Even as a believer I was somewhat vexed about prayer. It’s an interesting idea I’ll admit – bringing your worries, praise, wounds, wants, needs and humbleness before the Almighty. Inviting Him into all corners of your life and laying yourself bare for spiritual cleansing and the hopeful guidance of His desire for your life.
What I’d always struggled with is that if god has a plan laid out for everyone, as it seems widely believed by most evangelicals I’ve ever known, I guess I wonder what good prayer can do. Speaking specifically about prayer requests, I wonder how prayer to god can be beneficial? What difference does it make?
If there’s a plan already in motion by god and your prayer isn’t in line with that plan is it ignored? If my family is in a car crash and are in the hospital on life support and it’s part of god’s plan to let them die to grow me, then my prayers for them to be healed are quite literally wasted breath. They’re heard and ignored or maybe they’re just not heard at all.
If the outcome of any prayer request is yes, maybe or no, how can you decipher what’s god and what’s blind luck or modern medicine? Praying to my son’s Curious George stuffed animal would have the same results. Some hit. Some miss. Some take more time.
Here’s a Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in cardiac bypass patients. The study was a randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. The results are telling:
“In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.”
The group that received prayers and were certain that they were receiving prayers had the worst recovery rates. How could this be? From other sources I’ve read they link it to anxiety about getting better knowing people are praying for you. A morbid take on stage fright.
Let’s not forget that these prayers for aid are going to the same god that allowed something bad to happen to you or a loved one in the first place. It’s like a boy asking his dad for an ice pack after he was slapped in the face by his father. Seems a bit masochistic to me.
People of all different faiths pray to their gods and have their prayers answered. Are all gods right? If there’s no way to judge which god better answers prayers how do we validate one god over the other? If there’s no evidence for any gods how do you test the truth of one over the other? An honest person would have to conclude that you can’t know.
It’s just that I’ve tired of hearing people tell me they’re praying for me about my unbelief. In what ways may god reveal himself that I hadn’t already prayed and begged for when I was in need most? Also, if you feel that god really has it in control and within his power then why even tell me you’re praying for me? It serves no purpose, but to make one feel better in a situation they can’t control. It feels nice to tell people you’re praying for them. It feels like something has been done to help. “I’m praying for you” sounds so much better than “hang in there.”
There’s a saying I’ve become familiar with and it sums up my feelings perfectly:
“Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.”
Helping in tangible ways with money, time, food or some other investment in a person is and will always be more helpful than prayer ever could.