“Stop sending your thoughts and prayers– they are useless. Get up off your knees and take action, instead.”
I was stunned. People had been reacting on Facebook to a recent tragedy by posting their concerns. Most of them were heartfelt messages sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. But they were followed by a backlash of anger and frustration so visceral that I felt sucker-punched. Worst was an entire article that suggested that praying was a futile distraction– an admission of helplessness that actually contributed to inaction, injustice, false hope, and secretly condoned violence and victimization as part of “God’s will.”
As I reeled from what I felt was a sharp and hateful article, I stopped to wonder where that kind of anger and bitterness was coming from. Some of it was obviously a reaction to the tragedy itself– a violent attack resulting in a senseless loss of life. Such events leave us feeling shocked, confused, and helpless– How could this happen? Why? And, often, our questions are directed at God– “Where were you?” “Why did you let this happen?” “Don’t you care?” We may question God’s goodness, his justice, and his very existence. Our prayers may even seem futile– unheard and unanswered.
So why did the article and its suggestions shock and hurt me so deeply? Was it a lurking conviction that the author had a valid point? Am I wasting my time when I pray for those who are grieving and suffering pain and loss? Am I wasting my time praying to a God who seems distant in times of crisis?
Which brought me back to the basics–in this case, what IS prayer?
This blog is an attempt to pursue the many interconnected answers to that question. At its heart, I believe (as do most people of a spiritual bent, regardless of their particular religious tenets) that prayer is an attempt to talk to, to communicate with, God. But what I believe about prayer is dependent on what I believe about God. Does he exist? Really exist? What (if anything) does he expect of me? Blind and slavish fealty? Absolute, if grudging, obedience? Idle/Idol worship? A comfortable, acquaintance, a mutual admiration? A deep and eternal inseparable relationship?
Our prayers will be shaped by our answers to those and other questions– if I believe that God only wants me to recite a canned response every once in awhile, that’s what I will give. If I believe that God wants me in perpetual groveling…you get the idea.
So what do I believe about God and how to communicate with him? First, I believe that Prayer is a pursuit– it is my earnest desire to seek out the God who made me in his image– unique and precious in his sight. I believe he WANTS to hear from me, and he WANTS to answer with revelation of his nature, his character, his heart. Second, I believe that prayer is positive, because God is good. Prayer is not an obligation, though it should be a discipline. Prayer is not merely a ritual, though there are many forms it may take, from formal recitations to wordless groans. Prayer moves us toward God, and toward others around us. It is not static; it is not a vague wish or empty hope.
Third, I believe that prayer is powerful–much more than most of us recognize. Far from being futile and inactive, I find that prayer leads to dramatic changes. I have seen miraculous transformations–in myself, in others, even in the wider world–as a result of prayer. The fact that God doesn’t always give us instant and dramatic answers doesn’t negate those times when he does provide the miracle. And it doesn’t mean that our prayers were unheard, or unanswered. Finally, it doesn’t make God complicit with the evil things that happen– God doesn’t give us cancer or send a flood to punish us for something we did or didn’t do, and he doesn’t keep us in pain or allow us to struggle without reason or remedy.
So, I am starting a quest to share my pursuit– things I have learned, am learning, and hope to or need to learn about this amazing gift called prayer.