Isn't prayer a bit lame?

I am a bit doubtfull about posting this question because it leans towards the frequently discussed topic of unanswered prayer and is God even there. But it’s not really about that for me.

My question is not why prayer doesn’t always give result. I really like the analogy given in an ask away episode of the parent giving the child what he needs even when he doesn’t ask and only giving the child what he asks when it’s good for him. But it wasn’t completely satisfieng for me.

So a few things about prayer:

Some things happen anyway other things won’t happen because God thinks it’s not good for you. This leaves a very cropped spectrum for the use of prayer because it only works when it’s not in one of those categories.

When a prayer isn’t answered you can say it’s not God’s will and that’s it.

When a prayer is answered then that’s supposed to be proof that praying works.

There is just no way of knowing that something wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Besides that God doesn’t really give you a heads up when he isn’t going to do something. So you just keep praying for nothing.

Is it even worth something to God when you pray for something. Or is it all about hoping that your desires line up with Gods.

If God loves you so much and is so creative, can’t it be more often the case that he fits maybe an imperfect desire in his plan.

And I know that there are Bible verses about God listening to you and answering prayers. And there are probably a lot of amazing prayer stories.
But my question is, looking in a really objective and onest way at it, isn’t prayer a bit lame?

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Wow Daniel this is a very hefty question.
Personally, I believe in prayer and I have often felt God’s presence and peace sometimes when I pray. I wrestled with the same questions - I have prayed for some things/ for people and their situation hasn’t changed. Yet I have seen some situations improve greatly and issues resolved in the most beautiful way.
I’ve been bothered deeply by something and have had the Holy Spirit speak to that specific situation by leading me to specific scripture.
Once my son (21 years at the time) asked me a question, I prayed quietly and the Holy Spirit led me to scripture I hadn’t come across before giving my son and me clear answers
I have learned that prayer is not a means for me to always have my way or the results that I desire. It is a measure of how important to me my beautiful Jesus is. I have learned that true faith means adopting the stance of Job 19:25 I know that my Redeemer liveth…
Prayer is fascinating in so many ways and I’ve come to the conclusion that whether or not my prayers are answered, through regular prayer I am building the most important relationship and it is a measure of how important God is to me.
Also, My kids will sometimes get a resounding NO - I couldn’t envisage saying yes to everything they ask for.

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@dePloert Thanks for your honesty in posing this question, Daniel. I noticed @CathE’s response made an important distinction: prayer is not only about making requests! It is about building a relationship and having our hearts conformed to God’s own heart. This was hugely helpful for me in grappling with this.

However, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his essay “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without an Answer” the fact that petitionary prayer (making requests) is only one kind of prayer doesn’t make the difficulty go away—it just helpfully narrows the challenge in on that one variety of prayer. I think you will find a kindred spirit in Lewis if you haven’t already read that essay:) In fact, I see there is a Connect discussion of this essay as relates to at least some aspects of your question: CS Lewis - A Problem with Petitionary Prayer

Lewis has other insightful discussions on this that may give you some traction on this inquiry, one of which is in his book Miracles. The whole book is great on topics related to this, but check out especially Appendix B on “Special Providences.”

I can hear that the logic of it is posing a problem, and that is what Lewis gets into the weeds with. I just wanted to add these as possible resources into this conversation…I think the community is going to have a lot to say about this topic you have started, Daniel! I’d be interested to know what you think of Lewis’s insights if you get around to hunting them up…and to learn whether they help you develop this further.

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@dePloert, You make some interesting points that I imagine many people share. Your comments challenge me to wonder if we make prayer too much about ourselves. We evaluate God’s performance whether he answers as we asked or we surmise God will do what he’s going to do anyway and conclude he’s toying with us and our prayers mean nothing.

Your post got me thinking about prayer differently. We pray because we love God. He commands us to pray, and Jesus said, “The person who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Do I love God? Then I will pray. This goes to @CathE’s point, that prayer is “building the most important relationship.”

Your post ends with the question that is also the title, “Isn’t prayer a bit lame?” Jesus prayed frequently and often for extended time. Would anyone honestly say that Jesus did anything lame?

