What's the point of prayer?

Let’s try to avoid all debates about whether or not there is a God, and assume for purposes of this question that there is. Now, what exactly is the point of prayer? What rational reason could anyone have for doing it?

  1. To ask God for favors (cure my son’s disease, etc). But why? Surely God knows what’s best for you and your son better than you do. The Christian Bible is quite clear that God has a great plan for the world and everyone in it, he “knows even the number of hairs on your head”, etc; and he doesn’t need you to tell him what’s best for the world. And His judgement is a billion times better than yours anyway. So it’s ludicrous to think any mortal can cause God to alter His plan. To think otherwise is to imply God wasn’t doing what was best for the world already.

  2. To ask God for guidance. But this is illogical, too. Either we have free will or we don’t. If we don’t, then God will make you do the right thing regardless of your prayer. And if we do have free will, then surely God telling you “go do XYZ” is breaking the rules. Anyway, very people believe God literally speaks to them; so it’s unclear how God can provide the requested guidance anyway.

  3. To share your thoughts with God. But God is omnipotent, so he knows what you’re thinking already. Again, pointless to pray.

  4. To show obedience or worship to God. Suprisingly, though, the Christian Bible really doesn’t emphazise praying as one of the things that’s important to God. For example, “pray” is not one of the 10 commandments. Jesus did say we should pray (“Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, etc”), but it wasn’t emphasized nearly as much as his other points.

So I fail to see the logical reason for prayer. Yet I frequently see religious leaders pray, and Pat Robertson even famously prayed on national TV for Supreme Court Justices to die or retire. (!?!??!)
Even assuming one does believe in God, what exactly are such prayers supposed to accomplish?

Your assumption that logic has anything to do with religion is flawed.

Since I do not think there is a factual answer to this question, I’m going to send it over to Great Debates.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

Answered in one. <3<3

Alright, I’ll rephrase the question so there is a factual answer: Can anyone who prays tell me why, in their personal experience, they pray?

Can we move it back to GQ with that change?

No, because now you are asking for personal experiences, not facts. Off to IMHO!

I think that turns it into an IMHO question. I suspect that you are better off in GD.

I’m not a Christian, but one odd thing in the Bible is that at several points God (in the form of Jesus Christ) prays to God (presumably in the other form of God the Father). So praying may be a human need, and even Christ, as a human, needed to pray. It may not have anything much to do with the deity being prayed to.

Now, to address your original question.

  1. To give thanks.
  1. To send good Juju in general on the possibility that a cosmic psychic airwaves system exists.

There was this parable written about a wise man who gave a poor farmer four magic pebbles to place in the corners of his farm to improve the poor output. I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but placing the magic pebbles in the four corners worked.

Rational people experiment and some experiments can last a lifetime as long as the results are interesting enough… to a rational person.

Call your dad. He loves you, and wants to hear from you.

Tris

A lot of times they make sense within their own particular paradigm. People besides Christians have prayed throughout history so maybe we should expand the question and answers beyond the traditional Judeo-Christian outlook.

#1. The Judeo-Christian God works in mysterious ways, meaning that it’s beyond our ability to know why he does or doesn’t do something. Maybe he made someone sick in order to test them, perhaps because he didn’t want to lose a bet or something, who knows?

#2. Asking God for guidence does not preclude free will. You don’t have to accept that guidence.

#3. Sharing your thoughts might help you get some of that good old fashioned revelation.

#4. Maybe it wasn’t a Commandment because they thought the answer was obvious. People can pray to make sure their gods stay happy. We want to make sure that Jupiter Maximus Optimus’ temple is taken care of so that he knows he’s respected and won’t bring calamity to Rome.

Marc

Uh…I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. The 10 commandments are not in the Christian-Greek Scriptures. And, prayer is prominently portrayed throughout the NT.

No. As has been said, that simply changes it to IMHO. There is no general factual answer that works for everyone.

Questions about belief rarely have factual answers. Even if specific religions or sects had defined answers to your question, these are likely to be different for each one. This question can’t really be dealt with in GQ.

Colibri
General Questions Moderator

It’s cathartic and the people who are praying need not provide a logical reason because they never required one in the first place.

