That’s Some Mighty Fine Praying

Youcef Nadarkhani

Prayer has been on our minds here at Patheos. One of our atheist colleagues has committed himself to the 40 Day Prayer Experiment. This caused quite a bit of comment and even derision among the faithful, including, at first, me. I saw it as mocking God. When my atheist blogger friend added a request that someone tell him about any miracles they’d seen, I was even more put out. “Putting God to the test.” I huffed.

What changed my attitude was … drumroll … prayer.

I prayed and got one of those thumps on the head that I so often get. It’s not my job to strip the hide off people who make fun of faith. Even more so, it’s not my job to just automatically assume that every effort to pray and see if God is really there is, in fact, mocking Him. It’s just possible that it’s honest inquiry by someone who’s open to admitting it when God answers them.

My job  … itty, bitty ahem … is to be faithful and stand for Jesus. Oh, I can shut them down if they get abusive. Nobody has to take abuse for no good reason. But I can’t turn around and attack back. As for going out and starting the fight in the first place … nu-uh.

The interesting part of all this isn’t that I am, once again, proven to be a sinner who needs God’s help to get even the smallest things right. The interesting part is that this was a small-time miracle of grace. God thumped me on the head. Because of that unsolicited head thump, I deleted an atheist-bashing post I had already written and was feeling pretty proud of.

God thumped me on the head. Think about it.

While you’re thinking, consider the witness of Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani spent 1,000 days in an Iranian prison. He faced execution. All for the crime of mistakenly being identified as a convert to Christianity from Islam when he was, in fact, born into a Christian family.

If he was faking his faith, I imagine he would have recanted and given it up at some point in this ordeal. If he was, as some of our unbelieving friends try to claim, having delusions of religious experience, these delusions must have been consistently benign and durable.

They also must have been among the most positive, life-saving, emotionally healthy delusions on record. I say that because Pastor Nadarkhani came out of prison rejoicing in the power of prayer, grace and the real presence of Christ in our darkest corners.

“I have been put to the test, the test of faith, which is, according to Scriptures ‘more precious than perishable gold.’” he said. “But I have never felt loneliness …  The Lord has wonderfully provided through the trial, allowing me to face the challenges that were in front of me. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. …”

All I can say is that must have been some mighty fine praying Pastor Nadarkhani and his supporters engaged in. It’s must also have been some mighty fine self-deluding.

I know that some people will disagree with me when I say this, and that is fine. But God is real, my friends. His miracles are all around us.

Read an article about Pastor Nadarkhani below.

TEHRAN (BP) — The Iranian pastor who spent more than 1,000 days in prison simply for being a Christian has written an open letter saying Christ provided for his needs while behind bars and thanking those around the world for praying for him. 

“I have been put to the test, the test of faith which is, according to the Scriptures ‘more precious than perishable gold,’” the pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, wrote Sept. 8 in a letter that was translated into English. It was posted on the website of the American Center for Law and Justice (

“But I have never felt loneliness, I was all the time aware of the fact that it wasn’t a solitary battle, for I have felt all the energy and support of those who obeyed their conscience and fought for the promotion of the justice and the rights of all human beings. … The Lord has wonderfully provided through the trial, allowing me to face the challenges that were in front of me. As the Scriptures say, ‘He will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. …”

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 while registering his church in Rasht, Iran, although he initially was arrested for protesting his children being taught Islam in school, according to ACLJ. He was charged with apostasy for supposedly abandoning Islam and later was given a death sentence. (Read more here.) 

  • Mr. V.

    Sounds like God reminded you that you’ve been reading from the book of Righteous Indignation, which I believe is located in the Bible between the respective books of 1st and 2nd Hesitations and Lameintentions. :D

    I’ve read from that book many times in my life. Indeed I can quote most of it from memory. :D

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      :-) !!!!

  • Arkenaten

    Sorry,but I cannot see the connection.
    I was under the impression the 40 day prayer experiment was to try to encourage a direct response from your god in some unmistable fashion that would be difficult to refute.
    Are you suggesting it was your god that interceded in this man’s release from prison as a result of his friends and family praying.

    • Mr. V.

      What is it about the Internet that inspires so many to go to websites and mock, deride, insult, and belittle other people and their opinions?

      Let me ask you, Arkenaten: Do you regularly go to churches and harass the members thereof about their beliefs? Do you send letters to the authors of Christian books belittling and harassing them about what they’ve written? Do you interrupt other people’s conversations when they’re discussing God or religion or prayer or whatnot? If the answer is no, then why do you do that with Christian blogs?

      I’ve seen any number of people visiting various websites, sometimes Christian and other religious websites, sometimes political websites, sometimes websites that aren’t particularly one theme, and harass and insult and belittle the authors thereof, and then proudly trumpet their claim that they’re doing something noble in the name of free speech. Sometimes the authors of those blogs have stopped blogging because of all the hateful and obnoxious comments they get. When that happens, the trolls triumphantly deride those authors as not being able to take the heat.

      I say, nonsense. Such activity is not noble in any way. And that opinion has nothing to do with my belief in God, or my politicial or social views. It has everything to do with good manners and decorum. And you know it. I would bet that you do not act like that in public. I would bet that you do not go around challenging and confronting and harassing and belittling others who do not think as you do in public. Yet you seem to enjoy doing so on the Internet. Why is that?

