Do You Pray?

I’m at the early stages of a book called, Why Pray? Why Some People Pray, Others Don’t, and What God Has To Do with It, and I could use your help. I don’t want this book to just be about why I do (or don’t) pray. (You’ll have to read the book to find out if I do or don’t pray.)

I’m happy if you’d like to write in the comment section about why you do or don’t pray, but I also want to give a confidential place for you to answer that question. There are pastors who read this blog and don’t pray — they’d probably rather not publish their doubts for all to see.

So, here’s a form where you can contribute your thoughts to my writing. And, in advance, thanks.

  • Scot Miller

    I’d be curious as to how many people who read this blog would admit that they don’t pray. Since prayer is a vague term, I would imagine that some people pray in ways that other believers wouldn’t recognize to be praying.

    • Curtis

      If I pray in a way that others don’t recognize, is that prayer? If I believe in a God that others don’t recognize, am I an atheist? If a tree falls in the forest…

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        Hopefully Tony addresses that. Obviously a Muslim prayer is very different from a Christian one, but there are people who accept that both are praying to the same God. I would say what you are asking for or giving thanks for makes all the difference.

  • http://postmodernegro.com Anthony Smith

    I pray for a couple of reasons:

    I petition God because most of my prayers are answered. And I actually don’t petition God for a lot of things. But the few specific things I’ve felt compelled to petition God for generally happen. I’ve prayed for odd things. Like the closing of a porn shop next door to a Christian bookstore I once worked at years ago. I was shut down within a day or so of praying for its removal after having been up and running for only a day or so. I’ve prayed for rain to not happen for a friend. And it stopped raining in the exact amount of space they needed for what they were doing.

    I interceed with God because I feel compelled to. And often experience an opening up of the imagination and renewed conviction for compassion towards others.

    So, why pray? Something happens in me and around me. And I suspect God is somehow in the middle of it.

    Good question. Good luck on the new book Tony. See ya at the Goose!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      I won’t be at Wild Goose this year, Antnee.

    • http://christopherbaca.wordpress.com Chris

      The question is, would you pray if none of your prayers were answered? I know many people who could say they pray and never hear or see anything done about what they prayed about. I don’t want to get into the debate about whether what they were praying for was right, but it kind of reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote that whether a prayer is answered or not does not affect its efficacy.

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  • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

    Let me just say that the responses coming in on the Google form are amazing. Thank you, everyone. I am humbled that you’d take the time to tell me why you do or don’t pray.

  • Lou Weeks

    Great book idea. Back to basics, hunh? Well back to basics always seems good to me. I am not sure what I would do if none of my prayers were answered, as Chris wonders. Because so many of them have been answered. Just not always answered “Yes”. To me, prayer is a great mystery, and when I pray well, I feel that God changes me. What is hard to figure out is why I so rarely pray well.

  • EricG

    For better or worse, I stopped praying several months ago, If God doesn’t answer the prayer of the mother of the children dying in terrible suffering, then I can’t bring myself to pray about anything else. Same thing for the young parents in my cancer support group who keep dying. If God doesn’t answer any of these prayers, why would I pray about anything else? I realize, obviously, that prayer is about more than making requests. But the other types of prayer also seem hollow when God is silent in the many, many circumstances like these.

    • ME

      “If God doesn’t answer any of these prayers, why would I pray about anything else?”

      Because being closer to Jesus is more important than the amount of suffering you endure and being closer to God is more important than the number of years you live. From reading the New Testament I draw the conclusion that by choosing to follow Jesus you risk shortening your life and adding physical pain to it. But, He is the truth and the way. Even if His way is shorter and has more pain it’s still the far better way.

      • Rob

        Thanks ME for your stunning display of failing to hear what EricG was saying and your idiotic canned answer. Its obvious that listening well is one of your many spiritual gifts.

    • Frank

      Why do you think God is silent? Because he does not answer in the way you expect or hope for?

  • EricG

    ME — theological propositions like that may help *you* see that prayer is right and good, but even if true it is not the sort of answer that is going to make any sense to a mother as she holds her child dying a terrible death from diptheria, or to the parents of young children who have to explain to those kids that mommy or daddy is going to die a (hard) death from cancer in the next several months. Saying that they will feel “close to Jesus” if they pray and that “His way . . . has more pain” but is “far better” will come off as a trite, glib, hollow answer in those circumstances.

    • ME

      “but even if true it is not the sort of answer that is going to make any sense to a mother as she holds her child dying a terrible death from diptheria.”

      Understood. Do you have cancer? That’s my recollection. It was really addressed more to you than a person with a dying loved one. The way I understood your comment is that because you are not getting what you want from God in your prayers you have stopped praying. Believe me, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but, if my understanding of your comment is correct, your strategy is really problematic and I think it’s better to say something, ever so poorly, than nothing at all. I’m sure you’ll disagree with me on that too. I’ll leave it at that. I truly wish you the best, and you will be in my prayers.