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@dePloert. So, here’s my two cents regarding prayer. I think the problem rest in defining any parts of living as something that just happens. Perhaps our greatest failure in our relationship with GOD is the assumption that there is living that just happens, and then there is living because it is directed by prayer and the kindness of GOD. But all of life including death occurs because GOD remains completely invested in the world He created and His children.

Much of what disturbs us about living is merely fruit produced by our collective living in a fallen world. We think prayer is supposed to correct the impact of our living. Fix the things we believe are unfair and undeserved. If that expectation is not met in an identifiable way, then what’s the point of GOD? But the majestic of GOD is so far above us, in this life, we will never be able to harness, to our satisfaction, a formula that would allow us to slide GOD into defined roles.

He rains on the just as well as the unjust. When considering that scripture perhaps we could stretch the definition and conclude that some things just happen, whether you pray or not. But that amounts to “short-sheeting” our living.

When things transpire in my life, things I have petition GOD for and did not receive; that becomes a place of trust. A point where I willingly relinquish my expectations and trust the hands that hold my life. The Lord is able to cause even the painful to work to my benefit. Even the pain I run from serves GOD’s purpose. My prayers are always answered. My prayers are always heard. It’s just my tendency to equate my natural desires with what is best for me.

As others have written prayer is most powerful when it is communion. Like any relationship we are invested in, communication is vital. I am learning when communing with the Lord, Creator of all life; it is just wise to do more listening than talking. Prayer becomes for me a time to learn the heart of GOD for myself and all His children. Now that’s my kind of lame. :slight_smile:

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Hi, @dePloert. You have a great question, and this is something I have struggled hard with in my life–so I completely understand where you are coming from. There are many great answers given here. I agree with my brothers and sisters here that we make prayer too much about ourselves and what we want and what we think we need. I am going through a very challenging season in my life right now, and I have prayed and prayed and prayed and have received–so far as I can tell–no answer. I am going to be absolutely transparent because your question asking “Isn’t prayer a bit lame” hit me hard where I’m at right now. I couldn’t help but smirk when I read it, because even though I’ve walked with the Lord for over 20 years now, there are times like this–when I feel like I am suffering quite a lot–that I am very tempted to think the same thing. But I have to remind myself that, as my fellow believers here pointed out, prayer isn’t about getting what I want or how I’m feeling (though the Psalms show us we should come to God with honesty about how we are feeling); it’s about the relationship. And at different times in our lives, I think that relationship looks and feels differently in prayer, because our needs in and from that relationship change from season to season in life as we grow and learn. And we have to keep in mind that while our sights are set on earthly things, His sights are set on things eternal. His sights are set on where we are as His image bearers and what needs to be done to conform us more into the image of His Son. In this way, not only is our spiritual, eternal well-being being looked after, but we are enabled to live for Him in a way that glorifies Him before others. We aren’t saved to look after our own purposes–we are saved to live for His. Prayer is meant to keep our eyes fixed on Him for that reason, regardless of how He responds. This way of thinking, at least for me, serves as a constant reminder that I need to approach prayer seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). When we approach prayer to serve our own purposes, thinking that we should be able to manipulate God to serve us, it is indeed lame. When we approach prayer with His good and righteous purposes in mind, seeking to serve Him with everything we have, prayer is powerful and something God uses to move mountains and angels at our request.

I hope all this makes sense…if not, please let me know and I will try to clarify. :slight_smile:

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First off I want to thank all of you for the overwhelming amount of answers I got.

I read all the posts and referenced posts and learned some new stuff about prayer I find very helpful.
The distinction that was made between the different types of prayer is something I wish I mentioned in the first post. I’m just talking about this thing that’s apparently called “Petitionary Prayer”.
I have been a Christian all my life and I see the importance of praying for a relation with God.

The main thing that came out of these answers for me were that praying isn’t about you but about God.
And that there is a bit of a paradox when looking at the Petitionary Prayer as the CS Lewis article said.
The parent not answering a bad prayer analogy was in there too. And there was this small video of Tim Keller pointing out that we can’t see the infinite implications of something and God can.
So I definitely learned about why prayer doesn’t always have the desired result and I’m grateful for the knowledge you shared with me.
If this is the way Petitionary Prayer works I can be ok with it.

