I recently came upon this image:
Text: When life doesn’t fit, don’t worry, be critical, or try to fix it. Instead, take your problem to Jesus and leave it there.
It’s one thing to pray in addition to actually doing things to fix a problem in your life, but praying instead of doing things to fix a problem in your life is something else altogether, and that seems to be what Max Lucado is promoting here.
Of course, this idea that prayer alone can be sufficient to fix a problem is where we get that story about the man who prayed for God to save him while stranded on his roof during a flood, and turned down a helicopter and a boat that came by and offered to take him to safety. God was going to save him, he informed them. Then, as he was drowning, he cried out to God asking why he hadn’t saved him, and God said “What are you talking about? I sent a boat and a helicopter to save you, and you turned them both away!”
But for all that we can poke fun, there are people who really think this way, especially people who believe in faith healing. It’s one thing to pray in addition to taking a sick child to the doctor or pursuing medical treatment for a condition, it’s another thing entirely to believe that prayer by itself can heal things like cancer, so no medical treatment is necessary.
Of course, these things raise questions about the efficacy of prayer. If prayer “worked,” it should be able to cure cancer, right? And how could we tell if God sent a boat and a helicopter to save a man during a flood, as opposed to the boat and helicopter just coming by as part of normal disaster relief efforts? My parents frequently credited little things to prayer alone, like finding a parking spot up close, and yet never trusted larger things to prayer alone, such as a safe childbirth or finding a job.
One time one of my brothers lost his glasses in the snow, and everyone spent literally hours looking for them. My parents prayed throughout the ordeal, while looking, and urged us to do the same. When the glasses were found, God was praised. Prayer, not the hours ten people spent looking, was given the credit for the discovery. And yet, no one suggested sitting around praying for the glasses to just walk in out of the snow.
I may have grown up in an evangelical family, but I’m no longer religious, and I no longer believe in the efficacy of prayer in this sort of sense. I never saw prayer accomplish anything that didn’t look like either a coincidence or something we’d actually accomplished through hard work.
There was one time and one time only I saw prayer accomplish something that seemed too much to be a coincidence. We were working on a political campaign and needed $3000 in donations to come in to put out a mailing we were preparing—and we needed it STAT. At the very last moment possible, a check came in from a donor for $3000. At the time, I was given to believe that this was purely God at work, and everyone was amazed. Now I wonder if someone on our team had shared the specific need for $3000 for the specific mailing. And even if the donor hadn’t known, well, bizarre coincidences like that will happen sometimes. And it’s worth noting that I worked on many campaigns that always had funding needs, and that’s the only time something like that happened. Other times, those of us on the campaign team had to take a hit and put the cash in ourselves.
In the evangelical churches I attended growing up, I were taught that prayer is a way of communicating with God, a way of keeping him updated on what’s going on inside of us. I were also taught that prayer could literally move mountains, but that while God always answered prayer and could move mountains, he sometimes answered a request with “no” or “not yet.” So I always saw prayer as a way of talking to God, and as something that could in theory cause great things to happen but in practice usually didn’t—so we shouldn’t assume it would and stop working to fix our problems ourselves. So if God didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted them answered, this didn’t shake my faith in the potential ability of prayer to move mountains. It did, however, make the potential power I ascribed to prayer unfalsifiable. Still, I at least combined prayer with putting in the effort to actually make the change I wanted to see.
The view of prayer Max Lucado promotes in his quote above is toxic. I am glad I was told to take my problems to God in prayer but not to stop also trying to fix them. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to raise a family on Max Lucado’s view. You have a dead-end job that pays too little? Don’t go out job searching! Tell Jesus your needs and leave it at that! There is no way in which this is not a bad idea.