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02 June 2010 @ 08:09 pm
In my church group last night we had a discussion about God answering prayers. Something that came up over and over again was a frustration that He was most decidedly not responding, at least not in an audible way. One person said that their uncertainty over His answers led them to question events constantly - did God do that, or was it just a coincidence? No one said they thought God didn't listen to prayers...they just question the effectiveness of it all.

I'm pretty lousy about praying, I admit. I often will go days without formally doing so, and even as I'm thinking out my evening prayers it's usually a mental recitation of the Lord's prayer. (I guess I just kinda figure if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.)
But deep, thoughtful, considerate prayer? It doesn't really happen much.

I think a large reason for that is that I'm basically content. I have no great tragedies to pray for; when my grandfather was sick I prayed for his comfort but now that he's gone, I don't need much. I pray for my friends when bad things happen to them, but I don't like to repeat myself in God's ear again and again - He heard it the first time, right? - so after a few mentions I usually drop the subject. If reduced to a generic fill-in-the-blank form, I think the majority of my prayers would run along these lines:
"Dear God, thank you that my life doesn't suck and everything's pretty swell. I especially appreciate [insert good thing here]. [Insert flaw here] remains a monkey on my back, so some help with that would be swell. Please help [insert name] with [insert problem], and give guidance to [insert name] regarding [insert issue]. Etc, etc, kthxbai Amen."

But anyway. So as everyone was talking I kept thinking, *Sure, you ask God to do this and this and this and this, but when do you stop and listen to what He might try to say back? It's always going to be a one-sided conversation if you don't give the other party a chance to speak!* This would be the influence of The Art of Listening Prayer, a book I tried to read a few years ago with no success. But even though I couldn't complete it - I don't think I made it a week into Barne's 30-day program - the core idea of actively listening for God stuck with me. In other religious movements you'd call it meditation, but it seems like many [conservative] Protestant Christian movement avoids the term like the plague, because it's too closely associated with Evil Non-Christian Religions From the East. I think it's an aspect sorely missing from the lives of many people who are too busy calling out "WHY GOD DOES MY LIFE SUCK WHY DON'T YOU ANSWER MY PRAYERS WHY GOD WAAAAAAAAAAAAIIII????" for Him to get a word in edgewise. But I didn't really say anything to the group, because everyone was talking so enthusiastically it was difficult to get a word in myself.

Ah well, perhaps next week.
Min: Jesus/LookBusyphantomminuet on June 3rd, 2010 03:16 am (UTC)
I don't know the folks at your church and I'm hesitant to criticize, but isn't it a bit arrogant to insist that God, the Creator, Redeemer, Giver of Life, must respond to the prayers of one of his creatures in a particular way? Unless you consider God a divine bubblegum machine at whom you throw prayers like quarters, the whole point of prayer is the effort at communion, not the answer. It's the opportunity to be still and know that God is, well, God.

Suzik00kaburra on June 3rd, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
See, that's the thing. I don't want to be critical, either, since I don't *think* that's how they view their relationship with God, really, but when they talk about it sometimes it really seems that way. I mean, I can't really say that I've heard God's voice as such, but when I'm quiet and just opening up and listening, I feel His presence, and it is far more enveloping and comforting than words would ever be. But I'm not at all sure I can convey these ideas without relying on New Age-y lingo, which seems to set immediate red flags.
Nechtan Albaflameelf on June 3rd, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I think it all falls back on the "why do bad things happen to good people?" and "it's not fair!" mindsets.

Bad things happen to good people the same way it did to Job. We spend considerable time hearing preaching about Job and how he stood as God's proof that mankind was WORTH loving because we could love God back (to Satan, who is ever a sceptic). We can't nod at how cool it is God redeemed Job unless we understand THAT COULD BE US, TOO.

The world isn't fair because of sin and free will. Until God pulls away the offer to "Come to Me..." freely, it will continue to be so, if only because He's waiting on that one, last person who will call out to Him and be saved.

Grey :)
Nechtan Albaflameelf on June 3rd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on the LISTENING thing. I also disagree with the oft' cited "Well, perhaps God HAS answered--He must be saying 'no'."

I always try to remind people that while God DOES answer prayers, He ALSO has a plan for each of us individually--and perhaps what we're asking is not what we need to get to where He wants us. I know that, despite hating trials and tribulations, I personally find I am closer to God and I see His wisdom in allowing me to suffer "...what I am able to bear..." (and I'm pretty sure He IS holding back the full deluge to protect me, so I try not to complain about the little 'trickles' I'm dealing with!).

One thing that has always stood out to me is that people who are never "tried" in any way seem to lack depth. They're less sympathetic to others. They don't really even NEED God, because they're not under fire or really struggling to do anything meaningful. God is here for all of us, in a terrible world where there IS struggle and pain and misery--because we're signposts for the truth. The truth is, Christ won the battle with all of those negative things, but like any withdrawing army, we're still surrounded by the wreckage with evil's passing. We can offer our light and our answer to others, but they won't even SEE we have those things if we seem all perfect and never unhappy. People BELIEVE what they see in the trenches, not in the advertising.

Grey :)
tryptonymphetictryptonymphetic on June 5th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
As a non-Christian, I never know if my comments about your church group will be helpful or not. I certainly don't want to fill each one with "why-I-decided-differently" commentary, but this particular post spoke to me.

I spent so many years in the Atheist camp because like the people in your group, I was convinced that my prayers weren't being "answered" and then later, it was because "nobody was there." Instead of being a negative person, the type of atheist that makes people hate atheists, I wanted to make it clear that it was a path of personal responsibility and accountability; that I was not going to blame a lack of a God or a God's inaction for the things going wrong in the world and my life.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that perhaps the source of my discomfort was the kind of prayer I was using. Prayer, as most people conceive of it, is a very uncomfortable, unnatural thing to me. It was... kind of like saying everything I wanted and having it translated poorly via an English to Angelic online translator, instead of instinctively using my heart to just speak it.

That's when I decided that the people who describe their belief as "all paths to God/Goddess" concept are probably the closest of all to being right. It wasn't until I started communicating the way it felt most comfortable to me, and really observing the world around me for evidence that it too was speaking.

I like to think now with all the spirit animal work I've done, and all the beautiful cats I've seen in life specifically AFTER asking my spirit animal to guide, protect and nurture me are direct communication that male, female, whatever name you need to call it, The Divine Being is definitely there and answering... I think sometimes a non-response is a actually a quite powerful response. For me, it means that more self-reliance could be required before I ask for assistance.