W.Jesus was asked by his disciples about prayer. Their question was, "Teach us to pray." No hint there of either a concern about whether prayer works or what it is. His response was as simple as the request:
W.Prayer can take the following forms or address the following subjects:
W.In my church worship is structured around this list. Every worship service includes all these forms of prayer. So worship is seen as a model for prayer just as much as it is a model for life. First Thessalonians 5:17 advises us to pray without ceasing -- literally to making our lives a prayer. The equation
W.I think that it is also possible to categorize what we think about prayer by what we take to be its object. The object of prayer might be any of the following:
W.It is also possible to believe that our prayer effects change without effecting God. This seems to be the sense of some new-age prayer. What we effect with prayer is not the creator of the universe but a spiritual melieu to which we all belong. In this sense of prayer the power of our good wishes travels to those to whom we direct them supporting them in whatever physical or emotional trial they face. This is self-sufficient prayer without God.
W.The third view of prayer comes to me from the 1994 movie Shadowlands based on the life of C. S. Lewis. In this story Lewis' faith is challenged when the woman who is the object of his love and joy, who has belatedly come into his life comes down with and dies of cancer. At one point as she lay dying Lewis is asked by a friend why when the outcome is certain he nevertheless continues to pray. His answer is that, "I pray not to change Him but to change me." Its the one thing that we often fail to notice when we are on the outside of and looking in on such dire situations -- that finding a way out is less important than finding a way through.
a way through is what we all eventually need. Some things in our
lives we can change. Some things we cannot. Some things God
will make consistent with our best expectations. Some things God
will not. Whatever happens we really all need a way through tough
times. The General Patton model prayer resists and does not
help in dealing with what will be. The new-age model prayer is
sufficient when the problem is really the limits of self
When life is unendurable prayer allows us to share the burden with a
that is greater than any other. That is what alone will carry us
through the tough times. And all prayer is prelude to this.
W.To ask if science can prove that prayer works or to even accept that it has is to confuse the purpose and domain of both science and religion. The purpose of science is to build a body of empirical knowledge about the physical world -- its proper domain. The purpose of religion is to guide our thought and actions in relationship to the spiritual world -- its proper domain.
W.The scientific method assumes that any hypothesis is falsifiable. "Prayer works" is a hypothesis in this case. So to be true to the scientific method anyone who would put prayer to this test must begin with the assumption that prayer can be proven not to work -- hardly a proposition compatible with faith. Scientific knowledge is also only that body of facts and theories which can be proven empirically. Therefore it is always only tentative and subject to revision at a later date by better observations or experiments. Prayer once proven to work should always according to science be subject to later being proven either to not work or to be something else.
one of faith who believes that prayer works (whatever they take that to
mean) would be willing to seek or accept a scientific proof that prayer
works. Scientific proof is simply irrelevant in this case.
If science does prove that prayer works it would add nothing to the
of those who already pray. If it does not too bad for science.
W.Prayer is just conversation with God. Some of us are not great conversationalists. We don't know what to say after we've covered the weather, sports and the current gossip. So we need practice. This is where the traditional categories presented above can be of help. These simply remind us that after we run through our usual conversation starters we could include something about praise, thanksgiving, confession, forgiveness, intercession or petition. Or not -- these are only guidelines and this is your conversation (and God's).
W There are a couple of other possible topics I would like to suggest for prayer: anger and questions.
W Unexpressed and unresolved anger is a conversation killer. It's also a relationship killer. It goes counter to what we've been told but its okay to be angry and its okay to be angry at God. Sometimes this world doesn't make sense to our very human sensibilities and we see no good in it at all. In those cases it is right to be angry and if you believe in God you can't help but be angry at God. The myth that we should never be angry does more damage to us and our relationships than anything else. It can lead to expressing that anger in inappropriate ways including violence and abusive and destructive behavior.
W.The main contribution of Neale Walsch to the popular conception of conversing with God is the idea that it's okay to question God. It's okay to ask, "Why?" If faith is all about believing it may seem paradoxical that we should question. But we should. Jesus teaches us to come to faith like a child. And a fundamental characteristic of children is that they always are asking, "Why?" To be truly children of God we must ask, "Why"?
there is silence. Sometimes conversation falls silent.
words fail us or it is just time to listen there is a place for
Communication does not stop with words. In silence we give our
and receive the presence of the other -- a mutual being with that can
more deeply than words. As someone observed we are human beings
not human doings. It is with those whom we have deep
that we feel most comfortable when the flow of words stop. Our
relationship with God and our deepest prayer is silence.
.Return to Tom Jonard's Faith page.