However I feel I didn’t really find an answer to the specific question I asked.
When asking the question isn’t prayer a bit lame I wasn’t trying to be rude about Christianity, I was specifically asking that question.
I do have answers (especially now) to the question, ‘why aren’t all prayers answered?’, but that wasn’t really my point to begin with.

Petitionary Prayer is basically cropped between the stuff you are getting anyway and the things you are not getting anyhow. That only has been confirmed I think. On top of that it’s only about God as well so that kind of limits it a bit too.
So it still seems very limited and narrow to me and that’s why I used the word lame.

What I wanted to add as well is in Luke 18 1-8 Jesus says that if you keep praying for something God will get irritated and answer you prayer. And I that praying with more people has apparently more effect to.
So the more effort that goes into a request the bigger the chance is that it will be answered.
The problem is that you can’t know if you’re not getting something at all or that you just have to put more effort in. Which to me is a setup for wasting time.

Sometimes other Christians give the impression that praying is this really cool superpower to change things, but to be honest I still think Petitionary Prayer isn’t that impressive since it’s so limited and uncertain. But maybe I’m still missing something here.

I do see that it doesn’t matter if Petitionary Prayer is lame, since it’s not about what we want and God has his plans anyway and takes care of you.
I like the way cer7 looked at it that unanswered prayers should become a place of trust.

I hope this post is not too messy and thanks again for all the wonderful comments.

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@dePloert That is a great question :slight_smile: Before we can even answer that question, we need to answer another more fundamental question. Prayer is not lame. But to understand why - you need to understand what prayer is…

Big Question: What is the purpose of prayer? Why do we pray?

The first thing I would say is that prayer is not a ‘tool’. A tool is something that we can use - like a rake or car or shovel - in order to achieve some purpose we have in mind. Tools are predictable - they always produce the same results if you use them in the same way. Prayer, in contrast, is a request that we bring before the living God, who chooses to act or not act in response to our prayer based upon many factors we do not know. Prayer is not predictable because we pray to a living God - prayer is not a tool and God is not a geni or vending machine. God is our Father and just like when we ask our parents for something when we are kids they may or may not grant our requests based upon factors unknown to us, prayer is coming before our Heavenly Father.

The other thing to understand is prayer is always an act of worship - if we recall the acrostic ACTS - prayer consists of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Even if God did not change His mind when we prayed we should still adore Him through worship, give thanks and confess our sins. The only one that would be confusing would be supplication. But prayer has many purposes beyond simply asking God for things - it is fundamentally an act of worship.

The below quote from C. S. Lewis makes the point that God could have already determined His choice in eternity past in light of His foreknowledge that we would pray a specific prayer at a point and time:

“The event [in question] has already been decided—in a sense it was decided “before all worlds.” But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. . . . My free act [of prayer] contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity or “before all worlds”; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time-series.” C. S. Lewis

And here are some additional Connect threads that discuss the significance of prayer if God has / has not predetermined events.

Christ grant you wisdom as you study :slight_smile: Look forward to hearing your additional thoughts / questions.

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@dePloert Just saw this - good thoughts :slight_smile: Luke 18 is not saying that God gets irritated and answers your prayer - Luke is using an argument from the lesser to the greater. Luke is starting with something people are familiar with - an unjust judge - and then moving to his point. His point is this - if even an unjust judge grants a request when someone is persistent, how much more will God - a truly just judge - grant your requests for justice.

But back to your more basic question - is petitionary prayer lame? There are a few points to consider here:

  • which is more lame - God’s will for us or our will for ourselves?
  • is it lame that prayer is more about God transforming us than us changing the world around us? C. S. Lewis once said he would “rather be the child caught in the spell than the magician casting it”. That is a very Christian view - real joy does not come from getting our wants or desires, but from having them transformed to want the right things.
  • I think your dichotomy of prayer into “things predetermined” and “things we’re not getting anyways” is false. I believe God does hear our prayers and may grant us things we desire but are not necessarily directly related to what has been predetermined. However, those desires must obviously be godly desires and within the bounds of God’s own character, or else He cannot grant them and it would be cruel of Him to do so.

Another thing that may be helpful is to remember the imagery God uses of His relationship to us - Father, Shepherd, King, Priest. These are all people who provide provision, protection and intercession. Jesus told us we would suffer in this world and that our ultimate victory is not yet. At its heart petitionary prayer flows out of truly believing that God is Father, Shepherd, Priest and King even if we cannot see it in our own lives at this moment. Faith is the evidence of things not seen; the substance of things hoped for…

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Hi dePloert @dePloert. I’ve read your interesting question and the wonderful responses but still am not sure I’m getting your point about prayer being limited. But I’m going to make an attempt at something the others haven’t tapped into.
There are all kinds of prayers for all types of situations from praise to intercessory, to petition, etc. But you are narrowing your frustration to “prayers of petition” that don’t seem to get a response, that seem to fall between the cracks. So why bother?
You are absolutely right! Those prayers are so limited. The reason they are so limited is that we don’t know what to pray nor the words to say. That is where Romans 8:26-27 fills in that limited space.

Romans 8:26-27 New International Version (NIV):

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
This passage says that WE DON’T KNOW HOW to pray. That is the reason He has given us the Holy Spirit. When we are limited we limit the effectiveness of our prayers. So, God, who knows what our hearts are trying to say, listens to the mind or voice of the Holy Spirit on our behalf. We are groaning with sighs because we want to express in words our thoughts, but can’t. It’s at that point that our limited prayers become dynamic prayers. John 14:17 says that the Spirit lives within you. So who better to express those limited prayers than the Holy Spirit?
I have had those times when I had an ache in my heart for a certain situation but just couldn’t “get it off my chest”. I would try to pray and felt those prayers coming right back at me. So, the Scripture says we “groan”. I gave up trying to use my words, just fell silent, and let the Holy Spirit pray for me. I can’t tell you what I said to God, but I can tell you that I came away knowing God had heard my prayer. (1Pet. 3:12a). Did I have an assurance of how that prayer was going to be answered? No. But it didn’t matter anymore because I, through the Holy Spirit, had turned it over to Him.
Another roadblock so many of us have is not knowing how to pray according to His will. 1John 5:14-15. That’s a whole other topic. My point in bringing it up is that when we allow the Holy Spirit to take over our “groans”, we KNOW we have prayed according to His will, as Romans 8:27 says.
I suggest you take those limited prayers to God with just “groans”. Not words.
Allow the Holy Spirit within you to do the talking. I can assure you that that limited prayer will become a dynamic prayer. (It reminds me of an old TV ad for a financial brokerage that went something to the effect, “We can talk all we want, but when E.F. Hutton speaks… people listen.”) (I’m probably showing my age here :grimacing:)
Jesus never intended any type of prayer to be lame. That is why He gave us His prayer “model”. (Matt.6:9-13) Take that model and allow the Holy Spirit to interpret it into a dynamic prayer. It covers prayers of praise, submission, petition, forgiveness, mercy, and some manuscripts end with praise.
I hope this has addressed your question. If not, I know no other answer.

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Those are some really helpful texts thank you.
It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but talking less when talking to God seems to make sense.

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Hi Sean,
I don’t see why my point about prayer being limited between what is determined is false. You said yourself that it’s within the “bounds” of God’s will.

When used as a way to get something you desire I would still say prayer is lame. Partly because I’m a stubborn person.

But when you used the word tool I got this insight I think is important.
Me saying prayer is lame quite unfair.
It’s like saying a hammer is lame when I try to saw a plank.
Everything is lame when you use it in a way it wasn’t intended.
As many of you already said it’s about God and his will and relationship etcetera.

Thanks for the responses. I’ll listen to the Tim Keller video in the car.

