“I’ll pray for you.”
“You’ll be in my prayers.”
“Sending prayers and good thoughts.”
These are phrases that get a lot of use in Christian circles and also get thrown around a lot, perhaps without the proper reverence for the responsibility entailed and the impact that prayer can have.
Sometime ago, I came across this blog, “When We Lie about Praying for Others” on Twitter. You can read the whole thing yourself, but in essence it is a reflection on the author’s own failing, and commitment to improving at actually following through and praying for someone when he has offered, or when someone has asked for prayer. Embedded in the reflection are some thoughtful suggestions about practical ways to make that follow-through easier, like writing down prayer requests, or asking the requester to send an email.
When I first read this blog last year sometime, it got me thinking about what it means to offer to pray for someone and what responsibility that entails. It takes courage to be willing to offer prayer, especially to a relative stranger and in the cultural atmosphere of 2015 when it seems like such an offer might actually be offensive to some. It also requires humility to listen and discern what the need is and what in your prayers will be most effective and helpful.
What also struck me as I thought about this was what it means, and what we are accepting about prayer and about God when we don’t follow through with a promise to pray for someone. And the answer that came to me was that when we say we will pray but then don’t, we are implicitly accepting that prayer is inert, and that because it is inert, no one will notice if we don’t pray. We ignorantly act as though the outcome is going to be the same whether we pray or not, in which case, prayer would be the same as doing nothing.
But prayer is doing something, and it does bring healing!
I’ve learned from studying the Bible and Christian Science, and from applying what I’ve learned, that God is an ever-operative Principle, and is infinite Love. More than just being truthful, merciful and loving, God is Truth, mercy and Love; and God is ever-present and all-powerful. When we pray, we are turning to God and inviting the power of the divine in to harmonize and spiritualize our situation. That means that prayer is not asking a super-human character in the sky to do something about a problem, and then crossing your fingers and hoping that he feels like listening to you today. It’s the process of turning your confidence and attention away from the problem at hand, and placing it instead in the ever-present, all-powerful Principle of divine Love, and then allowing that Principle to work out the problem. That Principle always works; and it is only our own willfulness and halting confidence than can hinder its action and perfect resolution of our problems.
In public discourse today, we also hear a lot of attempts to validate the power of prayer, but often without any reference to the actual power of prayer, or to God. But let’s be clear: God is real and powerful, and prayer works. When interfaith leaders come together to pray, prayer works. Positive outcomes are not simply the result of nice people talking to each other and exercising their human will to devise solutions. When someone prays for healing or help in a difficult situation, the result isn’t just peace of mind and contentment with that situation. Real transformation, reformation, and change result from prayer. When we pray, we also ought to resist the temptation to believe that our prayer might not work. We read in the book of Isaiah:
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa. 55:10-11)
Our prayers are affirmations of the word of God, and His word cannot return void, but accomplishes its purpose and brings healing.
So when we offer to pray, we can follow through with the assurance that our prayer will have an effect. We can approach it with the confidence that the result of our prayer will be noticed, and that it will be obvious if we haven’t prayed! The result of doing nothing is nothing. The result of prayer is transformation and healing. And it’s unmistakable!