Wednesday, July 27, 2011

the efficacy of prayer

"Very often the spontaneous prayer is an ordinary conversation with somebody who is called 'God,' but who is actually another man to whom we tell things, often at greath length, to whom we give thanks and of whom we ask favors."  (Paul Tillich, The New Being)

I lost my glasses last Saturday.  I only need them for reading (actually I need them all the time but only wear them for reading), so I wasn't too concerned.  However, as Sunday passed, then Monday, my eye-strain and headache increased apace, and finally on Tuesday I was getting desperate.  I didn't know when to draw and line and call the eye doctor and get some new ones. 

I'm a spiritual-religious type, naturally, so I began to pray about it.  God, help me find my glasses.  Nothing.  God, if it's in your plan, allow me to find my glasses.  No glasses.  God, give me a sign that I need to call the eye doctor.  The heavens didn't part. 

I found my glasses on Tuesday night, and I did thank God for it briefly.  And then, as so often happens in an everyday situation like this, I thought about the absurdity of it all.  Does God hear these prayers and chuckle?  Does God give a damn about my glasses?  There are starving people and wars and floods.  My headache is nothing serious.

Then my thoughts turn to the existential:  what is prayer?  Doesn't God know everything about me - know me even better than I know myself?  How can I reveal anything to God that isn't already known?  Am I giving messages to myself, then?  God isn't somebody with whom I can have a conversation.  God can never be "object," is a grammatical sense - God is always and only "subject." 

I don't have a real answer for any of these questions, but a favorite passage of Scripture helps me along.  "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  (Romans 8:26-27)

If you have trouble praying, or feel silly doing it, understand that you are in great company.  People of immense faith, and even pastors like myself, wonder what the value of prayer is.  All I can say is that I continue to do it, and hope that the Holy Spirit's sighs can inspire me.

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