It’s a form of meditation, which is helpful for a number of reasons: relaxation, routine, self-care, solution generation, and reflection. Meditation is also fairly useful in anger management. Prayer has the added plus beyond the benefits of meditation in that you may be pleasing an all-powerful entity – always good as a freebie.

wow! what a miracle! I wanted to post a similar thread long ago…
Why dop the “comgrelationist prayers” of churches sound like advertising “Please lord, let us find funds to build our youth group playground!!!”
Isn’t any form of prayer a form of bossing God around… … God is omniscient… he/it/she don’t need yopu telling it/her/him your needs and wioshes… it already knows
Also God is omnipotent… so if your needs/wishes prayers are not being answered, you should realize thjat your "needs’ are not even worthy of a “Fuck off and quit botheing me”
fml

I’m an Orthodox Jew, but I’m not presuming to represent the group’s perspective here, just my own.

First of all, Judaism sees prayer as something we’re commanded to do, so I do it whether I’m feeling it that day or not. But as for what I personally get out of it:

Standardized Jewish prayer can be broken down into three basic components: Praise, request, and thanks, in that order.
Through the praise, you establish for yourself that you’re talking to G-d and what that really means. It’s a principle of Jewish prayer that you should know before whom you are standing. The thanks is important, because you need to see the godliness in the good things you already have.

I used to be bothered by the request idea, mainly for the issue laid out in the OP:

After a lot of thought, I came to see the requests as being important to me in a few different ways: First of all, the standard prayers are a great guide for reinforcing what you should want: I should care about the poor and the sick, even if I don’t have someone specific in mind; I should remember that I’ve invariably done something that I need to ask forgiveness for, etc. Second, I remind myself, by asking G-d for what I need, that He is ultimately in control of the things I do and don’t receive. And third, by clarifying these things for myself, I can be changed as a person, becoming someone with better priorities and a stronger connection to G-d in my life. It’s true that G-d is doing what’s right for the world, and my asking shouldn’t change G-d’s mind, as it were, but as someone slightly different than I was before I prayed, slightly different things might now be right for me. So if I’ve prayed well, really letting my own words get to me, then through the act of asking, I might have turned myself into someone for whom those are the right things to receive.

Whether or not that happens, though, whether I really change myself to that degree or not, either way, I’ve still brought G-d into my day, remembering how important He is to me and to the world at large, and re-focusing myself on the things that really matter.

I would say for this one, lack of logic is pretty understandable (and i’m not trying to snark). We’re emotional beings, and we’re just not used to communicating by not doing anything. I’m not religious, but I know how it can make you feel better to talk to someone about your problems. But it’s not enough for us to just gain that knowledge; it’s not just in the actual sharing of information that we get comfort, it’s in the conversation itself. A religious person may believe that their deity already knows what they’re thinking, but the actual speaking is a useful emotional help.

Anyway, I have another reason to pray for you; because we might be wrong.

I asked my grandmother this a few months ago and according to her, prayer is a form of showing faith. You want that new job and you pray for it, you’re showing God that you have faith that he will give it to you if it’s within His plan.

There are different kinds of prayers too. Centering and Contemplative Prayer, for example. (My understanding is that Centering Prayer is a kind of Contemplative Prayer.) Mindful activity can also be a prayer. Active prayers, unlike Contemplative Prayers and mindful activity, aren’t necessarily silent although they can be. Those include prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of praise and prayers of supplication. I know I’m leaving a lot out, but these are the ones that come to mind.

They do me good whether they please God or not. Centering Prayer is similar to meditation and has a similar effect on me. (Centering Prayer is newer to me, so I am not as comfortable with it yet.)

One wilderness survival strategy in an emergency is to mentally list everything that you should and can do to insure your survival; then do each of those things. Then free your mind from dwelling on the problem and avoid panic. Prayer does something like that for me. It is a way of letting go of a problem that I couldn’t otherwise put down. It often frees my mind.

Sometimes casual prayer comforts me the way that any conversation with an old friend would. These talks are with Jesus and I do the talking in my mind just as I did as a child. Sometimes when I stop talking, I know from my training what Jesus might say about what I’ve said. At other times, nothing needs to be said.

But I do believe that God literally speaks to me just as he is speaking to a hundred thousand others at the same instant. I don’t hear him with my ears. I don’t necessarily hear him in words. What I “hear” is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is the best part of me which is inclined toward the good. I also believe that at times it is intuitive within me.

Please beware of making any assumptions about me beyond what I have stated. I hope that this helps to answer your original question. I’m not interested in a debate.