  • EricG

    ME — thanks — but I’m not saying that I stopped praying because I didn’t get my prayer answered. What I’m saying is that prayer has become problematic to me because God seems silent and distant in the face of the suffering of millions of people. If so many experience a Dark Night of the Soul without the apparent presence of God in the most trying of circumstances, then what does it say about prayer and the presence of God in all circumstances? It raises troubling questions about how one should approach prayer, whether one personally faces such circumstances or not.

    Tony has mentioned the recent book “When God Talks Back,” for example. Part of the problem is the cognitive dissonance I get when I read that book, or listen to people who think God is intimately involved in all aspects of life — or is “close,” as you say. If that is the case, then why is he distant when so many go through the worst? Not only in not answering prayer, but also more generally in his distance. So when I hear people say — as one commenter said above — that he prayed for rain and it rained (or other examples in that book) — that seems bizarre to me when God doesn’t answer the anguished prayer of the mother of the dying child.

    So, in my view, any answer to the question “why do we pray” needs to squarely address this serious and widespread problem. It was the thing that struck me most when reading “When God Talks Back.” Maybe there is some middle ground between believing God’s presence is apparent to all who earnestly pray — which is clearly and flatly wrong and contrary to experience (e.g. Mother Theresa and many others) — and the contrary belief that prayer is useless. But it is a question that is not easily answered, particularly if we take the conditions that real people suffer through seriously.

    • ME

      Thank you for your kind response.

      I wrote, “I would leave it at that” but your comment is so interesting, and really gets at the heart of the issues I rarely see discussed, that I can’t resist.

      What are the possible answers to the question you pose- why does God answer only some prayers? Here are a few I can come up with.

      God could be a Calvinist and pre-damn most people and not respond to their prayers because they are damned.

      God could only respond to the prayers of really, really good people.

      God could not answer any prayers and anyone who believes his or her prayers are answered is delusional.

      God could only respond to prayers that are “good” prayers, e.g., he doesn’t respond to prosperity gospel prayers.

      God could not exist.

      God could answer prayers and people not realize it.
      .
      I’m sure there are other options and I don’t know the answer.

      The question I have is, if you have troubling questions over why should we pray, does that mean the right answer is not to pray? Clearly in the New Testament prayer is demonstrated as a good (and I would say necessary) thing. Is there really any way you can make an argument to not pray and it be based on the New Testament? I can understand not praying, I’ve done it too, but it’s hard to say that’s the best decision.

      If one is trying to decide whether or not to pray, I think it comes down to a matter of faith. Does one believe in the Gospel, the New Testament? If one believes it, I can see no argument at all for not praying. What I honestly think, and this will get people angry at me, is that asking the question “Why Pray” is putting the cart before the horse. The real question is why believe? Why believe in a God that allows suffering in the world? If you can answer that question for yourself then I think you get the answer to “Why Pray”.

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  • David Miller

    Here was my response on the form:

    Liturgical prayer in my personal devotions helps me to stay grounded in the narrative of the church and its mythic structure. Religious symbolism from the Bible, from church tradition, and from non-traditional sources point to and participate in both a transcendent reality beyond my grasp and also an immanent reality deep within myself. When I pray in this fashion, I feel that I also participate in this double-sided reality, God, if you will, being the ultimate religious symbol.

    Apophatic prayer, mystical prayer, on the other hand, is union with that which cannot be named. The emptiness/fullness of contemplation nourishes me, connects me to all things, yet burns away my ego so that the “I” that I constitute as the essential “me” dissolves into God. This is sometimes comforting and sometimes terrifying.

    My intellect problematizes petitionary prayer and the concomitant God who actively answers this prayer for healing but denies that one, but there is something within me that is more basic and fundamental than intellect. The part within me that needs magic cries out to the universe and to any god that might be, to the God whom I have come to know through Jesus, that the suffering of the world might be lessened, that the world might be blessed, that THESE people in particular whom I am holding in my heart might be blessed, healed, forgiven, given life, made whole. I enter this closet of petition with Ricoeur’s willed, second naivete and trust God to do what is needed.

    I pray in gratitude for all that is, for all that I am, for all that I have, in order that I might not take it for granted.

    I pray with my soul, my mind, and my body; looking at holy images; touching beads, crosses, stones; folding my hands, kneeling, prostrating myself, dancing; tasting the bread of heaven and the wine of gladness. In doing so, I become one with God, one with the church, one with humanity, and I become truly myself.

    Do I pray? You bet your ass I pray! Why? Because if I didn’t, the world would collapse, and I would cease to be, not literally but in ways that are even more important than literally.

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