People with a rational mindset do not always turn to prayer to have their requests met. Regardless of your belief system, however, it is built on that—a belief. Have you ever prayed for something and not had that prayer fulfilled? The common excuse is that ‘it is not time’ or ‘that is not the path that God has chosen’. Some people even blame their intent, believing that they simply did not pray hard enough for God to hear them. This post will go over prayer and the rational reason that it works when it does.
If you turn to various religious leaders over the years, the advice on prayer varies.
Catholic-practicing Brother Lawrence says that when we pray, we are using our attentiveness to tune into the Presence of God that exists around us. It is in being attentive through prayer that we are able to will things into existence.
Fisher Humphreys, a Baptist theologian, says that some people use prayer improperly. They try to manipulate or coerce God into giving them what they want. However, it has nothing to do with intensity or sincerity. When we pray, some prayers are answered and others are not according to God’s grace and what He wants for us.
Episcopal priest John Claypool (who used to be a pastor of the Baptist faith) says that prayer works because of energy. When we pray for others, we are asking God for an energy transfer from us to them. Through sharing our energies, we help fulfill their prayer. This is a common idea in the church—the idea of sharing our energies among those that we connect with. Some may even call it passing along the Holy Spirit.
People in Alcoholics Anonymous and other organizations also turn to prayer. Rienhold Niebuhr wrote the popular serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is a well-rounded approach to prayer, one that does not rely on magic or some invisible force to make change. It encourages people to step up and make change where they can, but to let the world do what it will otherwise. It does not place too much pressure on changing thing we cannot. For example, someone in the program may ask those they have harmed for forgiveness, but they must accept if those people are not yet ready to forgive.
Mother Teresa was another notable figure that turned to prayer for help. Her specific prayer was to Jesus, that she would no longer fall victim to her desires and fears. Among them were the desires of being popular, loved and praised, all things that feel great but that do not necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things. She also asked to release here fear of being wronged, forgotten or humiliated, as people in the religious arena sometimes are. This was intended to give her the strength to continue sending her message the right way, in a way that would inspire people generations to come.
Finally, among the most notable of people focused on prayer was Jesus Christ. Christ urges people to pray for everyone. We should pray that God’s will be carried out, as well as for our sins to be forgiven. We should pray for the men who fight our wars even if we do not agree with what they are fighting for. We should pray for politicians, whether we voted for them or not. We should pray for healing, for the things that we need, and for the things that others need. We should focus on ourselves, the world around us, even for complete strangers and the people we consider enemies. Basically, Christ preached that we should just pray.
When Prayer Doesn’t Work
There are times when even the most faithful people cannot get their prayers answered. One of the most popular cases of this involved 17-year old Zach Swezey. Zach became seriously ill, but did not seek out modern medicine to help. His parents did not seek help for him in the form of medical intervention and they also reported that was what their son wanted. It was a case where all parties involved believed faith would healing—but Zach ultimately died.
There were plenty of people praying for Zach. His parents had called elder members of the church to pray for him, prayed together with him, and even anointed him with olive oil. All these faithful practices, however, would fail to heal Zach—he died a ruptured appendix, something that surely could have been solved with modern medicine had he sought medical intervention. Other cases include Austin Sprout, who also died in 2012 of a ruptured appendix at the age of 16. In 2013, 12-year old Syble Rossiter died of ketoacidosis, something that is relatively simple to treat without complication. This was caused by her Type 1 Diabetes, which was untreated.
This is a surprisingly common occurrence, though it does not always end in death. Some parents simply believe that God will use His healing powers for those who are sick, returning them to health if it is His will and letting them continue to be sick if that is the path that is chosen for their life. One of the most common occurrences of this is vaccination. Some parents chose not to vaccinate. Even though most children must show vaccination records before being accepted to school, those who have a faith-based reason for choosing not to vaccinate are given an exemption from the law.
The Church of Scientology is one major proponent of this faith-based healing. The Church of the First Born also supports these ideas of natural healing. There is a lot of legal action for and against this principle and the decision whether parents who withhold medicine from children when it results in death should be punished. Legal issues aside though, if prayer did have that much effect, was it God’s will that those people died?
What About When Prayer Works?
Now, that is not to say that there are instances where prayer does help with healing. However, this usually happens in cases where medicine is combined with the power of prayer. It is the medicine at play, but that does not mean that prayer does not help at all. Prayer helps in the way that any strong belief will—it can create those changes on a biological level if you truly believe it. Think again about the case of the placebo drug and the Parkinson’s patients, and how those that believed they had taken it experienced real changes in the form of heightened dopamine levels. Prayer works like a placebo—if you believe it hard enough, you just might know how to coerce the body to heal.
Faith-healing aside, the people who do pray may experience results that they could attest to an outside force. It works the way that the law of attraction or positive thinking does—by giving you that burning desire to take action. People sometimes say they feel an urge to do something, whether it is to help someone else or to stop somewhere they hadn’t planned on stopping. This could be attested to an invisible energy or the will of God if you believe that, but it is that inkling that causes us to take action in these cases. Like before, how can you possibly find a job if you spend the entire playing video games inside your house? Prayer works sometimes because you believe that it is going to work and when combined with your actions, that is enough. Other times, it is just probability or possibly dumb luck.