Tag Archives: prayer

My Easter prayer: that religious leaders not remain silent when others give prayer a bad name

Oh Lord, please help leaders of all faiths to find the courage to publicly criticize Texas Governor Rick Perry for his proclamation for days of prayer for rain that he issued last Thursday:

Photo illustration by Texas TribuneWHEREAS, throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer; it seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life.

President Obama sometimes crosses over the line when it comes to prayer, for example in February at the National Prayer Breakfast when he said:

Obama Prayer BreakfastWe pray that the violence in Egypt will end and that the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people will be realized.

Believing that our prayers could somehow convince God to intercede in Egypt is as ridiculous as believing that our prayers could somehow convince God to bring rain to Texas.

It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain. – Mark Twain

Praying for a miracle in a crisis: Jesus would not approve

I’ve been thinking about death lately, first because of the situations of two of my racquetball buddies, Jerry Davidson and Dale Snesrud, and then because of the sad drama of Luke Bucklin and three of his sons whose bodies were found after their small plane disappeared over a week ago in Wyoming.

I loved seeing the community and family support activities for the Bucklins (Star Tribune: Holding on together), the posts and comments to the company blog, and the messages of support from around the world for the search and rescue teams.  Likewise, the outpouring of affection (and fundraising for medical bills) from Northfielders for Dale (photo album).

It’s pretty common for people to "pray for a miracle" in situations like these. Dale Snesrud told me a few months ago that his pastor and some members of his church gathered in the sanctuary, laying their hands on him while asking God to intercede on his behalf in his fight with cancer. It’s likely that at several area churches today, local ministers led their congregations in prayer for Jerry Davidson’s safe return. The Prayers for Luke site has several of these prayers posted, for example:

Pray for a miracle – that the search and rescue team is able to quickly locate the plane.

Pray for Saturday’s search. There will be three ground search teams in addition to the surveillance aircraft in the area. Pray that they would see more and that the weather system predicted to move in would hold off and allow a full day’s search.

But it’s always troubling to me when people pray for a miracle in situations like these. Why?

Serenity PrayerWhat’s the seed that often takes root in people’s heads when the miracle doesn’t happen?  God couldn’t be bothered. They/I didn’t deserve God’s intervention. Despair. Faith shattered. Talk to any level-headed member of the clergy and they’ll tell you that many of their counseling sessions deal with bad reactions to unselfish unanswered prayers.

More importantly, I think prayers for miracles bring God down to the level of Santa Claus, Wizard of Oz, and Far Side cartoons in people’s minds, contributing to  the incorrect interpretation of Jesus’ words, "Ask and ye shall receive."   People then miss out on the power of true prayer, like the Serenity Prayer and variations.  And agnostics and atheists assume that prayer has nothing to offer them because of its association with the idea that God can intervene in the physical universe and human affairs, an anathema to them.

And that’s bothersome to a spiritual atheist like me.

Be careful if you reject the idea of an earthquake as God’s judgment for sin

God in Judgment Yesterday’s Strib has a letter to the editor by Northfielder and frequent LoGroNo commenter, John George, on “how earthquakes can be God’s judgment for sin.” (See full text below.) I’m hoping John will chime in here with a longer explanation. 

As an atheist, it makes no sense to me, of course, and I last blogged about God’s role in natural disasters back in 2007.

But for those of you who do believe in God and who might quickly dismiss John’s assertions, consider how often you pray or participate in prayers that ask God to intercede in some way in your physical world or the physical world of others. 

Continue reading Be careful if you reject the idea of an earthquake as God’s judgment for sin

Natural (and man-made) disasters great for goofball prayers

Whenever Thanksgiving weekend rolls around, memories of  playing hockey on ponds near my house where I grew up in Eagan (then a township) come back to me. By November 1st, most of my prayers consisted of praying for cold weather. If we didn’t have thick enough ice by Thanksgiving weekend, I was sure that God was punishing me for impure thoughts and related activities. My solution: saying a Rosary every day till we skated.

So I found it interesting this past week that weather-related prayers were in the news.

In Drought-Stricken Georgia, a Prayer for Rain:

At the state capitol in Georgia Tuesday, the governor tried something different. On a partly cloudy warm fall day, hundreds of people from the region came to join Gov. Sonny Perdue in a prayer service for rain. “I’m here today to appeal to you and to all Georgians and all people who believe in the power of prayer to ask God to shower our state, our region, our nation with the blessings of water,” Perdue said.

Stockton flood: A blessing in a very wet disguise

“This was not 40 days and 40 nights of rain. This was perhaps 40 hours,” Krusemark said. “There were many people praying for it to stop raining, and that prayer was answered. So God is still listening and is still there as a comfort to us.

California Fire Survivors Give Thanks

“Praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we have lucked out much more than we deserve,” said Bill Lange, a scientist who led the service. “Dear Lord, thank you for sparing us again and thank you for helping all the people who needed the help.”

GH-God at His Computer This idea of God above the clouds (at his computer?) with the ability to effect changes in weather when humans ask for it, is amazingly persistent. It’s only certain events that trigger our prayers, however: rain, snow, storms, fires, floods, volcanoes. The assumption seems to be that God can do something about these short-term events but El Niño and La Niña? Nope, out of his range. Earthquakes? Too unpredictable. If a group of people got together to pray that the earth’s tectonic plates stopped pressing together, we’d have them committed. Human-related causes? No way. Climate change? fergetaboutit!

