praying against prayer

I saw this story this morning ( and I began thinking about what God is supposed to do when people from both sides are praying for an outcome that favors their side. Especially with an issue like health care, it seems that both sides have good points. (Conservatives, like the Family Research Council: “It will cost too much and ruin the economy.” Liberals, like Sojourners: “It is immoral to allow people to die because they can’t afford medical care.”) What is God to do? Obviously, there will be an outcome, but how does the prayer affect it? It seems to me that there are a few logical choices here:

  • God cannot affect the outcome.
    (So why pray?)
  • God will not affect the outcome.
    (What is prayer for, then?)
  • The outcome is already predetermined.
    (Again, what is prayer for?)
  • God grants the request of the side that he is most pleased with.
    (Should we not then be recording who is praying for what and then follow the group with the best outcomes, since they have figured out how to please God?)
  • God doesn’t exist, prayer is ineffectual, and people pray for what they want (and say this is what God also wants.)

I’m going with the final option, but I’d like to hear other opinions in the comments!


  TC wrote @

I used to wonder this all the time when I was playing baseball as a kid, but I don’t think anymore that winning a baseball game is the type of thing you are supposed to pray about

  todd wrote @

I’ve struggled with prayer, mostly about how people usually pray. A lot of people pray flies in the face of Jesus’s admonishments about how to pray.

Over time, I’ve begun to believe that prayer is not about bringing God into line with our desires, but bringing us into line with God’s. I find that the transformation in prayer is usually in changing my attitude and focus to be more Christlike, or learning about how I could bring hope, grace, or peace to a situation.

  @joshelgin wrote @

So what about when Jesus talks about getting whatever you ask for in prayer, or about the father giving good gifts to those who ask, or asking and receiving?

I might challenge that you have begun believing what you believe about prayer because you have never actually seen anything come of prayer. Perhaps you have therefore begun to think of prayer as changing your attitude (i.e. seeing a bad situation as good, etc.) instead of expecting things from God that (as you know by experience) don’t happen…

  Fearsome Comrade wrote @

Depends on which deity we’re talking about. The deity of the Muslim religion is a rather capricious being with an arbitrary will. Deities in pagan pantheons tend to be easily manipulated with the right actions. But if we’re talking about the deity the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels believed in, he didn’t seem particularly manipulable. At least, Jesus didn’t seem to think so.

This particular deity is a tough nut to crack, because he apparently wants us to pray and ask things in his ostensible Son’s name, yet said Son also promised those who actually bothered to believe in said deity any variety of temptation, trouble, and suffering.

Now that last bit goes directly against the model of prayer as being a means of obtaining what you want from a deity, since I am guessing most people don’t want to be torn apart by lions or set on fire. But, oddly enough, it seems congruous with the weirdness of a deity who would come up with a way of saving people that involved getting the piss beaten out of him, being stripped naked, getting nailed to a hunk of wood, asphyxiating, and crapping all over himself.

So I think you are missing one option: “Both sides are missing the point.”

  Kristina wrote @

It’s funny that you bring up the healthcare debate. Our healthcare system is in a pretty sad state of affairs. I feel like God must look at it and say, “Wow, they’ve really messed it up bad for themselves.”

Healthcare debate aside, you really made me stop and think about prayer … Prayer is mysterious … it’s not a shopping spree in which our selfish desires are quickley met. All too often we spit out our wish list as if God is Santa Claus and we hope that we’ve been “good enough” for him to give us what we want. But the fact is that we haven’t been “good enough” … there is no “good enough.” But He loves us, and hears the cries in our heart, and if we listen, we hear His voice. And that’s why I love prayer … Reading your post actually reminded me that what I need to pray more often is “Not my will but Yours be done. And I need to honestly listen! I may THINK that I want my way to be done, but then I realize that His ways are SO much higher than mine.

I don’t completely understand prayer. I remember asking my mom the same question you asked above, when I was about 10 … “If God already knows what’s going to happen, then why do I need to pray for it?” You can go with the argument: “God knew that you were going to pray for it and that He was going to answer your prayer.” But that’s not really why I pray. I pray to know God and His ways. I pray because God opens my eyes to what He’s doing in me and around me. I pray because God moves me to do so. I pray because I’ve seen God answer prayers. I pray because I need to hear from God …

  @joshelgin wrote @

Interesting that you mention Jesus’ prayer: “Not my will but Yours be done…”

Here’s a brain-teaser from one of my favorite blogs:

If Jesus was God, and he prayed “not my will, but Thine be done,” which of those two wills was God’s will? How can Jesus be God, and yet his will is not God’s will? Or how can God’s will be contrary to God’s will, such that you can pray “not [God’s] will, but [God’s] will be done”? Or if Jesus has two wills, a human will and a divine will, which one is “Jesus’ will”?

  alessandra wrote @

so i think i am like a year late (i just found your blog, josh, I didn’t know you had one!)

but i thought this was interested fodder for the conversation on prayer:

“when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood, wash and make yourselves clean.” god speaking in isaiah chapter 1. Perhaps neither side of the health care debate is being heard, perhaps both sides are… Sometimes when we think the answer must be: a, b, c, or d. sometimes the answer is 23084013284021384923094823094810598607406743012840238410239402384.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s