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The Socratic Club A club that Lewis founded at Oxford. A forum devoted to general philosophical and spiritual discussion

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  #21  
Old 04-29-2012, 02:33 PM
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I'm surprised nobody has yet referenced C.S. Lewis' essays on the topic: Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without An Answer, which is found in the collection Christian Reflections, and On The Efficacy of Prayer, the first essay in The World's Last Night. Therein, Lewis expounds with typical clarity and insight the entire philosophical and theological conundrum presented by prayer. (He also wrote almost an entire book on the topic - Letters to Malcolm; Chiefly On Prayer - which, I regret to say, is about the only Lewis work not in my collection, so I can't reference it.) It was from these, as well as some works by Dr. Peter Kreeft, that I came to a better understanding of what prayer is (and isn't), and how we understand it.

Skimming through the posts, it seems to me that a lot of the difficulty rotates around how we understand prayer to "work". Are we trying to change God's mind or actions? How much sense does that make, given that we're finite and fallen and He's omnipotent and omniscient? Are we trying to change ourselves? That doesn't seem to square with Jesus' frequent instructions to ask in faith in order to receive.

Lewis (and Kreeft) sorted this out for me nicely by pointing out that we pray out of obedience. We were told to pray; thus, we should pray. We won't necessarily understand the whys and wherefores, because the whole question is bound up in a mystery: specifically, the mystery of free will. How is that we can exercise moral choice, yet God retain His complete sovereignty over all creation? Does God sacrifice any of His omnipotence? (hint: no) Very well, then, are we just programmed automatons acting out prescribed courses of action under the illusion of free will (another hint: no). How this is reconciled is beyond our comprehension, but it is the reality we live out every day.

I think it was Lewis who used the comparison of how we ask our dinner partner to pass the salt. We think nothing of that, yet if we pressed the question for tidy philosophical and theological answers, we might never ask ("If God thought it right for me to have the salt, it would lie within my reach. Who am I to request He change the order of the universe to accommodate my wishes?") If we can't resolve even that simple example, how are we to understand some of the complex issues that we often bring before the Lord?

Prayer is bound up in another mystery: why God chose to involve us in His saving mission. It certainly wasn't because He watched too many "Up With People" shows and thought we'd be just the wunnerful lil' critters He needed to do the job. Nobody knows our failures, weaknesses, and sins better than He does. Yet, for some mysterious reason, He chose to entrust to His Church the mission of bringing the world to Him. Given the history of the past 2000 years, one might think He'd get a clue that things aren't quite working out, but He shows no sign of changing His mind. We still have the task, and with it comes the instructions to ask Him for things.

Today I'm praying for a safe delivery for a couple who I know. She went into labor early this morning. There's no objective indication that the pregnancy is anything other than normal, she's healthy and strong, her husband is by her side, and they have access to top-notch medical assistance if necessary. Yet, still, I'm praying that all goes well. I do this because I love them and because I've been commanded to. That's part of being a member of God's Church. Praying is part of what we do.
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Old 04-29-2012, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Glenburne
In the interest of definition--what would God have to do for you to consider Him to be "clearly" showing His feelings about spending time with us?
Audible and/or visible communication on a reasonably regular basis would help a lot . I mean, if I were expected to believe that my mother loves me, but my sole means of communication with her was talking into her answering machine, to which she never responded, I would reasonably come to doubt not only that she loved me but whether she was still alive at all.

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Old 04-29-2012, 04:37 PM
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Do you find prayer easy?
I don't find real prayer to be easy. Real prayer takes effort and focus. But fake prayer is VERY easy. It's not hard to pretend that you care about the things you are running off in your mind before you move on to the next task. But God can't be fooled; he knows our hearts. Genuine communication with him takes a lot of humility.
Very good point!
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Old 04-29-2012, 04:50 PM
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Audible and/or visible communication on a reasonably regular basis would help a lot . I mean, if I were expected to believe that my mother loves me, but my sole means of communication with her was talking into her answering machine, to which she never responded, I would reasonably come to doubt not only that she loved me but whether she was still alive at all.
It would, and it was also what God intended originally. But the Fall ended the days of man physically walking with God--and the Fall was man's fault, not God's. After the Fall, God's focus has been on repairing the damage, at a great cost to Himself.