It irritates me a little that reporters love to include quotes from people saying these goofy prayers in their coverage of natural disasters. It irritates me more that enlightened members of the clergy who don’t buy into this notion of God-as-the-Wizard-of-Oz flipping controls behind the curtain remain silent when it comes to labeling this type of praying as complete bullshit. It’s one of many reasons that I don’t attend church here in Northfield or anywhere else.

Jesus, sports psychologist, helps Johnson win the Masters

Iowa’s Zach Johnson won the Masters golf tournament today. The DesMoines Register reported:

Johnson said with a cracking voice as he talked with CBS near the 18th green that the victory meant even more on Easter, as he credited Jesus and his late grandfather for helping him steel nerves.

zach_johnson.jpgNormally, when athletes give credit to God after a victory, the implication is that they won because God wanted them to win, that they put their trust or faith in God and were rewarded.

Johnson evidently didn’t pray to Jesus to help him win, he prayed to Jesus to help him stay calm. It’s an important distinction. We don’t know what the internal words of his prayer were, of course. But it probably wasn’t just a simple plea whenever he noticed his nervousness, ie, “Help me to stay calm, Jesus.” Rather, he likely had a prayer that he repeatedly recited, and it functioned as a way to mentally focus, helping him to stay ‘in the present’ rather than letting the mind trigger fears which create muscle tension which inhibits athletic performance.

In the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Private Jackson is a sharpshooter who quotes from the Hebrew Psalter each time he prepares to kill a German:

Be not that far from me, for trouble is near; haste Thee to help me.
Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.
My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.
O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.

He thinks God is helping him to vanquish his enemies, but it’s the calming effect of the prayer that quiets his mind, thereby calming his nerves and steadying his muscles and allowing his special athletic skill to be effective. Unfortunately, none of this is a match for a German tank which blows him out his sharpshooter perch towards the end of the movie. (I suppose one could argue that the German soldier operating that tank might have prayed more effectively than Private Jackson and therefore God answered the German’s prayer and not the American’s. But let’s not go there for now.)

So this type of prayer is a special class of false prayer that I blogged about in Feb. It’s false, because the person believes God is interceding in the physical universe. But it’s an effective false prayer because nerves are actually calmed.

The brain wouldn’t care if the words were from the Hebrew Psalter, the Sermon on the Mount, Mother Goose, or a McDonald’s commercial. The effect would be the same if the technique was practiced equally religiously. heh.

But I could be wrong.

True prayers, Part I: Ask and Ye Shall Receive

coldsassytree_cover.gifAbout three years ago my wife read the novel Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns and pointed out a passage that astounded me at the time.

Why? Because in all my years of church-going and sermon-listening, I’d never heard a more intelligent, inspiring, and helpful explanation of what Jesus meant when he said, “Ask and ye shall receive.”

sassy_quote_all_tn.jpgThis kind of ‘asking’ prayer, when done correctly, ‘works’ every time, even if you’re an athiest. I’ll explain more later.

In the passage, Grandpa (Rucker) is talking to his newlywed, Miss Love. The narrator is the young grandson. (Pages 361-364 or click the image thumbnail for a screenshot.)

Click to play. 5 min, 30 sec. (I used my best southern twangy voice to record the passage, since that’s how the text is written.)

My question: Who are the ministers in Northfield who would agree 100% with Grandpa Rucker’s interpretation of Jesus’ words, “Ask and ye shall receive”?

False prayers

What’s wrong with these prayers?

  • “Let us pray for the safe return of our troops.”
  • “And now let us bow our heads in prayer and ask God for a bountiful harvest this year.”
  • “I’ll pray for your speedy recovery.”

They’re false and they’re destructive because they undermine the potential of a truer, more helpful way of praying.

GH-God at His ComputerI love this Far Side cartoon of God at his computer, poised to smite the dufus guy walking under the dangling piano. It’s the perfect illustration of how people who pray for future events (intercessionary prayers) view God — a Wizard of Oz’ish supreme being who can pull levers and push buttons to make things happen in the physical universe.

Read the stories of families receiving the bodies of troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Surely most of these people prayed for the safe return of their loved ones. And many of them are now having a crisis of faith because of their belief that God could have done something about it.

Just look at the prayers posted to this website: Fully Rely On God Prayer Requests. For example:

Lord, I was told to be very specific when I pray, so here it goes. I pray for financial miracles in my life. I pray that we get bills paid off. I pray that we win Publishers Clearing House, the lottery, or something to do this. I pray for financial blessings, miracles, and opportunities. In Jesus’ name I pray. I pray that we can buy a house. Lord, please provide the way and means to buy a house… Please help us, oh Lord, please grant my prayers. In Jesus’ name I pray.

It’s painful to read that. This prayer is essentially no different than me praying that the Twins win the World Series. That we get more snow. That I beat Tony in racquetball next week. That we sell our house. Those could my false prayers.

hammond.jpgThis past week, Mac Hammond, founder and senior pastor at the Living Word Christian Center in Minneapolis was in the news (see this Strib article: The Kingdom and Power of Mac Hammond).

It doesn’t bother me that the guy is rich, as long as he’s been ethical and legal in acquiring his wealth. But it bugs me that he’s preaching a ‘prosperity gospel’ in which God rewards you with wealth for good behavior. Here’s a quote from another Strib article):

“God says if you base your life on his covenant, these blessings are gonna overtake you; you can’t do anything about it, friend. [What was once] flocks and herds is in today’s parlance stocks and bonds.”

That’s bullshit. And it’s destructive.

Jesus wasn’t hesitant to criticize the way some Pharisees prayed. I sure hope some of Northfield’s more enlightened ministers will criticize Mac Hammond’s brand of prosperity gospel in their sermons this weekend.

I’ll get to work on a “true prayers” post.