I realize that prayer is an essential part of being a Christian. If there is a God (and I believe there is), and if he somehow is at the root of our existence (as I believe he is), it makes sense to believe that he communicates with us, and that we are supposed to respond to this communication and to his presence. We do this through prayer.
Sometimes I am touched by the prayers I hear others pray and by some of the classical prayers that are a beautiful part of the Christian tradition. And at times praying gives me a sense of somehow connecting with the Beyond. But I must confess that I am not a prayer warrior, who spends countless hours on his knees. I have found many of the prayer sessions I have attended quite tedious, and I have never gotten used to the praxis of saying a short prayer any time I get in a car to drive even a short distance—as I have often experienced with drivers in other countries. I wonder what God thinks about this pious habit. (As I write this, I am aware of the fact that I, inevitably, use very human language when referring to God). And what about all the prayers that are continuously offered around the world for a change in the weather? How does God decide which prayer he will answer when the farmer asks for rain and the holidaymaker prays simultaneously for a day without rain and plenty of sunshine?
I read in Philip Yancey’s book on Prayer the following statement that someone made who doubted the efficacy of prayer. In many ways it echoes what I also have often thought: “If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces, but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz or Hiroshima is morally repugnant. Since Hiroshima and Auschwitz did occur, one must infer that God cannot (or has a policy never to) influence the course of worldly events.”
Yes, prayer (and how God deals with it) remains a great mystery to me. We plead with God to heal someone who is dear to us. Of course, we include a sentence like: “If it is your will”, or: “Not our will but your will be done.” But really, why should it not be God’s will that a sick person would recover? Ok, I realize that God did not make the gas ovens of Auschwitz, but the Nazis did. And God did not throw the bomb on Hiroshima, but an American bomber did. And God does not make people sick, but all kinds of natural and environmental processes do, and in many cases a person’s stupid life style choices do. However, it does not answer the question why an all-powerful and loving God does not intervene and prevent the suffering of mankind in past and present.
I have concluded that I will have to live with this dilemma. And, in spite of my questions I will continue to pray. Yesterday I received an advertisement of a new book that has been published by the Dutch publishing firm J.H. Kok. It is the Dutch translation of a book by the American bestseller author Anne Lamott. She writes fiction and non-fiction and some of her books are about the Christian faith. Her latest book is about prayer and is entitled: Help, Thank, Wow. I plan to order the book. The title is intriguing and the book may well provide inspiration for a sermon. Perhaps the title is the best summary of what our prayers should be: Relating to God and asking for his help (regardless of some of the problems I hinted to above), show appreciation for the many good things we experience, and showing respect and wonder for the world around us.
The Danish theologian/philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote these often-quoted words: Prayer does not change God, but it changes us. I agree that prayer can influence us, for engaging in prayer is not first of all uttering some (often quite predictable) words, but it is an attitude—an admission that there is more than us. Someone (I have forgotten who) said that prayer is an attitude of perpetual metanoia. This Greek word means: remorse, repentance. It signifies that we sense our shortcomings and incompleteness and our need to grow—for which we need inspiration and power from Someone beyond us. It indicates that we know our place. So, I will keep asking for help with some difficult issues I face. I will keep thanking for all the good things in my life and in the world (in spite of all tge bad things), and will try to more often say: “Wow.”