Prayer revisted

Over the summer I struggled quite a bit with prayer before delivering a sermon on the topic. After preaching the sermon I arrived at a narrow conclusion that prayer could not cause God to violate the laws of nature to bring about a result we prefer. That’s a narrow conclusion because there are many, many other ways that prayer can work. My father is struggling with cancer and my praying for him reminds me to keep in touch with him, causes me to be alert for other ways I can help him, causes me to talk to others about the same, and prepares me for his death. There are dozens of other ways that practicing the spiritual discipline that is prayer can be good for me and good for Dad.

This weekend I finished a book my pastor gave me titled, Unbinding the Gospel, by Martha Grace Reese. The book has some alarming statistics for mainline churches that perhaps I’ll share later. It also has lots of practical advice for getting the message of mainline churches out to the world. So, she had my attention.

According to Reese, prayer is a crucial part of what churches that do it right do. I admit initially pulling back from this. Years ago, I explored the Prayer of Jabez movement [the prayer is here], and ultimately found it too much for me. I have viewed The Secret with suspicion.

But, then I remembered how carefully Chalice approached the issue of evangelizing. Many of us explored our distaste for evangelism. We shared stories, and we prayed. It gave us more direction in our evangelism. It has kept us focused on spreading the Good News we found at Chalice to others.

Question: Is there more involved than reflecting, that is using our minds to think about our task, when we pray? I stand by my conclusion that God does not violate natural law at our request, but I wonder if there is something more than a pep talk but less than casting a magic spell going on when we pray for the Church.

6 thoughts on “Prayer revisted”

  1. I completely agree with you that God does not violate the laws of nature at our request. To me, prayer is being in the presence of God, of listening to God, and of unloading our concerns and fears and aspirations to One who perfectly emphathizes with our concerns with an infinite unfolding of love. I’m not sure if that just seems like nothing but a pep talk to you, but to me that is a valuable activity because it connects us to something Holy and Transcendent. And to me, unless we are connected to the Sacred, unless we connect to and relate to God in some fashion, then our religion becomes hollow.

  2. I’m not sure if that just seems like nothing but a pep talk to you, but to me that is a valuable activity because it connects us to something Holy and Transcendent.

    It feels like more than a pep talk to me. Although, I generally think of things in terms of expressing them to someone who has not shared the experience. This is a tricky one.

  3. Causing cancer to spontaneously remiss is not necessarily casting a magic spell, but it would fall under the category of altering what *would* have been history had prayer not intervened. Do you think prayer can cause naturally-consistent alteration to history?

  4. I think there are entirely non-mystical outgrowths of prayer that could “alter history” like: causing me to remember to call and remind Dad to take care of himself, causing me to remember to mention it to Carlos so he sends me a Live Strong packet, etc. Those are pure ‘pep rally.’

    Then, there are less obvious things that we don’t understand fully. I think there probably is a mind-body connection. You don’t have to believe in the divine to believe that attitude impacts your physical health. Definitely not a ‘magic spell,’ but not as obvious as the direct result of me thinking about things more carefully.

    I suspect there is something similar when you pray as an organization. A part of it is purely mechanical. If we pray for four weeks about evangelism, we focus our minds and think more carefully. However, I suspect there is also an analogy to the mind-body connection. Something that happens in an organization that prays together that relates to what mystical seeker calls “somthing Holy and Transcendent.”

    I describe this something as tricky, because just as I am aware MD’s might ferociously resist the notion that having good thoughts can improve our health, I am aware that I cannot explain myself as well as I would like.

  5. What strikes me about this language is that nothing you are describing requires a god that is anything like the God of Christianity. Not that your theories couldn’t be disproved, but you are proposing ideas that are entirely consistent with a secular humanistic belief.

    In other words, do you need God at all?

  6. In other words, do you need God at all?

    I currently think: There is some objective TRUTH about topics like human connectedness, love, ethics, etc. Human beings are approaching these topics from two directions, roughly analogous to reason and intuition.

    The human understanding of God is a product of intuition that is evolving all of the time. It represents a major way human beings explore the TRUTH.

    Reason, manifest in logic and science and law, is also evolving all of the time and is exploring the TRUTH.

    So, one does not need my imperfect understanding of God, to be sure. Nonetheless, I think my imperfect understanding of God, positively supplements my understanding the world. It is not surprising that the understanding I gain from reason is more easily expressed than the understanding I gain from intuition. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean what I gain from intuition isn’t valuable.

    All this happy talk about intuition in place of God brings us squarely back to the taxing question of “What does it mean for my God to be aware?” I will take a rain check on that one because I know we wont forget it for discussion later.

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