I want to write about something that I’m fairly certain is going to be close to one of my more controversial posts, if not, my most controversial.
It’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time, but every time I start, it doesn’t feel as if I’m ready.
Now, for reasons beyond my understanding, I feel as if the time is right. I feel as if the words I’m trying to say, the idea I’m trying to communicate, can be freely expressed in my writing.
But like I said, there’s good reason why I haven’t made this post yet. It’s not a widely accepted opinion, especially of those in the Christian community. But I’m digressing, and wish to continue. So here’s it is:
I don’t pray, at least not in the way you might think.
Now, with that statement, I believe two different responses will come from that. The first, you won’t care. What’s it matter to you if I pray? Maybe you’re not religious yourself, so you couldn’t care less if I prayed or not. But that’s when you’d be wrong about me, which I’ll explain later.
The second response that might come from my admission is you might feel appalled. How could someone who identifies as Christian, how could he not pray? Prayer is essential, and not only that, would be blasphemous to ignore. A man’s worth in the Christian community is often measured by his ability to pray. They esteem a man of high prayer life to be that of the highest spiritual achievement.
But there’s something I’ve always felt wrong about prayer, which many critiques of religion have so pointed out. People have called prayer silly, and not only that, but almost insulting to some people. I’m not saying I agree with them, but there’s a bit of truth behind their words in the traditional way prayer is carried out.
Some very powerful critiques of prayer that I’ve heard from my atheist friends, and of those online have been Why do you think by simply asking some bearded man in the sky, that’s going to cure your father of cancer? To rid your loved ones of depression? To help the poverty-stricken single mother struggling to feed her kids?
They think, just because you ask for something, that entitles you the right to deserve it?
I once heard someone say, “if I just pray for a house, I know the Lord will give it to me. He has the power to do that. I know it.”
The church says, if you’re not getting what you want in life, if you’re facing problems too difficult to bear, then start with your prayer life. And, often times, coincidently or not, the said person that is going through a rough time, they happen to have a dismal prayer life. And, that person believes if they just improve their prayer frequency, then everything will be all right.
Pastors will often seize this opportunity and even criticize those who use prayer as a “get out of jail free” card. They say, don’t just pray when times are tough, but pray when times good, too. And maybe the only reason why life has gotten so hard is, God is trying humble you back into prayer.
I’m not trying to say this isn’t valuable, as many, many people have found meaning again through prayer, but what I am trying to say is, sometimes, I think we use prayer as an excuse, or even a substitute, for action.
How many times have you heard: Oh that’s terrible! I’ll pray for you. or even I know this is hard for you to get through. I’m praying for you though. or after a funeral, It must be so hard for your loss. I’ll keep you in my prayers.
I think many of us know, deep down, when we encounter tough times, and a stranger or not so close friend/family member comes up to us and says, I’ll pray for you, most of us would rather they not say it at all. And I don’t think it’s because we particularly think they’re trying to hurt us. I don’t mean this at all! It’s just, we know that many of them, they’re just saying it out of politeness, but couldn’t care less of the problems we’re facing, because they have problems, maybe even worse than ours, they’re facing themselves!
It’s as quick as they come to comfort us, they leave us once more. And I’m not being cynical about prayer or people who come to our comfort when we’re down. I’m saying, what if those who came to our aid, they didn’t tell us they’d pray for us (at least explicitly), but guided and comforted us purely through their actions? They helped us when we were down?
What if, we didn’t need to know if they prayed for us or not, but could clearly see they do? They go the extra mile, not out of some expectation of getting something back, or to show the world how good they are, but to simply do it because they see another person who’s down, and maybe, they just need a little bit of help getting back up.
And that goes back to my statement above. I don’t pray, at least not in the way you’d traditionally think. This is because when I thought about prayer, I thought, prayer is such an odd thing! Why would God actually allow us to do this? Whenever we need something, we just pray? Where does the responsibility on our end come in?