Regards Daniel

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@dePloert The car is a great place / time to listen to such things - was just listening to a Philip Yancey book this morning :slight_smile:

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You wrote
If God loves you so much and is so creative, can’t it be more often the case that he fits maybe an imperfect desire in his plan.

That quote is a perfect question about prayer and what prayer is. I cant speak for you just share what my understanding of prayer is.
I know that God is omnisceint, omnipotent, omni-present and that is the key to prayer for me. prayer is a two way conversation with the ultimate creator and sustained of all things, who knows what’s best for me.
it say in scripture
Know that the Lord , He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Psalms 100:3 NKJV
In the Lords prayer the first line is praising and acknowledging Gods Soveigenrty., dominion over all things. For me prayer is the action of asking for others or myself what we may have need of and humbly bowing to His will. I will never fully understand why He did or did not answer the why or what, just like I can never fully understand the thinking of why my wife of 40 years did some things the way she did. I cant think like her I’m not a woman. Again I am just sharing my understanding of prayer according to scripture. To me His will is paramount. Perhaps my 36 years before Christ of being extremely self absorbed have shaped my relationship with HIM today. May God grant you wisdom and understanding. beyond your years as you search out HIS truth.
Love in Christ
Mike

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Oh my! Friend, brother. I preface this out of admiration, concern and surprise. Admiration that you are bold enough to ask a visceral question, concern out of desire that you come to know God’s truth with peace and surprise that what is one of the most powerful tools and resources that we have, though used ineffectively, will not produce a desired result.

There is so much to reply to you, and I do so thank the brothers and sisters that have responded, and I shall limit my responses to succinct categories. It might seem that I am more logical with my answers, but I am not, I do feel your heart’s angst and my heart grieves that you come to know God’s mercies and grace.

Here are some thoughts: you make many premises, which are not valid, I can list a few examples here:

  1. Some things happen anyway other things won’t happen because God thinks it’s not good for you.
    This leaves a very cropped spectrum for the use of prayer because it only works when it’s not in one of those categories.

This is a very broad and more complicated statement than you know. “Some things happen anyway” - this is an epistemological statement that philosophers and saints have deliberated and pondered for millennia. Not necessarily theological.

“other things won’t happen because God thinks it’s not good for you.” The first idea here that stands out is the concept of good. Is tribulation and loss of many things physical good in order for you to enter heaven? Check out Phil 3:8

“This leaves a very cropped spectrum for the use of prayer because it only works when it’s not in one of those categories.”

This premise is invalid. It can only be validated when every single prayer in the whole spectrum of time is validated.

“When a prayer isn’t answered you can say it’s not God’s will and that’s it.” Also invalid, check out Joseph and Genesis 45:8. Just because God does not answer the prayer the way you already want it to go has nothing to do with what God’s will is. Also note that because prayer goes unanswered, we know that the enemy tries to discourage us. Checkout Daniel 10:11-13

“When a prayer is answered then that’s supposed to be proof that praying works.”

Also invalid. We believe in prayer by Faith, and that evidence is the peace in our heart and trust in Christ. Homework assignment - most people do not know or understand Faith, so
I will ask you to research this, the answer lies in the book by A.W.Tozer’s Pursuit of God. [ :slight_smile: ]
Also remember that just asking is not a prerequisite to receiving, we must learn
to abide in Him first. Checkout John 15:7.

I will defer commenting on your last four statements for another post if you don’t mind and go on to answering your question:

“looking in a really objective and honest way at it, isn’t prayer a bit lame?”

My first thought was why would you want to look at prayer like that unless you are an Atheist or Agnostic, which is pragmatic, perhaps existential, certainly valid in a humanistic perspective.

Yes there is objective truth but that objective truth is validated and realized the moment God changes your heart and opens up your heart to believe in Him and that my friend is quite a subjective experience. Now why one would believe that prayer is lame is one that is of concern since to believe that, then we are not comprehending the depths, breath and height of prayer. Prayer is not just with supplication, that is like saying love is eros or storage and not agape.
If one begins to comprehend the extent of agape and apply this to prayer than one begins to understand that our position in life is one like Horatio in Hamlet when he says to him:" there are more things to Heaven and Earth than are dreampt of in your philosophy" (one can replace philosophy with religion/theology).

