Does prayer really work?
Is prayer some kind of self-delusion? Is it snake oil sold by religionists? Is there anything to the belief that prayer is answered? Prayer is communion with God to help us live our best lives, and it helps to understand that it works and how it works.
This multipart series explores: “What is prayer and who can use it?” (everyone). Unrealistic expectations. And criticism – can it be subjected to scientific studies and philosophical inquiries?
Pull up a real or virtual cup or “cuppa” of whatever it is you drink, and let’s have a probing look. Many of you aren’t in the same space as me in religious tradition or spiritually, and that’s okay, even if you’re atheist. We don’t have to align perfectly to benefit from a discussion.
Do people pray?
People pray a lot. Around 55% of people in the US pray every single day, according to Pew Research. The numbers are higher among those with less wealth, and lower with those with more wealth. Apparently, there’s a strong correlation with need.
Is prayer on the decline? “Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades,” according to Pew Research. Despite many who criticize young people (not me, I’m up for young people), the more things change, the more they stay the same. The grandson is a chip off of the old grandad.
What is prayer
Prayer is communication with God.
Jesus advised us, “And when you are praying, do not use thoughtless repetition as [those who don’t understand God], for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”1
People pray once for something, and then expect it to happen. Okay, okay, when it’s really important to them, sometimes they drive God crazy about it. But that’s irrational behavior.
The Apostle Paul said in a letter to the Thessalonians, to “pray without ceasing.”2 What did he mean? I try not to hang around those obsessed with “religion” all day. Religion isn’t life. Religion assists us in living our lives to become better people and create a better world. Pray without ceasing seems like an obsession.
I believe Paul meant by his statement “pray without ceasing,” to always be in communion with God. That is, to be on the same page, resonating with, and asking God’s guidance. Not at the front of our mind, but always lurking in the back of our mind, just like thoughts of our family.
Communion is a type of communication. Communion is defined by Oxford Languages online as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.”
Some prayer is just meditation. But this series isn’t about all of the different kinds of prayer.
Questioning is healthy
If we want to understand what really works, we need to question things. I like skeptics, atheists, agnostics, professors, young and new adults – that is, people who question, not people who are dead certain of everything or those who rely on tradition and what others say. I never stop learning.
Why am I so inquisitive? I think it’s because I forgot to grow up. I blame this on my incredibly poor memory – I’m kind of like an absent-minded professor. Don’t ask my wife – she probably will give you a very different story. So, I have the advantage of a lot of experience with real life and real faith and blunders, but have kept the same youthful inquisitiveness and playfulness. I’m always asking questions about faith and theology, and this assists in spiritual growth.
When we ask questions, even if we throw out a lot of trash, we end up with what is true and become firmer in our beliefs.
Take Home Points
The average person prays every day. Prayer is simply communication or communion with God. We don’t need to repeat the same requests over and over like a broken record. We need to stay in communion with God, not so we think about religion all day, but so that it is an important thing in the back of our mind, influencing us.
Pray and keep communicating with God. It works
Our answer is God. God’s answer is us. Together we make the world better.