By the way, have you read Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday? It addresses some of the questions you're asking.
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Old 04-29-2012, 08:27 PM
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Quick disclaimer: I'm really tired, so this isn't written as well as it could be. Please be patient with any poor phrasing. I hope that you all know what I am trying to communicate.

- Do you think prayer matters? Why / why not?

Yes, I believe that prayer matters, for all the same reasons that the others have mentioned. I won't go into detail, since my answer would essentially be a conglomeration of insights already posted, and get on to the personal stuff.

- How often do you pray?

I pray countless times a day, although most of them may be short, one-sentence prayers.

- How long do you pray for?

It depends. I generally pray very short prayers, whenever a thought occurs to me. ("Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful morning!" "Thank you that I didn't just drop that bowling ball on my toe!" Or, if someone comes to mind, I might pray, "Please help so-and-so with such-and-such", without going into great detail.

I generally pray longer when I am going to bed at night, although my mind often wanders. One thing that helps with this is talking out loud. I don't share a room, so this can be an easy fix to keep me from getting distracted and thinking about other things.

- What kinds of things do you pray about?

The majority of my prayers are quick prayers of thankfulness throughout the day. Something will come happen or come to mind, and I'll thank God for it.

On the flip side, I also pray brief prayers of petition, like "Please help me to be kind and understanding towards so-and-so right now".

Other than that, I generally pray for specific concerns which others have shared with me.

- What do you do when you pray (eg. posture, techniques)?

Since most of my prayers happen throughout the day, I could be anywhere or doing anything. My longest prayers, however, generally happen when I have just got in bed at night.

- Do you find prayer easy?

Yes and no. As I said before, I get distracted easily, yet I do find it easy to talk to God and trust that he is listening. I never feel like I am just talking to myself, and can be genuine instead of having my prayers sound rehearsed.

- Do you feel the presence of God?

This is a complicated question. I do not literally "feel his presence", but sometimes He arranges situations such that I can see that He is listening. For instance, I might pray that he will help me to be patient with my little brother in a particular scenario, and then I find myself able to do what I need to do without blowing up, even though I couldn't have done it on my own.

Or I might be feeling down and pray for contentment, and then get a sweet note from a friend that brightens my day and reminds me that I am loved. You may call them coincidences, but I don't think so.

- Does God answer your prayers? If so, how?

I sort of just answered this question.

I have not felt God directly speaking to tell me what to do. That does not mean that he no longer speaks, merely that I have no experienced it. However, this does not lead me to say that I have never experienced an answer to prayer. I believe that he is the author of history, the present, and the future, and that ever circumstance is divinely arranged. Thus, if I pray for
Benisse's cancer, and then she experiences what she told you about, I consider it an answer to the prayers of so many believers.

But what if I am asking for specific direction, not just petitioning for something? How do I get an answer for that?

In the past, I have asked for direction in certain situations, and have then seen clearly what I needed to do.

Or, imagine this scenario: suppose that I am applying for colleges. This is a big deal that will greatly affect my future life. Maybe it's down to just two, now, and I don't know which one to choose. Then, after praying for guidance, something happens that affects my decision and gives me confidence that I am making the right choice. Call it a coincidence, if you will, but I don't believe in coincidences.

- Do you 'pray continually' (1 Thess 5:17)? What does this mean?

I do not believe that this means I must literally pray every moment of the day, it just means that my life should be an outpouring of communion with God. Others have explained it better than I.

I'm not there yet, but from my current experience, I have an idea what it must be like. I pray innumerable times throughout the day, and find myself reacting to situations through prayer, and talking to God as I go through the day. This is a vast improvement on the kinds of prayers I used to pray- the rehearsed, distracted, infrequent kinds- and I can't wait to see what it will be like in the future, as I grow in my relationship with God.
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Old 04-30-2012, 03:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Peepiceek View Post
The difference, of course, is that the mother talks back in an instant and undeniable way (or if she doesn't, the teenager knows that she hasn't). It's not like that with God.

Glenburne said that "He likes spending time with us" and Inspot said earlier that "prayer becomes less of a chore once you have begun to experience, even a little bit, of how much Jesus loves you and wants to surround you and heal you" - but he really doesn't show this very clearly if that's what he really feels.

