s a Christian I believed that my prayers were not only heard by god but that my prayers were important enough to initiate action. As with any Christian, my basis for believing this was not grounded in reality but in scripture:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Clearly, the quotes attributed to Jesus define prayer as a sort of tangible, telepathic request which (in Jesus’ name) will be heard and granted if the person praying has even the slightest bit of real faith. Jesus describes the amount of faith necessary in Matthew 17:20 as a mustard seed (long considered the smallest seed). That’s not a whole lot of faith, by anyone’s standards. However, if this amount of faith is attainable why aren’t more prayers answers and more miracles performed/observed? The answers to these questions don’t come easy (to a rational mind) but I’ll detail the Christian thought process — or, at least, the thought process as I understood it while I was a Christian — and give my best answer.
Why Aren’t More Prayers Answered?
The Christian sets up a win/win situation for god in which no answer at all is the same as a real answer. This is frequently phrased like so: “God will always answer your prayers with one of three answers: yes, no and wait.” Given that god is supposed to be able to simply wave off a prayer with a “wait” answer, the Christian is never disappointed when nothing comes of their prayers; god is just telling them to hold up a second and will eventually get back to them. How convenient for god.
Christians believe that all prayers are therefore answered. By lowering their expectations, they’re
never hardly ever disappointed. The times they are disappointed, it’s not that they’re disappointed with god; they’re disappointed with themselves. They didn’t receive an answer because they didn’t have enough faith. They just aren’t satisfying this fickle, wishy-washy deity enough.
In this manner, god always wins and the Christian is free to place as much blame on his/her own shortcomings as possible. This acts as a self-perpetuating mechanism that only bolsters a person’s faith rather than shaking it. So the Christian, feeling as though they failed god, tries harder next time and even harder the next. Eventually a person is going to pray for something that was going to happen anyway and then they can claim victory in Jesus and start to feel good about themselves again — but not too good: pride goeth before destruction, you know (Proverbs 16:18).
The simple fact that the Christian will never accept is that prayer doesn’t accomplish anything that wouldn’t have happened anyway. If a loved one is sick and you pray for them to get better they either will or they won’t, and it’s a safe bet that Jesus had no hand in it — especially when said loved one was in a hospital receiving medical care from trained professionals who take much more decisive action than babbling to themselves and an imaginary friend about magically healing the person. The implication is this: either Jesus never said that you’ll get whatever you ask or Jesus lied because the honest-to-goodness truth is that you will not receive everything you ask for no matter how strong your faith, no matter how secure your belief, and no matter to which god you pray. Reality just doesn’t work that way.
Next time you need something, take a moment for yourself and relax. Whatever time you would have spent praying, just spend in quiet reflection. The solution will either come to you or it won’t, the same as if you had mumbled a prayer to the wall. If the solution does come to you, thank yourself. God has enough people telling him how great he is, you ought not to waste your breath. After you realize how much good there is in you, maybe you can stop telling the rest of us how we’re going to burn in Hell forever.