Countless scriptures adjure believers to pray for one another. But if painful and pleasant come to all, you may ask, “Why Pray?”
If People Struggle Anyway, Why Pray?
In my last article, “When Prayers of Protection and Healing Fail,” I addressed the crisis of faith that many feel when they pray for others, and disaster happens anyway. These experiences lead many to believe that there is no purpose in prayer. If people struggle anyway, why pray?
Author C.S. Lewis answers this one: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” Most days, I feel this one strongly. I don’t pray to change God—I pray to change myself. I pray to bring myself into alignment with divine wisdom and love. If I pray and God performs a miracle, it’s not because I’ve done anything special, or because I have gotten enough people to pray. It’s because every day God is pouring miracles into the world, like sunshine and rain for all creation. I just tuned into that miracle frequency and got to participate.
God’s Love Energies
My seminary professor Dr. E Glenn Hinson puts it this way: “We can become conduits of God’s love energies. The love energies flow into and through us toward other persons. I have this conviction that we human beings can generate love energy. You know we do that. If you are in love with somebody, you feel those energies, don’t you? They flow toward you. Maybe it’s not very much. It’s just a pinch or two. But we add something to God’s love energies. These love energies flow out toward the world, to the other persons, and to the communities that we live in. They flow out to address the world’s great problems.”
In class, Dr. Hinson drew a diagram as he explained this. At the top was God. On the bottom left was the praying person. On the bottom right was the person in need. “God is continually pouring out love energies on the world,” he would say, drawing waves radiating from God, and spreading out on both the bottom left and right. “Since we’re made in the image of God, the praying person likewise sends out love energies. These return to God as adoration and worship, but they also flow to the person in need. Therefore, the person in need gets a double portion of love energies—first from God, and then from the praying person.”
I used to think it was either mumbo-jumbo or simply lip service when people said, “I’m sending you good vibes.” Now, I think it’s just another way of saying “God’s love energies.” Every human, no matter their religion, can do this, simply by concentrating loving thoughts on someone. I used to think that “I’m thinking of you,” or “I’m keeping you in my thoughts” was just an unbeliever’s weak copy of when Christians say, “I’m praying for you.” Now, I believe differently.
The qualities of God aren’t confined to Christians. Every person created in God’s image can send love energies through focused attention. This doesn’t mean that God will work a miracle and do exactly what we want God to do for that person. But it does mean that the person in need will receive both God’s love and yours. And that’s never a bad thing.
Contemplative Prayer – How All Things Work for Good
These days, most of my prayers are like C.S. Lewis’ prayer—for God to change me as I care for those who are hurting. I also find great serenity in contemplative prayer that asks for nothing but the blessing of God’s presence. Years ago, I heard author and speaker Daniel Henderson speak at a conference. He said that you always get what you want most when you pray when the thing that you want most when you pray is more of God. Through contemplative prayer, he said, you seek God’s face instead of God’s hand. Rather than focusing on what you can get from God, you focus on God. And when God is what you want most, God gives you the desires of your heart. God gives you God.
Santa Claus in the Sky
Too many Christians think of God as Santa Claus in the Sky. In our minds, it goes down this way: We sit on his lap and ask him to grant our wishes. He says, “Have you been good?” We respond by telling Santa everything we’ve done to earn the gifts we’re asking for. Then, we just hope we really have been good enough, or that we’ve asked nicely enough, to deserve to receive God’s gifts. But it doesn’t work this way.
Instead, James 1:17 says, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This means that God doesn’t give in variable ways, depending on God’s whim or our merit. God just gives love energies, because that’s what God does.
From Santa’s Sack to Love Energies
I’ve quit thinking of God as the Santa Claus in the sky who grants wishes if I’m a good boy. Mostly, I don’t pray for things. I pray for qualities like people’s wholeness, peace, transformation, acceptance, and blessing. Those are things that conscious (and maybe even unconscious) individuals can receive as they connect with God’s divine energies. So, when I pray, I hold people in my mind, offering up these qualities. I send these to them as gifts, empowered by God’s love energies.
Whether God chooses to protect or heal someone is beyond my scope. That’s up to God. Instead of filling stockings with candy (all the sugary stuff we pray that people can get from Santa), I choose to fill them with the healthier fruit of the Spirit. I pray for people to receive and then reflect God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” You can’t go wrong by involving these qualities on people’s behalf.
When Someone Asks for Prayer
Melissa, your question was more than theoretical. It was about a specific and very tragic situation. A young life is on the brink, and people are asking for prayer. How do you respond when people ask for prayer? You genuinely respond that you’ll pray for them. Just because you pray differently than they do, this doesn’t mean your prayers are less than theirs. They are simply different.
If you’re asked to pray for people publicly, try to pray for those qualities and fruit of the Spirit for them. If you feel you must ask God for protection and healing, do so—without guilt. But try to frame your request in a way that doesn’t “name it and claim it” or give the impression that your prayer is a magic charm that will guarantee their wellness. You don’t want to set people up for disillusionment if things don’t turn out exactly as you’ve prayed. The key thing is to bring your prayer around to focus on God’s presence and blessing for the person as the most important thing. Pray—without attachment to the results. Leave the results to God, who knows what the person needs far better than you ever could.
If People Struggle Anyway, Why Pray?
To conclude, there are at least three reasons to continue praying, even when we don’t always get the protection and healing that we want.
- We pray because prayer changes us. It gets us closer to God. Perhaps we see our prayers answered in the way we pray more often if our focus is more on God than it is on our problem.
- We pray because prayer does make a spiritual difference—just not in the way that we think. God’s love energies are continually pouring out upon everyone. When we pray, we reflect and amplify those love energies in the direction of the person we’re praying for. They also return to God as loving worship. Nobody can fail to be blessed by love energies.
- We pray because it comforts people to know you’re praying for them. If you have a hard time telling people, “I’m praying for your healing,” you could say, “I’m holding you in my prayers,” or “I’m remembering you in prayer,” or, “I’m holding space for you.”
Does Prayer Work?
Often, people say, “Prayer doesn’t work.” If prayer isn’t working for me, maybe I’m trying to do the wrong thing with it. I can’t turn a screw with a hammer, but I don’t throw that hammer away, complaining that it doesn’t work. Instead, I get a screwdriver for the screw and use my hammer for things that need pounding. Prayer definitely works, for what prayer is for. If it doesn’t seem like it’s working, maybe I need to approach the problem with the right tools. I should still pray–but I shoouldn’t expect a hammer to do the job of a screwdriver.