      I say, if you insist on acting like that in the blogosphere, then be true to yourself and act like that in public as well. When you hear a conversation about religion, go on over and interrupt them and start shoving your ideas in their faces. Belittle them and harass them with your provoking questions. By all means, go to church services and interrupt the priest or pastor in the middle of his sermon and start questioning his beliefs and deriding him for his notions which you don’t agree with.

      But don’t get upset when they ask you to leave. Or the people whose conversation you just interrupted ask you to shut up and leave them alone. They’re not trying to deny you your first amendment rights. They are requesting that you act with some kind of good manners.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I think you understand what I said Douglas, but just to be clear: I think that God held this man together throughout the ordeal of his imprisonment. The Bible says that God makes all things work to good for them that love Him. Not that all things will be good. As long as we are in this life, we will have to deal with evil and its effects. But He goes with us through these trials. I have experienced this personally, in my much less terrible trials.

      Also, He speaks to us directly in our prayers when we follow Him. God is gentle with people. He won’t force Himself on you. And from my experience, if you are praying to make fun of Him or to put Him to a test for some sideshow nonsense, you do get silence.

      But the fact that I didn’t rip into the atheists who come on this board (not just you Douglas. Most of the others are in the spam pile or just totally deleted for comments that amount to verbal thuggery.) in words that I actually wrote myself as opposed to lifting things from Dawkins or some such and pretending they are my own (I do read all those books. I just think they’re derivative claptrap) is entirely due to His intervention in prayer. It wasn’t an answer exactly since that was not what I was praying for or even about. But it was real enough that I deleted a post I was quite proud of and really wanted to publish. Believe it or don’t. That’s your choice. I’m only telling you what happened.

  • Dave

    I say, let the atheist “pray”. If the atheist is sincere, he’ll have his answer. If he is just doing some sort of scientific experiment, then nothing will happen. God comes to the humble. He does not consent to being put to the test.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      True. God will not be mocked.

    • Arkenaten

      @Dave.First, it is important to remember the prayer experiment was a challenge thrown out by Christians to atheists.
      The object being to see if your god made any attempt to respond at all over a period of 40 days.
      The emphasis is on your god, not the atheists. This is NOT an attempt to mock your god either.
      It is completely unfair to expect an atheist to be sincere in his appeal to your god. Sincere in his attempt to induce a response from whatever might be out there , yes.
      How would an atheist’s approach be any different from you praying to Shiva, Dave?

      • Rebecca Hamilton

        Douglas, I interpret sincerity as honesty. If you pray honestly, He will answer. An honest prayer for an atheist would probably be something along the lines of “I don’t believe in you. In fact, I think of you as a total myth, but I’m taking this stupid 40 day challenge so I’m praying to you.” That would be honest. If you pray honestly, He’ll answer you. However, if you go into it with an “all right. show me.” attitude, don’t expect much. Honesty also means being willing to accept it when He does answer.

        God is real Douglas. Like everyone else, you know that somewhere down inside where you won’t admit it.

        • Arkenaten

          You said…
          “God is real Douglas. Like everyone else, you know that somewhere down inside where you won’t admit it”
          There is nothing to admit Rebecca. You have my solomn word. To suggest such a thing would make me a liar and a hypocrite. I am neither.
          And this is one reason I would never get involved in something like a 40 pray challenge.

          But let us both follow Bob’s prayer chalenge and see what happens?

      • Ted Seeber

        I believe the children’s book _The Last Battle_ by CS Lewis contains the answer to THAT question.

  • Pauline

    A man who wanted Jesus to heal his daughter was told by Jesus about faith and its necessity. The man cried out to Jesus, “Help me in my unbelief.”

    The purpose of prayer is to communicate with God. It’s not to get things. Some Christians misunderstand this. God, being our Father, listens to us as a Father. We didn’t get everything we wanted from our dads – if they were the kind that wanted what was best for us. God often gives us things that we didn’t even ask for just as our dads may have given us something wonderful that we didn’t even ask for.

    Prayer is speaking with someone we have a relationship with bringing it down to its core.

    So, God may be found by someone not looking for him. Isaiah 65:1 – The LORD says, “People who never before inquired about me are now asking about me. I am being found by people who were not looking for me. To them I have said, “I am here!”

    God will continue to seek out those who aren’t looking for him.

    So, those who come to these forums, who could be using their time doing something else, have a deep need they aren’t even aware of. Perhaps they are drawn here because of that deep need they can sense. So, be gentle. Perhaps God will lead them to him through you.

    After all, Jesus said people would know we are his followers by our love. That is our challenge. Love like Jesus did, even those who were in the process of crucifying him, spitting on him, beating him, and denying who he is. So, why should we not act the same? (that is if we claim to be his disciple)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Trying to use prayer like rubbing on a lamp and expecting an obedient genie to pop out never works. You’re absolutely right.

  • Pauline

    Oh, and I did pray for Youcef. He asked that he would be strengthened in his faith, I believe. We were the ones who were asking for him to be released and not be executed. God, apparently, chose to answer both of those prayers.

    • Rebecca Hamilton