By Deborah Reed
Prayer, although an extremely complex concept, can be defined in a few simple words. Prayer is talking to God. Now, talking is something we do all the time. We use our vocal cords to make sounds that other people receive in their ears and then interpret with their brains. The difference between “praying” and this other type of talking is that the other person has ears, has a brain; we can see them (or hear them if we are on the phone) while we are talking. We get concrete feedback from them; they answer our questions with talking of their own.

But none of these things are true when we talk to God using prayer. We don’t see Him, we don’t get concrete feedback, we don’t even know if He is listening or not. So this talking to God is much more difficult to understand than the talking we do to other people.

Talking to God becomes even more complicated when done silently. We can’t even talk to other humans this way. Our thoughts stay inside our heads; they don’t go anywhere. They aren’t translated into sound waves that others can pick up. So how can this type of prayer even exist? How can our thoughts get to God when they can’t even get to the person in the same room with us?

The answer, of course, is that prayer does exist whether we understand it or not. When God put us on this earth, He gave us the ability to stay in contact with Him. How this is accomplished we are not privy to, but most of us know we can. He not only gave us the ability to talk to Him out loud, but also “think” to Him in situations when we need or want to. So, despite the fact that it seems impossible, humans can and do pray.
So what happens we do this talking or thinking to God? Some believe that prayer is useless because God is going to do what is going to do, that our petitions have no affect on him. This reasoning has two flaws to it. The first flaw is that petitioning God is only one type of prayer. Even if you don’t believe He will listen to your petitions, you should still be doing the other types, such as adoration or meditation.

The second flaw is more complicated. For it doesn’t seem to be true that God is going to do what He is going to do. Sometimes this praying we do seems to change God’s mind. Well, okay, He seems to say, if you want it that badly….

But only sometimes. God does not answer all our prayers. Or rather, as the saying goes, sometimes the answer is no. No! you might tell Him, what do you mean, no! I asked you for something, You are God, you are supposed to love me, you can do anything, why are you telling me “no”?

Let’s explore this question using an example we can understand. Let’s pretend God is a loving father. Okay, that’s not a pretense…he is a loving Father…but let’s pretend he is an earthly father, one who wants only the best for you. Let’s pretend this earthly father is the wisest father in the world and every judgment call he makes is the correct one. You are just a child, you aren’t wise, and many of the judgment calls you make are not the correct ones. When you look at this way, it becomes much easier to understand why God sometimes says no and sometimes says yes. If a three-year-old asked this all-wise, loving earthly father if he could play in the street, the answer would be no. Please, the child might say, it would be so much fun to dodge the cars, nothing will happen, you’ll see, everything will be okay. But the answer would still be no, wouldn’t it, no matter how much the child begged? This reasoning, while we may admit is valid, is often hard to take. We just don’t see what God sees and we just know that this thing we prayed for is something we really want. So we pray and pray and pray, plead and plead and plead, and get upset when we continually get a “no” answer.

Another reason that God says no is because He knows the whole situation. He knows that company you applied to, the one that is offering a much higher salary than you are making now, is going out of business in a month. He knows that college you so desperately want to attend is not the best one for you. He knows that the promotion you’ve set your sights on requires skills you don’t have. God can look into the future and saying no to you is His way of protecting you.

Yet another reason that God might not answer your prayers the way you think He should is that He, and He alone, can look into our hearts. That man you so desperately want to date may have a violent streak. That child you want to adopt is better suited for a different kind of mother. God sees what you don’t; He knows other people in a way you are unable to.

The final reason that God says no is because your request does not fit into His plans for you. I have just accepted the fact, after over five decades of living, that I will never be rich. I am not going to someday win the lottery and forever be free of worrying about money. Coping with money problems, it seems, is in God’s plans for me, a way of allowing me to grow as a person.

So this takes us back to why God sometimes says yes and sometimes says no. It seems that the answers fall into three categories: Yes, I can answer that prayer. No, I can’t because that course of action would not be best for you. No, that doesn’t fit into my plans for you.
We have discussed what prayer is and the ways in which God answers it, but one question still remains. How does it work? We know how “talking” works: Air flows through the vocal cords, creating sound waves which travel to the other person, the waves hit the eardrum, etc. Scientists have figured this out and told it to us. But how does prayer, especially “thinking” prayer work? My theory (note: only theory) is that prayer is a force. Let’s look at two other forces and compare them to prayer.

Gravity, your high school textbooks told you, is a force. It is the attraction between two objects. We often call it the “force of gravity.” But can you see gravity? Can you pick it up and show it to someone? Does it have a smell or a texture? The answer to all these questions is no, because force is not matter. It doesn’t have the same physical properties of, say, a dog or a table. But it exists. All you have to do is step off a ladder and this force becomes quite obvious whether you see it or not.

Magnetism is another force. It, like gravity, is invisible, has no smell or texture. But it too, exists; we see the effects of it every time we put a magnet on our refrigerator. And while gravity and magnetism do not have the same physical properties of matter, they do have properties, one of which is strength. One of them is stronger than the other. The force of magnetism is stronger than the force of gravity, which explains why that magnet stays on the refrigerator rather than falling to the floor.

Now that we know a little more about forces, we can now theorize that prayer, like gravity and magnetism, is a force. It is invisible. It doesn’t have all the physical properties, like scent or texture, that matter does. But it does, as praying people like to believe, have strength. It is powerful in the same way that gravity is. So (it could be argued) prayer is not matter (that’s why we can’t see it), but rather a force.

But there are differences between prayer and the forces that we live with every day. One is the consistency of the results. In the entire history of mankind, we cannot point to one instance where gravity did not work. The same can be said for magnetism. If the magnet does not work, it is because it is weak, not because the force of magnetism ceased to exist for a minute. But, at least from our perspective, prayer does not always work. Its results are not consistent. You don’t pray for a one hundred dollar bill and then, poof, there it is.

The other difference is that prayer does not always work immediately. If you fall off a ladder, you don’t hover in space for a moment, then fall. No, the force of gravity works immediately. This is not true of prayer. Often our prayers are answered, but not as quickly as we would like them to. While sometimes our prayers are answered the minute we utter them, other times it is months or even years before we see the results.

The final difference between prayer and the other forces God created is that we have control over it. We can use this force or ignore it; it’s our choice. It is not something that is imposed on us, like gravity is. We can’t wake up one morning and say “I think I’ll ignore gravity today”, yet we can choose whether we want to pray or not.

Now that we have theorized that prayer is a force and compared it to the other forces, we can concern ourselves with the properties this force has. One property is consistency. I have pointed out that prayer is inconsistent in one way in that it is not always answered in the way we want it to be. But I believe prayers are consistent in the fact that they are always heard. Prayer always works in the sense that our thoughts do reach God. This “prayer” force always works, just as gravity and magnetism always work.

And, finally, prayer, like gravity and magnetism, has the property of strength. It is my contention is that prayer is the strongest force of them all, a force that can move mountains, heal the sick, and convert the unbeliever. Prayer is invisible but it is mighty.

Whether or not we see the results immediately, whether the answer is yes or or no, prayer works.

3 Responses to “Prayer”

  1. […] Read her essay “Prayer.” […]

  2. […] also read her previous essays: “Prayer” and “Good versus […]

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