Peeps
Speaking only for myself, I do receive this from God in a real way, that I can feel. When I first began seeking Him earnestly this way, in hopes of hearing from Him, I did not -- I just kept at it, and then I began to hear from Jesus, and then to really feel His presence. The voice I hear is not audible in my ears, but is in my own head, bit nonetheless real for that. But it isn't just the voice; I now feel surrounded by God's love in a real way, when I pray, and all the time.

You may find it helpful (I don't know what you think of this sort of thing) to go to an Episcopalian or Catholic church and meditate in the sanctuary, where the reserved sacrament is. Many of the saints found this to be the place they felt closest to God. Thomas Aquinas, when faced with a tricky issue of theology he didnt know how to elucidate, would lay his head on the -- box, I can't remember its right name -- where the sacrament was, as if to lay his head on the breast of Christ and wait for a revelation, which he usualy received.

But honestly, in my own case, I was at the end of my rope and had to have Jesus or no future at all, so I had the very strong motivation to find Him, and I was willing to wait out the few cold mornings in silence when I felt like a fool wondering if He were there or I was kidding myself ... now I know beyond doubt He's here. If you don't have some kind of crisis driving to you to wait in silence, despairing of every other solution, I don't know if you'll have the impetus to seek Him out this way. It's a two-edged sword then. The crisis is horrible, but the cure is priceless. I would not know what to pray for you, in that case. Except that one way or another you would know and feel the love of God.
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Old 05-03-2012, 01:14 PM
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At the same time, the Bible definitely suggests that prayer itself makes a difference. Take some words of Paul's that I came across a few days ago: "Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (II Thess. 3:1-2, ESV)."

How prayer can change an unchangeable God is a mystery. But evidence throughout the Bible suggests that it does. That's a hard concept for me to grasp, especially when some things I've prayed about for years haven't happened, and don't seem likely to happen in the future. Prayer definitely has changed me. But the Bible shows it doing far more than that. Paul definitely seemed to think that the prayers of the Thessalonikan believers made a difference.

It's not a difference that can be easily proved, maybe, but part of that problem is that our point of view is very limited. We can't always see what's going on in our best friend's mind, much less God's mind. That makes it hard to trust. (I know--I, too, find it easy to explain some things I've prayed for, and that happened, away. But the data I have in those cases is limited to my experience. And since my experience is limited, by virtue of my being human, I think it's probably wiser to give an omniscient God the benefit of the doubt.)

But considering that God knows our minds already--the act of prayer itself is, as Lossy said, probably more for our benefit. That, and He likes spending time with us.
1. I agree with Glenni, that prayer does make a difference, although from our limited perspective we don't often see the intersect where our prayers impact God's will. (For me it is a lot easier to see how prayer changes me.) However there are examples in scripture of prayer doing so:

Genesis 18:16-33 Abraham pleads for Sodom
Joshua 10:9-15 Joshua prays for more daylight to finish fighting the enemies of the Lord
2 Kings 20:1-7 Hezekiah prays for healing

Also this story is probably also about prayer: Exodous 17:8-15 When Moses' hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord (in prayer) the Israelites prevailed in battle

Moreover Jesus talks about the power of prayer:
Matthew 18:18-20
“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."

Prayer in Jesus name with other believers partners us with the will of God and his work ("in Jesus name" is the key -- praying as authorized representatives of Christ, so we are asking for what He would want). When we enter such a partnership, prayer does make a difference.

2. On another note, Peeps' question about whether God answers prayer reminded me of an old joke:

A man was caught at home during a flood. Struggling he made it to the top of his roof, exhausted and bedraggled. As he clung there in the blinding rain he prayed earnestly for deliverance as the flood waters rose up to the eaves. "Save me, Lord!!"

Before too long a neighbor rowed by in a boat and called up to him: "Get in!"
But the man shook his head and said, "The Lord will answer my prayer and save me..."

A while later a policeman in another boat floated by while the storm continued to rage and the waters crept higher on the shingles. "Get in!" he shouted to the man up on the roof.

But the man again shook his head and said, "The Lord will answer my prayer and save me..."

Finally as the waters were lapping at the man's waist, a Coast Guard in a speedboat came by. "Get in!" he shouted to the man clinging half submerged to the chimney.

But the man again shook his head a third time and said, "The Lord will answer my prayer and save me..." And so he drowned.

