Again I find myself considering prayer and it’s usage. I had a friend who suggested this idea and I’m kinda wondering about it.
Prayer chains, PUSH (pray until something happens), and prayer as vending machine Christianity posit that there is a correlation between prayer amount and prayer result. Does this mean by praying more we are forcing God to grant our wishes?
My quest for church is also my quest for understanding the thing we call God. Notice I didn’t just say ‘God’? That’s because I don’t think it’s that simple. I’ve mentioned before how we all have an idea of who God is. Even atheists who think God is fictional have an idea what a person means when they start to talk about God. But people’s ideas can sometimes be so drastically different as to beg the question whether this could even be the same entity. How can we know who God really is? The two answers I’ve received are 1) reading the bible 2) communing with God through prayer. Now, I think the bible has some serious problems. Although it is an actual physical thing we can hold, I’m not sure how good a ‘proof’ it is in terms of telling us definitively who God is. I’ve spoken to this before, but in short it’s an ancient reretranslated book that few people can agree on how to interpret. So I’d like to instead speak to communicating with God directly by praying and listening. Here are my conflicting sides of this ‘talk to God’ coin.
Only my stupidest, most frivolous and inconsequential prayers have ever been answered. I once asked for a parking space, boom! There was one. I asked for the elevator to hurry up, ding! There it was. I asked for God to allow someone’s asthma attack to end. It got worse. I asked for God to spare the life of my friend’s sick infant. No. And so on.
I have been told that God listens to his children at prayer and gives them good gifts. My own experience suggests that God does this only for very small matters, as if he either does not care or hasn’t the power to work on larger matters.
Something like a decade ago I occasionally had the ability to predict unlikely things. A coworker at a kids camp lost his wedding ring at the camp. I mean- a camp full of dirt and trees and a large lake. I told him, “Don’t worry you’ll find it.” He did. How did I know this? It could have been at the bottom of the lake for all I knew. The second clear example I remember was when a friend of mine was sick with cancer. I was thinking of him and almost in this meditative state asking in my head, “Will he be ok?” In my mind I saw a thick book open to the middle. There was text on both pages too tiny to be read. Overlaying both pages, right across the middle of the book in black text I saw the word YES. And my friend recovered and is in remission.
The other side of my coin tells me that something special happened to me during that brief period if my life and I was able to see answers before they came about.
What do both sides of my coin mean? Well they perplex me. I know that many people have also had similar coin sides. Many pray and still lose loved ones. Many pray and are seemingly granted a miracle or divine contact. I’m still thinking about this one; still open to possibilities. I hope it isn’t too corny of me to say I see God in those possibilities.
I’m starting to sense a pattern with certain people and groups in terms of how they view prayer and the intent for good. As you may have figured out by the title, I think they can be a great option for making people feel ok about laziness. Prayer is nice if it makes you feel more positive about things you cannot change, or gives you peace amid turmoil. But there are many things in life that we can work towards changing. If poverty bothers you, don’t just pray about it, go donate clothes for people to wear to job interviews. If hunger bothers you, volunteer at a food pantry. Sometimes prayer really is the only thing left to do. But the rest of the time, get out and go help someone. I really only have a problem with prayer when it is used as an excuse to sit on your hands. I think God gave us free will so we could use it to decide to help each other, not so we could sit back and expect him to make things happen.
Intent as a problem is harder to pin down and as far as I’m concerned easier to excuse. Intending good is wonderful. It’s the start of anything good you might ever do. But it’s only halfway there. You have to carry out good actions as well. And you have to be willing to really look and listen to where your actions led to make sure it was somewhere good. And the really tricky part comes next. If you see that your good intentions inadvertently caused a bad result, you have to change.
A story to illustrate:
Mice get in my house and I have to get them out. The standard kill trap rarely works right because our mice are too small to trigger it. The only traps that work are glue cards which mice can’t really get off once stuck. I used to trap mice on the cards then kill them by freezing, figuring for them it would be like falling asleep. I later learned that freezing is probably incredibly painful- the exact opposite of what I wanted. While I did feel extremely guilty, I then found out what I could about traps and learned that mice can actually be freed from glue traps by dissolving the glue in oil. My intent was to spare mice from suffering but instead I was probably causing it. I could have responded in any number of easy ways that ignored what I’d done and continued causing harm. But I wanted to fix it, at least for the future. So I did.
Intent for good is not an excuse for you to do whatever and be ok with whatever results. I probably should have done more research on mice and glue traps and stuff before any of what I did. Then I could have started with good intent and used it to good outcome. As it is I got a bad outcome and have since moved to a better outcome. We need to recognize the difference between intent and outcome because its a way to improve. Good intent is good. Good action is better.
I don’t get prayer. I don’t get how prayer helps us. The mixed messages I’ve been exposed to drive me insane on this one. I’ve heard that God knows what we need. Why should we pray? I’ve heard that prayer works. Pray until something happens! But what if nothing happens? Some prayers are answered and some seem to NEVER be. Is it based on how strong your faith is? Is it based on how often you pray? How long you pray? How good you pray? Why is prayer given as the answer when there is hurt in the world? Prayer is not the answer. There’s been hurt in the world since Jesus; are we all just not praying right or something? People lose their jobs, their loved ones- they are wracked with guilt over things they never even did wrong- they suffer pain for reasons that defy physicians- I see it and it’s horrible. I know there are other things out there I can’t even imagine, maybe so horrible my heart would break if I saw them. What am I not seeing? How bad is it in the world and why do my prayers seem to do so little good? I don’t get prayer. I don’t get prayer.