Does Prayer Work? : Towards A Theology Of Prayer, Pt. 6

Without stopping to think much about the question asked in the title of this post, most "believers" would probably answer "Yes" right away. Indeed, I would venture to say that the large majority of so-called "Christians", wouldn't even pause to consider what is really being asked. So, in this post, I actually want to do that; I want to stop and reflect on this question and draw out some of its underlying insinuations and presumed answers.

First of all, I would argue that this question is actually the wrong type to be asking when it comes to the topic of prayer. One reason for this is that it comes across as (and is) a strictly "utilitarian" type of inquiry (e.g. it treats prayer as a "function" or a "means to an end"). Another reason that this question is problematic is that it assumes a faulty definition of prayer. In general, this question seems to presume that prayer is some sort of object that can be manipulated to our liking (e.g. we can change it to make it work for ourselves). A third problem with this is that it seems to also suggest a mechanical view of prayer (not surprising since we live in an industrialized, economic-driven society) so that, if the prayer isn't answered, well, then some part of the machine must be broken. Really, then, when asking the question "Does Prayer Work?", is like asking "Is Prayer Work?".

As you might have guessed, I take issue with all of these things. I do not hold a "utilitarian" view of prayer. From my perspective, praying is not a functional means to an end but rather, a relation means of connection. This leads into the definition of prayer that I've developed and that I keep rehashing in the posts of this series: "Prayer is attending to the presence of God both around us and in us". You can see immediately how this sort of definition of prayer contrasts with the one mentioned above. You can also see how this view of prayer shifts the emphasis from "me" to "God" as well as how it makes the "prayer event" about God's wants and desires, not mine!

Just as well, this relieves the tensions that surround the issue of using prayer to manipulate God. Think about it: If prayer is chiefly to get in-tune with God's wants and desires and the emphasis shifts from us to Him, then manipulation doesn't even become an issue. It doesn't become an issue because you're not trying to "get" something for yourself but rather, you're attempting to find out God's desires so that you can please Him! This leads into my next point: Thinking about prayer as "working" or "not working" is totally wrong. As I argued HERE, we need to have a healty "image" of prayer, so that when we do pray, things do not get jumbled, confused and disheartening. Seeing prayer from a sort of "mechanic" or "machine-like" point-of-view, is not only errant but damaging and unhealthy. If you are asking the question "Does Prayer Work?" then you are sort of also asking the corrolary question I mentioned before "Is Prayer Work?".

In my view, both of these questions are not even worth wasting breath on! From sheerly logical and theological standpoints, I personally would never end up asking these questions (not because it seems irreverent or whatever but simply because they make no sense within my framework of prayer). So, I would return to my definition and ask a different question, a question of God: "Lord, what are your wants and desires and do you have any thoughts in mind about how I might fulfill those so that you will be pleased and glorified?"

Think on these things!


Other posts in this series:

1) Defining Prayer
2) Imaging Prayer
3) Asking in Prayer
4) Why I Don't Pray For Things
5) Pray Without Ceasing? Why?

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