When he got to Heaven he went up to God and pleaded, "Lord I prayed and believed you would answer me when I was stranded in the flood. But you let me die!? Why didn't you answer my prayer?"

He replied, "My son, didn't you see the rowboat or the policeman or the Coast Guard I sent you?"
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Old 05-17-2012, 10:18 PM
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Do you think prayer matters?

I think that prayer matters because we are commanded by Jesus to pray (and given the example of the ďOur FatherĒ), and I think that it is important for us to do anything Jesus tells us to do. If He wants us to do it, there is a good reason for us to do it, even if we may not always feel like we get as much benefit from time spent in prayer as we would like.

Personally, I also think that prayer matters because prayer is our way of communicating with God. It is our way of expressing for Him and for ourselves how much He means to us, how grateful we are for all that He has done for us, and how sorry we are for our sins. In my experience, if I make the mistake of going without a prayer at night because I am tired, I regret it the next day because I feel a sort of distance (that I created for myself by my decision not to pray) from God. I can rectify that right away with a prayer, but that distance is a reminder of the importance of prayer in my life. The way I see it, I canít have a good relationship with God if I donít communicate with Him, and reflect, through prayer, on exactly what He means to me. I canít just abstractly say that God means something to me. I have to show Him through actions and through prayer that He does. Otherwise, there may come a day when He actually doesnít mean anything to me, because I havenít thought about Him or spoken to Him in so long.

I also find that prayer is my way of dealing with stress in my life (once I have done everything I can do to solve a problem and prayed to God about it, I can rest, knowing that it is truly in Godís hands now). Prayer is also my way of reflecting and repenting upon my sins every day. Doing that keeps me humble and always on the path, I hope to being a better Christian.

How long do you pray for?

During the day, if I am nervous about something or I need help controlling a sinful impulse or something, I may send up a couple of sentences long prayer that might last a thirty seconds or a minute at most. Also, if something truly wonderful happens, Iíve been known to say a quick prayer of thanksgiving. At night, I probably spend at least fifteen or twenty minutes in prayer not counting the time I like to spend reflecting over some Bible verses if I have the time to do so. I donít really check the clock when I am praying. I say what I feel that I need to say, and then I stop talking. I donít feel the need to be a babbler, so if I donít have as much to say on a given day, I let it be and get some shut-eye, since God apparently wants me to get some extra sleep If I have problems that I need to work out through prayer or I have a lot of things to be sorry or thankful about, I probably spend longer in prayer. I wonít cut myself off in the middle of a good conversation with God because the clock is ticking.

What kinds of things do you pray about?

I pray to thank God for His blessings, I pray to ask forgiveness for my sins, I pray to seek wisdom or guidance about problems, I pray to ask for help dealing with others in love and charity, and I pray for his help when I feel anxious about situations. I try to make sure that I donít just pray when I need something, and that I also say prayers of thanksgiving. I also make sure that I am more concerned with seeking the spiritual things (wisdom, patience, love, charity, mercy) than with material things (success on exams, or in interviews, etc) when I pray. Thatís not to say that I donít make requests pertaining to the material but I try to focus more on spiritual issues, since that is ultimately what matters most in my relationship with God. I also believe that God really wants us to ask for His help in developing Christian virtues, and that the Bible verses about asking and receiving largely pertain to the asking and receiving of spiritual things rather than material ones. Sometimes God grants our requests for the material things, and sometimes He denies our requests for material things, but He always attends to our spiritual growth if we ask Him to do so.

What do you do when you pray?

Well, I admit that my techniques kind of vary based on where I am. If Iím in public, I tend to remain in whatever posture Iím in (sitting or standing). If possible, I will fold my hands (and even close my eyes if it is only for a couple of seconds and I can do so without seeming rude). However, in private, I like to do the Sign of the Cross to reflect upon the nature of the Trinity and what Jesus suffered on the Cross before I begin my prayer. I also will do the Sign of the Cross again at the end of the prayer as a reminder of the Trinity and what Jesus endured on the Cross. In private and in church, Iím also much more likely to kneel (and I always do the Sign of the Cross in church). I also like to begin my prayer at night with an ďOur FatherĒ or two. It gets me thinking about all God provides me with, the importance of forgiveness, and trying to live in accordance with Godís will. That always provides me with a foundation I can build off for more personal prayer about my own life and needs.

