Pelham Road Baptist Church | Greenville, SC

A Common Sense Word about Prayer

Being truthful is important.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the story about the woman who cut off a quarter of an inch of her roast on each end. One day her 14-year-old daughter is helping her prepare the meal, and when the mother goes to cut the ends of the roast off, the daughter asks, “Mom why do you cut off the ends of the roast.” Her mom, about 40 said, “I actually don’t know, but your grandmother taught me to do it, so this is the way I do it.” The 14-year-old was relentless, so she went and called her grandmother who was a little over 60 and asked: “Grandma why did you teach mother to cut a quarter of an inch off the roast, on each end?” Grandma was quick, “Honey I don’t know why I did it that way, it’s just the way my mother prepared a roast.” Unsatisfied and persistent the teenager then called her Nana G (Great Grandma) who was still alive at 85 and asked, “Nana G, grandma and mom both cut the ends off the roast, and they say they do it because they saw you do it, but no one knows why we do it, do you?” Nana G said, “Well I don’t know why they do it, but I did it because the roast was too big for my pan.”

You see what happens when we continue to go through the motions but no longer know why. We waste a lot of meat, for starters.

I’m afraid this is what has happened with prayer. I think we say things about prayer and practice a kind of prayer that is far from what prayer was intended to be.

There is no doubt that people of faith believe in the solace of prayer. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them a prayer. It was a standard part of the spiritual curriculum for followers to have a prayer from their leader. Jesus offered the Lord’s prayer. So Jesus is pro-prayer. Specifically if the prayer Jesus taught the disciples is any indication, he believes prayer should be reverent, submissive to God’s will, with modest petitions concerning spiritual forgiveness and physical food, further it involves a resolve to say “no” to the works of evil, and then a recognition that the divine and human while in relationship are indeed different. Of course, I don’t think we should advocate that if Jesus did not mention it in the Lord’s prayer the subject is off limits. However, I think the model prayer does provide a broad outline to the priorities of Jesus.

But let’s move on. Somewhere in time, someone can someone the impression that God was impressed with volume praying. People began to believe that the more people you had praying for a particular issue, the more likely you would receive your desired outcome. I’m not sure how this began or why, but like with the roast it is a habit , and it continues to get past on from one generation to the next. Just consider how illogical and unfair such a process would be.

If one soldier is injured. His mama is a regular at First Presbyterian, so he gets on the prayer list there, and then his name is shared with First Baptist, and his sister passes it along to Christ Church, and before you know it, 5000 people are praying for Eddie. Meanwhile, there is another soldier named Tony. His mama and dad died tragically. He has never married. It’s just him and his brother now. Tony gets wounded, and they do emergency surgery on him, and literally no one even knows he is injured accept his commanding officer and a few of his fellow soldiers. Most of them are too crusty to offer a prayer. But the commanding officer does say a prayer for Tony. Do we really think God is going to hear the prayer offered for Eddie and ignore the prayer offered for Tony? That 5000 people will convince God of Eddie’s value? God is not in an either/or position, God can respond to both prayer. So, if God responds to both, does it make any difference if one person or thousands offer a prayer.

But let’s go a bit further. Let’s say Kevin is wounded and no one prays. Kevin is on patrol, and he is shot and , and his partner is shot and killed. So there Kevin is pulling himself on the ground into a little house on the outskirts of Kabul trying to hide so the Taliban can’t find him. He wraps his handkerchief around his arm to control the bleeding, and really no one is praying for him. Do you think he is on his own?

Do you think the God we know in Jesus would answer prayer based on the number of people praying for you? This makes prayer into a popularity contest? The more broadly known you are the better off you are. If you are like Kevin with no relatives and unfortunately shot where no one knows—-sorry God’s not listening.  So I don’t believe God answers prayer based on the number of people praying.

BUT . . . If you love someone and they are in pain, it may bring you some solace to pray. If you are in pain or broken or troubled or shot in Kabul, prayer can provide consolation, but it does not take a village to pray or an army to pray. One way we express our love for others is to pray for them, and that is a good thing, but we should never think the more someone is loved, the more valuable they are to God, that’s not true. Even though volume prayer does not matter, pray does.

Most often we hear after a shooting , and the response is “Pray for Las Vegas” or a natural disaster “Pray for Puerto Rico.” If that is the beginning, then it’s a good beginning but if it is the end, then let’s stop.

Again, think with me. If you are living in Houston Texas and a hurricane hits Houston, and your home loses its roof, and you have water damage that’s bad. But I’m not finished, the company you worked for was also hit, and it looks like it will be 4 or 5 months before your back at work with something to do, so the money stops that’s bad. Exactly what do we think a prayer is going to do for this person?

No doubt a prayer could give them a positive attitude to see this as only a setback, or prayer could open their eyes to move to another city for another job. But I’m not sure prayer will lay new carpet in the house or send the resume to the new city, or help the water to recede. Prayer is a good start, but it is not the last step.

After the shooting in Florida where 17 teenagers were killed this was a popular sentiment on social media. “More guns is not the answer, less guns are not the answer, prayer is the answer.”

I hate to be a cynic but Australia outlawed weapons after a shooting in 1999 and since then they have not had another mass shooting, and their suicide rate and the homicide rate is 1/8 of ours. Since 1999 we have prayed in response to every mass shooting, and we continue to have a mass shooting. Is there any wonder that non-believers shake their head at such logic.

Prayer without action appears to make no difference. So action is imperative. Faith (prayer) without works (action) is dead—this is what our scripture says. 

I think we have a situation where we have forgotten what prayer is, and we have made it into what we want. We desire a way to say we are with people who are suffering unimaginable pain, so we say —pray for Las Vegas. We may even offer a prayer, but prayer like this is often cover to do nothing. 

If you pray but do not take your medicine what happens?

If you pray for a job, but you don’t send your resume what happens?

If you pray for a relationship to improve and you continue to avoid the person what happens?

If you pray even fervently but don’t take your blood pressure medicine, I’m afraid you are flirting with danger.

Why pray? If prayer doesn’t solve the gun problem. If prayer doesn’t lay carpet for someone, who survived a flood.

Because prayer is telling the truth.

God knows what is happening. Prayer is our way of saying we see it.

When a classmate is ridiculed and bullied, God knows this. Us praying for him or her is our way of saying “Yes God we see him.” I bet that if we see what God sees, we will speak to him, encourage him, and sit at lunch with him. We may be the answer to the prayer, not the pray-er.