So, my answer is no, prayer is not a bit lame. But I trust and pray (see, prayer is not lame because I am believing that God shall enlighten you!), as you grow in mercy and grace and the knowledge of the Holy you will come to know God’s beautiful love for you and the power of prayer! Peace and grace my friend! :slight_smile:

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I pondered this question yesterday actually J

I have been on a road trip the last few days – driving through beautiful open countryside in Southern Africa. Many areas and regions have been experiencing severe drought and as the rainy season is about to begin the farmers are beginning to pray for good rains. At one point on my journey yesterday I was heading into a stormy wind swept plain. Big dark clouds billowing overhead while the dry dust was swirled up off the fields and big fat rain drops began to explode on my windshield. At a cross-roads I saw a woman and her young child hunched against the wind, hoodies up over their heads, the child turning in towards her mother’s belly, sheltering under her mother’s arms, and her jacket too.

The thought that struck me at that moment was that there was probably a farmer in that area praying for that big dark cloud to burst and the rain to pour down onto his thirsty fields; but at the same time that woman and her child may well have been praying for God to hold that storm at bay until their ride picked them up or they managed to reach shelter…

Whose prayer would be answered? Both were legitimate and earnest. Both would have achieved a good purpose. One prayer was negating the other. Using your terminology I would say that in that instance those prayers might have been a bit “lame”.

I wonder what it is you are petitioning and praying for, which is not receiving a response, which has made you wonder if prayer is a waste of time?

I have prayed many lame prayers. Pointless, selfish desires which would do me more harm than good if God were to give me what I wanted. Perhaps your prayer right now is also lame. But that does not mean that ALL prayer is lame. You know that too. Maybe you need to find another way around your petition? Ask it, pray it in a different way? Sometimes we pray for God to do things for us when we can actually resolve it ourselves. Ask God to show you why His answer seems to be no? The story in Luke 18 is a good illustration of how to keep going back to God to ask Him to help you achieve what it is you are after. Ask and keep on asking – but do it all in accordance with who God is and what His desire for you is – perhaps you need to study the character of God and Jesus Christ. Maybe you need to ask God to put a new desire on your heart. Ask Him to teach you and guide you. And be thankful too. Jesus prayed (petitioned God) before He was crucified that if God could change what was about to happen could He please do so – but He added “But not my will but yours”. What an example Jesus is to me. He prayed often, He taught us how to pray and He trusted His Father with “the bigger picture” when His petition was not answered at one of the most agonizing moments of His life.

God Bless you as you learn more with Connect.

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Thanks, Catherine. I agree, praying is something more related with the relational value and trust in god rather than an exact mechanism of making things happening. I would say is a way of permanently remember our dependency and relation with our Heavenly Father.

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dear deploert, thank you for your bravery in asking this question… i am pondering and reading responses and hopefully, if need be, would share my view. Once again, Thanks

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Every believer will grapple with these questions about prayer. Many have shared some amazing views and opinions about prayer which are very encouraging.

I have one thing to say. This is how I understand prayer.

When I pray, I always want God’s will to be done - 100%. No matter how serious the situation at hand is. So, there is nothing like I want something and I am asking/praying to God to bless me with what I want or fulfil or come close to my wish/desires. My mind/heart already knows and is aware that I have a petition but I want God’s will be done. God’s will is important to me than the my desired out of my petition. So, I am not expecting my wish or desire to be done when I am praying instead I am praying for God’s will to be done in my petition.

The way we approach God through our prayers make a lot of difference. Prayer is not; I pray and I am expecting it from God but prayer is; I want to share what I have in my mind and putting it totally in God’s hand and seeking His will be done. I don’t want my prayer to change anything but my prayer is about God’s will in whatever I am praying for.

So, for me, prayer is a personal time with God where I speak to Him like I speak to my wife or friends, knowing that He is all powerful and all knowing and I would rest my petitions, concerns, burdens and situation in His hands. I totally want Him to do His will which I think will result in divine outcome.

Hope it makes sense.

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