Does God really listen to our prayers? If so, are prayers answered? Why do some people seem to get their prayers answered while others do not? Does God play favorites?
I recently participated in a discussion about these questions, and it set me to thinking about just exactly what I do believe about God and prayer.
First, I believe that any conception we can possibly have of God is woefully inadequate, because we are human and God is 10 times as higher above us as we are above the one-celled amoeba. More than 10 times, actually — infinitely greater than us. That is why I like the 12-step concept of “Higher Power.” If I think of a Higher Power, I put no limitations on God. I acknowledge up front that God is indefinable, indescribable, incomprehensible, and infinite.
This doesn’t mean I have no beliefs about God. I believe that God loves me, wants the best for me, has made a plan through Jesus to save me for eternity. But I know I don’t really understand what it means for God to love me, and I certainly don’t know what is best for me!
Second, I believe that prayer is any communication I direct towards God. It might be a rote prayer such as the Hail Mary or Our Father, it could be a free form prayer, it might just be a strong emotion, such as love or fear or despair or thanksgiving. No matter the form of my prayer, I believe God hears and listens.
Now I come to the Big Question: does God do anything about our prayers, or is the Deist theology held by some around the late 18th century (including some of our founding fathers) really true? It reminds me of Non Campus Mentis — “Deism is the belief that God made the world and then stepped on it.” Actually, of course, Deism means that God does not interfere with things that go on in our world. I guess this could be true, but it makes no sense to me.
Another belief, non-Deist, says that God may interfere but usually chooses not to because our world is presently in the hands of Satan. Although I can certainly see a lot of evil in the world, I don’t thoroughly believe this. People point to the story of Job as an example of God allowing Satan to do evil in our world, but it was only in Job’s life, not for everyone around him.
Why would God allow some people to suffer and help others? In the story of Job, it was a test of Job’s love for God. When bad things happen to good people, it’s often described as a test of faith.Other reasons often given for the failure of our prayers to materialize are lack of faith and sin in our lives. It is also the case that having God answer a prayer does not mean we get the answer we are hoping for — the answer could be yes, no, or maybe. Or perhaps, wait.
Every day people are praying around the world for their friends and family members to be healed, to experience prosperity, to be saved, and for many other needs. God doesn’t always give us what we want; however, there is one thing that I believe we can always count on. No matter what, I always believe that God is with me and is ready to give me guidance and strength. Being imperfect, I may not feel God’s presence or sense God’s guidance, but I believe it’s always there.
A couple more thoughts on prayer: I believe prayer is for our benefit, not God’s. God doesn’t need our prayers, not even our praise or thanksgiving. But we certainly do! Also, many times we pray for something to be fixed in our lives yet we do nothing else to help ourselves. A good example for me is my emotional difficulties. I absolutely need God’s aid; I cannot face this illness by myself. I pray for God’s help, but I also have to do something — take my medicine, go to therapy, do my homework, keep my journal, work on affirmations and my false beliefs. So I’ll conclude with the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.