Thursday, November 16, 2006

Prayer, pt.2

“Your prayers are working.”
“He/She needs more prayers.”
“We need as many people as possible praying for this.”

Godly, well-meaning Christians use these phrases all the time. I get them in my e-mail just about every day. But, I want to call us to think about what we’re saying or implying when we use them. People who struggle with belief latch on to those phrases (that they’ve heard from us), and then, when their prayers are not followed by the outcome they desired, what little faith they have in God could easily come crashing down.

“Your prayers are working.” We tend to say this when things are going our way. OK, then when things aren’t going our way does that mean our prayers aren’t working? Don’t you believe that our prayers always work? If so, why do we say this and open the door for the possibility that they don’t? As positive as this statement sounds on the surface, to me it shows more disbelief in prayer than belief! It sounds as if we are suggesting there is only a 50-50 chance it will work, and, fortunately for us, it seems to be working this time.

And if they are “working”, doesn’t this lead to a certain amount of superstition regarding the way we’ve been praying, as if we’ve found some sort of magic formula that we need to keep following so they will keep “working”, because if we deviate they may lose their effectiveness?

“He/She needs more prayers.” This phrase makes it sound like prayer is one of many possible drugs or treatments for a condition. “Well, the antibiotic/chemotherapy/radiation/etc. isn’t working, so we’re going to try another dose of prayer. Maybe it will work this time.”

Or, perhaps we’re implying that people have lapsed in their prayers for our issue, and God, having noticed the drop-off in prayers, has decided that this is no longer something He needs to pay so close attention to. Well, by all means let’s rally the troops for another round of prayers to remind God that He isn’t finished with this one yet!

“We need as many people as possible praying for this.” Do we really believe that the more people we get to pray for something, the more likely we are to get our “way”? Would we dare imply that if only Peter, James, and John had been able to stay awake in the garden praying that the outcome to Jesus’ prayer to avoid the cross would have been different? After all, then four people would have been praying for it, not just one. And, if only Paul would have asked for some others to pray with him about his thorn in the flesh instead of only asking by himself those three times…

More next time. And I promise to stop being so cynical. I know those phrases are well-intentioned. They’re just misleading.


Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to faith. Sure...people who struggle in believeing are going to have a difficult time when the outcome isn't good, but that's where we has Chrisitans must step in and help them believe that even thought it's not the desired is still God's answer. Recently for myself, even as a believer, I had a very difficult time with some prayers that didn't go my way. That's when I have to look inward and find out the true meaning why? Does prayer hurt?'s the outcome. God never promised us it would be easy. He never promised us he would give into our selfishness and desires.
I struggle when people say "I'll pray for you". It's again...a faith statement and rely on them to pray. Does that mean we stop praying for ourselves? Sometimes yes! I have had moments where I have felt I no longer had the strength to rely on my own prayers...but mostly becuase I didn't want to know what the real outcome would be.
I think as believrs, we must come together and pray for each other. Does God hear your prayer for me...more than my own? No. Is he going to grant it for you, and not for me? No. The outcome will probably be the same.
But I can't help but believe that the more people praying, then the more people believeing. The more that come together in His name, the more spiritual uplift it brings. When no believers see believers investing time and energy into praying for eachother no matter the outcome, maybe it will bring them closer to God. For me...I will struggle with my struggles and I know I have a lot coming my way. However, I do feel comfort in knowing no matter what the outcome, someone is praying.
Good thoughts Shane!

Terry Rush said...

You make good points to caution us about flippantly tossing spirit- sounding words around. We want to comment on God only where God comments on Himself.

The religious words religious people use tend to innoculate the unbelieving I really mean anesthetize the unbelieving community so the sensation of the Holy Spirit goes unnoticed.

Good points, Shane. I must watch myself.

Anonymous said...

Good points! I have often wondered what role sociologically prayer serves. We have heard the phrase, "Prayer doesnt change God, it changes me." This is as much a sociological statement as it is theological. Could it be possible that the prayers we offer really do create the kind of solidarity that God desires for his people and this is one reason why we are to pray?

Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

HA! I just finished writing my blog and came over to read yours. I wonder if God is leading us both somewhere together.

Great thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points but the last one I am still struggling with.
I understand the selfishness of "trying to get my way" through prayer, but doesn't the Bible say "you do not have because you do not ask"? And, "if any of you are in trouble, he should pray."
There are several other verses that also seem to say that WE can change God's "mind" about something (like the story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah.)
There is also a story in Daniel that I have studied which leads me to believe that God answers "YES" more times than "no", but Satan intercepts those answers so that we will think God is not answering us.
I CAN see your point about non-churched folks struggling with this phrase, and yet it probably brings stronger faith to Christians who earnestly ask their brothers and sisters to help them pray!

Shane Coffman said...

Franklin -

I agree with what you've just said. I think perhaps you focused on a part of that last paragraph that I didn't intend for you to.

Referring to the last phrase (we need as many people as possible praying for this...), I'm just disputing the idea that the number of people praying about an issue is important. God makes it very clear (through the story of Abraham that you referenced as well as others) that it only takes one person praying about something to make a difference. We like quantity because it encourages us (and I have nothing wrong with that per se...), but I don't think it's necessary for God to hear it from more people - He hears it from one just the same.

Does that clear things up any? Am I neglecting some part of scripture that refutes what I just said? If so, please correct me. I'm still working through all of this. Just doing it out loud.

Anonymous said...

I have struggled alot in the past with this very thing...begging for prayers etc in an effort to have "more power" over a situation. My conclusion is that my focus needs to be on God rather than on the problem. Many Jewish prayers begin "Blessed are you, oh God who...." and makes the focus from the very beginning on the one who has the wisdom and power for whatever fulfills HIS will. The purpose of prayer for me is to line up my will with His. And when praying for others that He show them the same thing. How do you project that whole concept in a catch phrase for our fast paced society? Maybe the problem isn't the way we say something but the time we spend in encouraging others to see how God is already working through prayer.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shane!
Thanks for the quick reply and challenging us to wonder out loud!
The Bible has several examples of ONE individual in fervent prayer, changing the mind of God, even moving Him to change the natural order of things.
However, it seems we could also deduce that He enjoys hearing from "the crowd" as well. In the Old Testament, for example, God wanted the Israelites to gather as a people several times per year to pray and fast.
We also have the example of when Peter miraculously escaped from prison in Acts 12. It says that "the church was praying for him."
The book of Acts has several examples of people praying together and asking God for something.
So I guess the question is, "Did they do that just to be together, or did they believe that there is strength in numbers?"
I don't know...but I'm pretty sure it's a good thing for groups of God's people to gather when they petition God.
Thanks for letting me "think out loud" on your blog, too!