And this led me to another really, really troubling point, as well. Why does God not answer our prayers? I mean that literally. Now, some would say, it’s because God answers all prayer according to his own time, which I think that’s just a poor excuse for not taking responsibility. Many people I’ve talked to, when they tell me about their issues they’re dealing with, maybe it’s a bad relationship with their mom, or they have a bad job, or even struggling with school, you name it, I’ll ask them, what are waiting for? Why not go forthrightly into the fire, and deal with the problem yourself? Their response usually goes something like, God will open up their hearts when they’re ready to talk, or, I’ll change jobs when God tells me to, and even, if God tells me to change my major, then I will.
What I say to that is, what if God is screaming in your ear what to do already? You know that pain in your heart, deep within your heart? The pain of feeling that your life isn’t where it should be? The pain of feeling like you’ve lost control? What if that’s God? How can you be so sure it’s not?
I looked up the definition of prayer once, and it was something like, A solemn request for help from God or an object of worship. And I didn’t like that definition. So I dug a little deeper and found the Hebrew definition, which seemed much more appropriate: To interact with God. And I like this definition a lot better.
With this definition, I think you can break it down in a way that becomes much more pragmatic, and, in turn, a much more useful way of viewing prayer.
The first thing you need to define is, who is God?
And who is God? He’s the one who gives us our destiny, or our highest calling. You could say, he’s the highest good we can conceive of, especially within ourselves. I don’t think there’s any distinction between God and the highest good you can conceive of, actually. So God is your ultimate goal, whatever that might be. With that said, here’s my next point.
What do you want God to do? You want him to show you the path of which you can reach him; to reveal to you his map of how to get him, so to speak. Now, maybe he’s going to give you a really exquisitely detailed map of exactly everything to watch out for. All the wrong turns you shouldn’t make, and all the right ones you should. In a sense, he’s carved out the path for you, the one of least suffering. Wouldn’t that be easy?
But, I don’t think that’s the case, because we do make wrong turns. We do make bad choices. We feel as if the map laid before us, was completely wrong, or at the very least, incomplete.
So what should we do? Give up? No. We pray. And we don’t pray in hopes that the exact right choice is revealed to us, although that’d be nice, and sometimes it happens. I think, we pray, or “interact with our highest conceived good”, and hope that new paths, or, pieces to the map, are revealed to us.
But here’s the thing, just because new paths are revealed to us, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll know which one is the right one. Now, some paths might feel more correct than others, but, there might be 2 or 3 paths that feel as if any one of them could be the right one.
And that’s where we hesitate; we choose to not act. But then, we trick ourselves into thinking, we just haven’t prayed enough. So that’s what we do: we pray more, all the while feeling this sense of disconnection between God and ourselves: The pain of not moving forward.
Many might think, why has god not revealed the right path yet? And that’s where the aspect of free will comes into play, it’s because he has. You just haven’t acted yet.
So what does my prayer look like every morning and every night and every second of the day? It looks like this: I ask myself, and I don’t think it’s really myself, so to speak, but the part of myself that does know the best for me (call that the holy spirit, the unconscious, or whatever), but I ask that part of myself what is it that I want to achieve? And, I think, if you sincerely ask yourself this question, and you’re not expecting some crazy answer, and you’re also not being cynical about it….you’ll receive an answer.
Actually, I think you’ll receive multiple answers or, like the map reference, multiple pathways. And again, maybe you don’t know which one is right, but at least you know there’s a way to go forward, even if it is in the wrong direction.
At least you’re moving forward!
And that’s what I do when I pray. I pray about the problems I know I want to solve, and at the same time, I ask myself, what problems can I actually solve? I don’t mean it in a malevolent way either. I mean that, I can’t solve everyone’s problems, and I’m not trying to. It doesn’t mean if someone asks me to pray for them, I’ll be rude and say I won’t. I mean that, if someone asks me to pray for them, I’ll let them know that I’m there to help, which I think is more valuable than prayer sometimes. Maybe, I’m even answering their prayers.
At the end of this very long post, it comes down to a single question, and it’s one that I’ve posed to myself and you guys many times:
What is your highest goal?
thanks for reading,