe its something that happens on a quantum level that we can't reliably discern or measure. Even if all we do is to change ourselves through prayer, then as long as it doesn't preclude us from taking action, it seems to me to be a worthwhile activity.

Regards, JDK

Jack said...

I thought I would share something interesting (for me anyway) that happened yesterday that involves prayer. I received news regarding friends of mine, which suffice to say involve some very grave medical diagnosis for their child. They were asking for as many people as possible to pray for them and their child. I passed this onto my wife, who is a very strong believer in prayer, and she in turn contacted others from our Corps who are of similar mind to her. So there are now many people praying for this family, despite in many cases not knowing them personally, earnestly asking and believing for a miracle.

Now I personally don't believe that these prayers will make any difference to the medical outcome - whether the child lives or dies is ultimately a fight between circumstances and what medical intervention and/or natural means might achieve. I feel great sorrow for them and hope for a good outcome, despite the apparent odds against it. Yet despite my belief that prayer has no effect on an outcome, I am still impressed by the willingness of people to pray and show concern for others, and I know the parents draw some comfort from knowing that people are praying for them.

John T. said...

I believe the church has never properly understood prayer.

Prayer is not talking to God, it is listening to God.

What Jesus said about prayer has much more in common with eastern notions of meditation than the wish lists of most of the prayers of the church.

In introducing the Lord's prayer, Jesus says.....

Matthew 6:6 "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

(it is also interesting to consider the public recitals of the lords prayer in churches, parlliaments and the beginning of the legal year in light of vs. 5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. "

As I see it, prayer is the time and space when we remove all the clutter of our needs and desires from our mind. As the eastern tradition would suggest, we transcend our ego. The ego is just our memory, the accumulation of prior social experience that lives as just an idea, a thought of the mind but it is not not the mind itself.

By freeing the mind from our ego we find God, this is the space that God inhabits. It is a space that is deeply personal and within us as well as deeply connected to absolutely everything else. Our notions of self and other are just products of our ego. Once the ego is transcended so is the distinction between "me", "other" and "God" - it is all one.

This is not a passive thing where we sit back and receive a blissfull buzz. It is an active, turbulent, changing force, a wave on which we can surf.

Prayer is our most direct connection to God. It is better to shut up and listen when in the presence of God than to allow our ego to chat to itself.