My main life coping strategy has been to prepare for the worst mentally, emotionally and psychologically then any other outcome is a positive bonus. Although it may sound that I am pessimistic, I actually try and make the best out of my circumstances. I like to be focussed and organised. I function best when I have a routine or plans to act on.
There have been many occasions recently when people have assured me that they will be praying for me at a specific time when I was facing meetings/interviews. On all these occurrences, the worst case scenarios were fulfilled. My subsequent reflections posed the question ‘would I be better off without the prayers of the well-meaning?’
As a former church minister, I understand and appreciate the intention. I have to ask ‘who benefits from praying?’
It can be comforting to know that someone else is thinking of you particularly during difficulties. The one committed to pray may feel that they are able to do something that they see as constructive by calling out to their deity.
Prayer has another dimension also. A person of faith who prays calls usually calls upon God for intervention. Does God hear and answers Prayers? What happens if two people are praying at the same time for the same situation but praying for opposing outcomes? How does God decide which prayer to answer? In that case, God can just sit back and see how events unfold while doing absolute nothing. One person will claim that God answered their prayer, but the other person may also claim that their God answered prayer by saying No. They may also say that prayer wasn’t answered because their faith wasn’t strong enough.
I know many of the quotes preachers will give you concerning prayer. Over the years, I’ve used them myself. Here are a couple of examples heard from pulpits worldwide:
William Temple replied to his critics who regarded answered prayer as no more than coincidence, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”
Seven Days without Prayer make One Weak
Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended upon man
During my early days as a church minister, I had one parishioner who was the first to volunteer for any task needed doing. He became a good friend and I would describe him as one of the most righteous men that I have known. He faced major surgery and all the community were praying for his recovery. He had been told that it was a complex operation and it could go either way: recovery or death. Prior to the operation, he spoke with such faith that his God would pull him through. He never survived the operation. Why did so many prayers go unanswered? Many people could ask similar questions.
Another favourite sermon interjection of preachers is to refer to the latest newspaper report that cites a study carried out on medical patients with some receiving prayer and some not receiving prayer. The preacher always announces that prayer made the difference in recovery.
Prayer doesn’t work as an appeal to some Supreme Being. If a person has faith in a belief system, then that might give that person hope. If prayer is seen to work, the deity receives the credit. If it doesn’t work, the deity has said no or there’s a lack of faith or some form of demonic interference.
I want to say thank you for your prayers but they don’t work. If a Supreme Being exists, why does (s)he never intervene. Earlier in my personal story, I shared my reflection asking how a supposed God of love could allow someone who had sacrificed a career to follow a godly vocation be abused by someone who also claimed to serve this God of love?
What will be will be. Prayers don’t make any difference, but positive thinking and energy just might.