Do most people of faith believe that prayer works? Although I’ve never considered myself much of a Christian, I have been praying for one of my friends who was going through a very difficult legal situation. The situation was resolved today and it was better than either of us could have expected. I am wondering if it was luck or the power of prayer?
I’m trying to accept that it was the power of prayer. Still, part of the intellectual in me believes it was the power of the lawyer and his negotiating skills.
There are a lot of shades of nuance between the God-as-prayer-answering-robot image that is an exaggeration of the most extreme fundamentalist faith, and the if-God-exists-He-doesn’t-do-anything image that is its converse.
Personally, I’m teleological and conceive of an eternal (as opposed to perpetual) God who has a Master Plan for the Universe that takes into account prayers. My example, which I’ve used before, is in planning to take my grandkids to the beach one summer day when I was babysitting – but waiting until they asked to go, to let them know that we were. It didn’t change my plans; I knew very well they’d want to. But by waiting, I gave them a voice in what the plans for their day were.
The other side of this is that petitionary and intercessory prayer are only two aspects of a “proper” prayer life according to the devotional writers. And the subjective effect of prayer on the individual praying is also an effect of prayer that matters, and which is demonstrably a change-maker in the individual him/herself.
I don’t think prayer influences happenings on Earth beyond providing comfort to those who pray. To that end, I think it works–at least for me. In your friends case, the resolution of his case probably depended on a complex set of things (the merits of the case, the skill of the lawyers, etc.) that doesn’t include prayer.
I’ve encountered many people who believe that prayer works in the sense of God directly intervening to cause an event to occur. In my opinion, though, these people employ selective reinforcement. They remember every time the thing they prayed for happened, but when it doesn’t happen, they either conveniently forget, or rationalize it away as “God’s will”.
And of course many others believe that prayer works in the sense of being beneficial to the person doing the praying, for their state of mind. Or that praying for someone else is beneficial to the extent that that person knows you are praying for him/her, and has the comfort of knowing that other people care about him/her. Just my opinion, but I find this latter explanation to be more believable. (On preview, I see that Metacom has already described this position.)
Like blowero, I have a friend who believes in prayer–she just doesn’t believe that God agrees to grant every prayer. She’s aware of the possibility of post hoc (or is it ad hoc?) rationalization and argues that she’s not doing this. However, she doesn’t seem to be able to imagine a case where God doesn’t answer her prayer in some way, thus making it hard to falsify.
If God is omniscient what is it about praying to God that tells God anything new?
God knows your heart and soul…probably better than you do.
That said I believe there is a placebo effect available to true believers in prayer (I say true believers because prayer for me would not work in this fashion). Praying makes them feel better about themselves and this may do things like lower stress or make them a happier person or what have you.
That would seem to be blasphemous! For example: a boxer prays that God will help him to knock his opponent senseless…is this not wishing harm upon someone? And asking God to inflict harm would seem to be a gross perversion of prayer.
As would THANKING God for having helped a boxer knock his opponent senseless would be!
Frankly, asking God to change his plans strikes me as being very objectionable(and hazardous as well)>
Well in general atheletes praying can be an interesting arguement, but your approach has flaws.
You are making the assumption that boxing is a bad thing, which may be your opinion but not necessarily fact. A person can certainly win a boxing match without causing true harm to the opponent. You are assuming that this prayer, if answered, would result in god inflicting pain upon a competitor. This match is going to take place anyway, so ASSUMING that god were to provide the winner based on a prayer, what makes you think that god would hurt someone as a result of a prayer?
A better angle for argument may be if both competitors are praying, what is the point, or something along those lines. As it does seem unlikely that any sport game is going to be determined because of a prayer. There is likely someone both deserving and prayful on both sides of the competition.
Having said all that, in answer to the question should atheletes pray, as said else in this thread, the pure act of prayer seems to have a helpful psychological effect, therefore seems useful to me. As it isn’t hurting anyone and is helpful, go for it!
This reminded me of a sketch from an old British TV comedy show:
IIRC Henry Tudor, and Richard the 3rd were both kneeling and praying to god for victory, since both of them were the King of England by divine right! Both Rulers were knelling in a split screen and finished their virtually identical prayers and then God appeared in between without them noticing!
God looks left and right…
Flips a coin…
Looks at Henry…
Gives thumbs up to Henry and vanishes!
OTOH, I think Jesus was wrong on recommending hiding your prayers from view, I do think prayer has a very subtle advantage and reason for being: it allowed proud primitive men to seek help from the rest tribe without losing their face! Today, when one hears prayers asking for help to family members on a church, help will come many times from another member of the community, making that prayer effective; and if you notice, God doesn’t need to be in the middle….
When I was a child I got into the habit of talking to Jesus more in a conversational tone than in the way of a traditional prayer. That’s what I do now when I pray, except my words voiced in whispers or silent are usually to “the Father.” I benefit from the effort to speak the God’s honest truth and by listening or thinking about the implicaitons of what I’ve said.
There is usually an answer that comes from within my own mind. Whether or not that answer is “of the moment” or the gift of a long life of experience and the teachings of those who have loved me – I do not know. But I find release, comfort and insight.
Once I did pray and sing hymns (a hundred miles away) for a friend in a precarious health situation. There was another group of people praying for her and someone doing a laying on of hands. She had been ill for a month or two after a heart attack and was back in the hospital for a procedure. Within the hour, all signs of heart damage had disappeared and have never returned. I don’t know what effect the prayer had.
Prayer, meditation, even worrying, are all forms of concentrating our attention on a particular problem in order to effect some improvement on the problem. They all “work” to highly varying degrees, in the same sense that attention focussed on any issue might eventually result in some insight as to how to deal with it.
Personally, I’d go with meditation, which includes the technique of literally visualizing the problem, rolling it into a ball, tossing it into your subconscious and letting that part of your mind work on it until it provides some answer. Well, that’s how I’d go about it…
Then, of course, there’s The Straight Dope boards, which can add an exhilarating lot of useful information to digest.