Prayer; a lot’s been said about it. Some of it rich and deep. Most of it well meant. Frankly at the moment none of it seems to help.
In my ruminations about prayer I’m at the stage where I believe that prayer works through love. Now by prayer I’m more in the region of the asking kind rather than the adoring kind. And I think that the asking and answering works through love because I think God works in the world through love. So where love happens God is happening in someway.
What do I mean by love? Well God defines what love is. God is love. What does it look like? From God’s actions in Jesus and the trinitarian reflections on who God is I draw out three features of love.
- Acceptance of the other
- Reaching out to the other
- Giving oneself to the other
When this happens God happens. So Jesus says when two or three are gathered he is there. And the church is known to be Jesus’ disciples when they love each other.
So God is most present when love in some form is happening. And this is probably how prayer ‘works’. So the love that we have for others will be the engine through which the Holy Spirit moves.
A lady in church said about her husband getting a job within a week of being laid off. She said that God was good and in control. We’ve heard countless stories of healings, how God has provided the money and even how God without even us asking prevented our loved ones from getting on that ill-fated train. And here comes the pain and the puzzle. Why does God answer particular prayers?
We assume that God is all loving. So why are only some prayers answered? There are loads of people still sick, the rich and the powerful defecate on the poor. One has to assume that the vast majority of prayer requests go unanswered. Various answers have been given for this.
One is that God’s scheme is different to ours. On one level this is cheap rationalisation but yet on another this is profound. On the cheap rationalisation level this God’s scheme or God’s ways being different has been used in insensitive and oppressive ways.
Eg. ‘Why are those people so poor and looked down upon?’; ‘Oh it’s God’s mysterious ways.’
Why does he have polio? yadayadayada
When people started actually exploring and experimenting they found that they could actually fight against injustice and disease. God’s mysterious ways now was interpreted as human evil and natural disaster.
I can accept that God works differently but to glibly answer a problem someone has with – ‘God’s mysterious ways’ is I feel, an insult to God and to that person.
Another reason given is God’s timing. Again possible but it doesn’t really help the kidnapped little girl who got murdered.
Various other reasons are bandied about all in an effort to protect God’s reputation and more importantly the Christian’s spirtual reasoning reputation.
My problem is not with unanswered prayer. The world is what it is and God’s kingdom is slowly but surely taking root in it. My confusion is with answered prayer. Most answered prayers seem to be pleasant surprises or oddly coincident but good experiences or a satisfactory resolution to a difficult situation. Are these answers to prayer?
The sceptic of course rationalises towards the obvious sense based explanation while the believer rationalises towards the mighty hand of God explanation. The concept of God’s immanence kind of marries the two explanations by showing God working through the processes of creation but if that is the case then it seems fairly hit and miss and random.
So there you have it. I don’t get prayer. I still do pray though. But increasingly I listen to my hollow words with a sinking feeling as words dribble out of my thoughts and lips floating down to join the dust in carpet.