What kinds of activities count as prayer?

I think prayer is any activity that involves a deliberate attempt to reflect upon or build a relationship with God. For the most part, I feel like if you see it as prayer, it allows you the chance to reflect upon God, and it builds your relationship with God, it is probably prayer.

Do you find prayer easy?

Yes, I do now, but, for many years, when I was in my atheistic phase (which lasted from freshman year of high school to freshman year of college), I would never have prayed, and the years before that (middle school and late elementary school) prayer was very difficult for me. I didnít really pray unless there was something I wanted God to do for me, and I saw pray as something tedious done in church or as a sort of last resort that probably wasnít going to work. I think that prayer becomes easy once you see it as a chance to be open and honest with God and get over this idea that many of us struggle with which is that we know what is best for us. We donít. God does. We have to see prayer as an opportunity to ask God to better familiarize us with His will. We also need to get over the idea that our prayers will be answered as we want them to be. They will be answered how God wants them to be and how He decides they will be. Thatís difficult, and itís something Iím always learning, but prayer has become a lot easier for me once Iíve gotten over my silly idea that I should be in charge. Now that Iím content to let God be in control, I am a lot more at peace not only when I pray but also when I go about my daily life.

Do you feel the presence of God?

Sometimes I really feel a peace descend over me, a warmth fill my heart, or a gentle presence beside me that I know (intuitively and emotionally rather than intellectually) to be God, but other times, I feel like God is there and He is listening, but I donít feel as connected to Him. Other times, part of me doubts that He is there and listening. I still wrestle with fears that Iíve deluded myself into thinking He exists when He doesnít. My biggest obstacle, I think, is my own ďcleverness.Ē I sometimes seem to have the arrogance to think that I know better than God and that everything He does should make sense to me, and that if it doesnít, He must not exist. When I honestly point out to myself that faulty perspective, my doubts fade away, but it hurts every time those doubts come upon me. I want so desperately to have an unshakeable faith, but Rome wasnít built in a day. I only hope that I will grow stronger with every doubt that I conquer.

Does God answer your prayers? If so, how?

I think He does. Most of the material problems I pray about our solved, and when I pray, I find that I have more patience, charity, and mercy in my dealings with others.

Do you pray continually? What does this mean?

I think that praying continually means that oneís entire life is spent in service to God, reflecting about God, and building a relationship with Him. Every action is directed toward His glory, and every thought has the aim of being pleasing to Him. I try to live in continual prayer, but uncharitable, selfish thoughts and actions have a nasty habit of slipping in. Overall, more and more of my life is spent in service and communion with God, but there are still times when I know my thoughts and my actions arenít pleasing to God. I can only repent for those times and try to reduce the frequency of them.
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Old 05-17-2012, 10:44 PM
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Let me do it backwards by telling you what I DON'T do.

1. I don't inform God. He doesn't wait for my prayers the way I might wait for the evening news. He already knows...he wants me to sort it out in my head, to see if I can ask him for something whilst looking him in the eye and not feel like a fool. He also wants me to be aware that he knows by feeling like we can talk about it with him.

2. I don't write Santa. He does not grant my prayer requests because I've been a very good boy and therefore deserve lots of presents.

3. I don't ring for Jeeves. Believe it or not, God is not my personal secretary nor is he my personal valet. I'm alive as part of his plan, he's not alive as part of my plan.
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Old 05-17-2012, 10:52 PM
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Let me do it backwards by telling you what I DON'T do.

1. I don't inform God. He doesn't wait for my prayers the way I might wait for the evening news. He already knows...he wants me to sort it out in my head, to see if I can ask him for something whilst looking him in the eye and not feel like a fool. He also wants me to be aware that he knows by feeling like we can talk about it with him.

2. I don't write Santa. He does not grant my prayer requests because I've been a very good boy and therefore deserve lots of presents.

3. I don't ring for Jeeves. Believe it or not, God is not my personal secretary nor is he my personal valet. I'm alive as part of his plan, he's not alive as part of my plan.
I just wanted to say thank you for this post. It was funny, while at the same time was intelligent and made me think about how I approach God in my prayer life. I appreciate the kind of humor that makes me look at myself carefully even while chuckling, so thanks for providing a dose of that sort of wit.
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