Paige Dickerson's Blog

A hope and a prayer

Posted in Books, Religion by voteforjaneausten on August 19, 2011

Thanks to a really good conversation about some Bible things at my writing group on Monday (Thanks, Adam) I have been thinking a whole lot about some really strange topics. I started rereading one of my favorite books “Saving the Appearances” by Owen Barfield. It is a book on religion, God, people and the changes we’ve gone through as a human race with regard to religion. But not on a historical level. More on a mentality level. It is a little esoteric but I love how radical his ideas are without even seeming radical. Some people would probably disagree with him a good deal and more probably would if they really understood what he was saying. But all that is background to my mental state. Haha. I was thinking really hard today about prayer.

I remember praying and prayer lists from the time I was little. There are plenty of people who believe prayer is just a way to make yourself feel better. Or that there is no God so it doesn’t matter. Others believe in a God who is disinterested in our lives or at least “hands off” and others think that every prayer is a letter to Santa asking for more presents. Still others think it is a practice that is good for you soul and that sometimes the answer is no or there is no answer at all. To be honest I’ve been pondering is what is the purpose of prayer. I’m not talking about prayer in a group out loud with other people. I’m talking like a private conversation. Not even the conversation part, but the request part. What is the purpose of a prayer request? (I’m not asking in a hopeless “what is the point of it all” way but more in an intellectual question way.) My whole system of beliefs has changed a great deal since high school. . . and yet in some ways not as much as it would seem. But this is a question I’ve never been able to answer. Even when faithfully praying every night. If you believe that God’s will is going to happen then what is the point in God asking us to ask for it? I’m asking for opinions here not answers. Not trying to convince me or others of the greatness of prayer. Just why does it do any good. Will you change God’s mind? Is it for personal growth?

I know this is super nerdy of me, but I have always loved research and part of me would like to write a research paper about this as I read through one of my favorite books on religion (I almost said theology, but Barfield is almost more than theology.) I think this tendency is why Andy Tyler used to suggest I go to seminary. haha. Input? I know I have plenty of people who don’t believe in any of this, so you guys don’t feel like you have to respond if all it is going to be is putting down religion. I’m asking on a purely intellectual level not on a debate level, please.

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3 Responses

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  1. Adam Gibbs said, on August 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    It was definitely a good conversation about some Bible things on Monday (Thank you, too).

    I wonder about prayer a lot. Sometimes public prayer request times at churches seem a little more like gossip sessions. “Please pray for John and Jane Doe as they are going through a bitter divorce . . . I heard she caught him in bed with another woman . . . ” Still, I think it is valuable for people to stay informed about what is going on in the lives of their neighbors, and I think it is valuable when we try to ask God with a sincere heart to help people to be comforted when they are going through rough times. I still think maybe there’s a chance God will do something tangible when I’m praying, but I’ve asked for people to be healed and not received exactly what I wanted often enough to be open to the idea that prayer might be more about transforming the ones doing the praying rather than totally affecting the ones being prayed for.

    But in private prayer time the requests sometimes do seem a bit difficult. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18 that I’ve always had some trouble with. There’s this persistent widow who keeps going to a judge asking for justice. The judge keeps denying her until finally he is so annoyed that he has to do something just to shut her up. I’ve always wondered just what the lesson was supposed to be there. Keep pestering God until you finally get what you want? Maybe God is pleased by the faith it takes to keep asking even when you aren’t seeing any kind of a result . . . I don’t know. The whole thing just seems kind of silly to me.

    I still have the naive hope that God might listen to my prayer and then change the world. I’m not really sure that God has an absolute plan set in stone. I think maybe there’s a chance that God is making it all up as she goes along. Isn’t there a time in the Bible when Moses prays and changes God’s mind? Maybe we can do the same.

    I try to make most of my prayers these days sound kind of like the Lord’s Prayer. Thy kingdom come on earth . . . right here and now. God, please make this world feel more like heaven and a lot less like hell for everybody. Time will tell if my prayers are really changing much, but they sure make me feel better.

  2. paigedickerson said, on August 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I’ve often thought about the “gossip” element in public prayer requests too. I have seen gossip fly under the guise of a prayer request. When I was in high school I had a small prayer group that met every morning and I think we did pretty good about not doing that.

    I guess my opinion in this particular second is that the purpose of a private prayer request depends on the prayer request, the motivation and time. I think sometimes it is all of the things I listed above. Sometimes I really, really wanted something so I asked for it, much like a child would ask Santa. And sometimes I think the purpose was to change me. And occasionally I think it had an impact on the situation. But who knows. It is just something I ponder from time to time.

  3. Andy Tyler said, on August 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I still think you would enjoy going to seminary, or maybe to a Divinity School or at least to a grad school with a good religion department where you could maybe do some additional study. You might try reading Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki’s book on prayer: In God’s Presence. It is very good. And Richard Foster has a book called Prayer that is also very good. I’ll just say that prayer is a mystery to me and I believe that it makes a difference, even if it only makes a difference in me.

    I was at a conference last year and one of the leaders said that the pastoral prayer in the worship service is the one time in the service where the people are the least engaged. As pastor, yes, I am engaged, but I remember when I was in the pews and my mind would wander just about everywhere during the pastoral prayer.

    I find prayer most meaningful when I am praying with/for others, especially for people in the hospital or with a family when a loved one has died. It brings peace.


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