Does prayer “work”?
“Therefore, you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.] 14 [“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Mat 6:9-15 CSB)
Praying was something that I was always taught to do. Even when my parents did not attend church, we still prayed. Prayer was always thought to be thanking god for what we have, and requesting from god the needs of our life that we feel like is out of our hands. It is believed in many cultures that prayer has “power” to change ones circumstances. I am sure if you have been alive for very long at all you have heard of the fire-proof “prayer chain” that churches love to get started for an ailing member, or family/friend of a church member. Yet, as we all know, calamities fall on both the “faithful” and the not so “faithful”. Religious people ascribe this discrepancy as a mere misunderstanding of god’s will in our lives, or the old “God works in mysterious ways” statement. In a 2014 Pew Research study they found that 55% of Americans pray daily. While 23% reported praying “Seldom/Never”. Even more interesting to me was the study of the different faiths that practice praying, and the frequency with which they pray. The highest two faith groups that prayed at least daily were Jehovah’s Witness, and Mormon’s (90% and 85% respectively). While Evangelical Protestants came in at 80%.
Not to mention the fact that even when you go to completely different religious beliefs you find that 69% of Muslims pray “At least daily” , 51% of Hindus pray the same, and 43% of Buddhist pray the same amount of time. I ask for those that “know” that their prayers are working, do the Muslims prayers work? Do the Hindus prayers work? Do the cult followers of Mormonism’s prayers work? After all, it is only your god that is the “right” god, correct? I suppose we could do like Elijah the Prophet did in 1 Kings 18 and have a duel where the preachers of Christianity go up against the preachers of Islam/Buddhism/Hinduism. Hell, we could turn it into a TV show, imagine the ratings. This is how 1 Kings 18 describes the events in vs. 21-24:
Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word. (22) Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only remaining prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. (23) Let two bulls be given to us. They are to choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and place it on the wood but not light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the wood but not light the fire. (24) Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh. The God who answers with fire, He is God.” All the people answered, “That sounds good.” (1Ki 18:21-24 CSB)
I love the boldness of Elijah as described in the Old Testament. Wouldn’t this be the easier way to determine all of this madness? Let’s just see which God answers the prayers! How simple is that? However, you and I both know that no one is going to take that challenge because we are in 2018 where we can have ACTUAL records of events occurring, and ways to detect frauds. There are people like “The Amazing” James Randi who has dedicated himself to debunking these “miracles” that preachers claim to have performed, or Christopher Hitchens, or Richard Dawkins, or Dan Barker. It is just not the reality of our situation. The furthest extent of evidence that we have that prayer “works” are simplistic situations that happen such as “My great aunt was about to die, the doctors said their was no hope, we prayed, and she made it through”. However, I can guarantee you that these events happen in every culture, including non-christian cultures. In this story above from 1 Kings the prophets of Baal fail to call down fire, but “Yahweh” of course performs with spectacular results. I just have a feeling, these sorts of “miracles” are only going to be read about, not seen with our own eyes (maybe because they didn’t happen).
So what about mediation
In an article on Psychology Today, Christopher Bergland goes over some top-ten results of mindfulness and meditation, and I have listed them below: (Source: 10 Ways Mindfulness and Meditation Promote Well-Being)
- Enhance Brain Performance
- Promote Creative Thinking
- Alleviate Stress
- Curtail Anxiety
- Increase Compassion
- Decrease Likelihood of Depression
- Minimize Chronic Pain
- Lower Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke
- Help Cancer Recovery
- Relieve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I do have to admit, their is no opportunity to do really cool tricks like calling fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18; 2 Kings 1; Luke 9:54), or calling bears out of the woods to eat children (2 Kings 2:24), or parting waters (Exodus 14). Nor is their a direct opportunity to cure an actual illness (James 5:13, 16; Mark 11:24; 1 John 5:14-16). However, their is scientifically backed results of meditation and mindfulness that shows its helpful effects on the body, good effects.
What does this have to do with prayer
Many claim prayer has benefits to ones life, and I would argue that the only true effects prayer has on a persons life would be the results you see above. However, there is a downside to certain religious beliefs, and in turn, prayer, that you could not possibly see with meditation and mindfulness. Prayer, as you see in the prayer offered up by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-15 at the start of this blog, is all about “God”. It is about honoring god, it is about praising god, and it is about serving god. When people ask the question, “Why does my belief hurt anyone”, I often think about ideas like prayer that show how/why it hurts not just others, but even the person so confidently making the claim that their faith does not hurt them. Prayer is, in essence, meditation and mindfulness. No matter what culture/religious belief you subscribe to, how you pray is often described in terminologies very similar to meditation and mindfulness. It would seem obvious that the only actual benefits that could be derived from prayer would be the same benefits if one removed the “god part” of the “prayer” and just meditated. Unfortunately, what prayer removes from meditation is a sense of self-worth and self-guidance. You determine your destiny, you determine your worth, not others, and certainly not some invisible being. The idea of Christianity (and I am aware other religions) is that you are not worthy, you are not “good enough”, and you need “Jesus” to “fix” you. In addition, you are not allowed to seek out what you want for your life, but instead to somehow figure out what an invisible, mute being wants for your life. You could look to the Bible, the Koran, or your Pastor, but that would get very confusing if you looked too deeply (see Author of Confusion: The Book for more on the confusion of scripture, and varying beliefs). If your “prayers” are not answered you must consider what you might have done wrong, or whether or not they were being asked from a humble servant, or my personal favorite “were you asking for what you wanted, or what God wants for you”. If “God” is only going to respond to your prayers in the way that it has already determined, then why bother praying? Prayer simply takes away from all of the benefits that you could receive by simply meditating.
Some additional sources on meditation and mindfulness: