Some Subtleties about Prayer

In January when the Republican Party was still reeling from their unexpected loss to President Obama two months earlier, there was a lot of noise about ousting Senator John Boehner as Speaker of the House. But, according to a story in the Washington Post last week, several members of the House prayed the night before a critical vote on the issue and were “led” to spare Mr. Boehner. (

Now, I’m always in favor of prayer in any circumstances, being it even ceremonial or perfunctory. I feel that any prayer is a venture to a field of reference outside of ourselves and is good. However, I am always given pause with public prayer, or public reports of prayer, and how “the Lord’ answered the prayers. For, I feel that often prayer is merely a request to get from On High what we want for our own selfish purposes. We pray intently and fervently for what we already want for motives which are often base; and then occasionally when we get a prayer answered we take great pleasure, announcing that “God intervened” through our humble petitions. Well, don’t forget that there is the phenomenon of a “blind pig finding a walnut every now and then.”

Sure, we should pray for what we need, we should make “our petitions known to God” but I think it is really important to remember that prayer can be an exercise in self-indulgence. To many Christians, or believers of any cut, view God as some concretely existing “Teddy Bear in the Sky” who waits for our beck and call, ready to give us exactly what we want, failing to recognize that many people at the same time might be praying with equal fervency for just the opposite. Some, of course do recognize this, but take comfort in the pious observation, “Yes, but then we are right with the Lord and so the Lord will listen to us”, implying that those who look differently on the issue are not “right with the Lord.” The implicit assumption belies an arrogance that makes me suspect that the prayer never gets beyond the halo of the pray-er.

I think at some point in our spiritual life we need to get beyond the point of seeing God at our beck and call, ready to “smite” those who disagree with us, ready to bring about our own purposes which, upon honest scrutiny, could often be seen as merely childish and selfish whims. At some point we need to get to the point where we sincerely conclude our prayers with, “Thy will be done,” and recognize that His will might be different than our own

Now, let me be honest. I’m holding forth about a group of conservative politicians with whom I certainly have a bone to pick. And, I think there is a degree of validity to my argument. However, I must admit that all of this discourse is merely revealing of what I recall my prayer life being about through most of my life. It has been really hard to “get over myself” and the process is not complete yet! We need to follow the advice of T. S. Eliot who noted that we must “Purify our motive in the Ground of our beseeching.”


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