The Power of Prayer?

Thanks for sending the questions. As long as they keep coming, I’ll keep responding. (Hint, I’m down to my last one that was submitted this week.)

Stevie wrote two days ago asking me to comment about the power of prayer. So with her request, I’ll jump in and share a few of my thoughts – in hopes it will motivate some of you to jump in and share your thoughts as well.

In order to get at Stevie’s answer about the power of prayer, I’ll begin by talking briefly about the evolution that has occurred in my concept of prayer. Once I do that, I’ll share how I understand the power of prayer today.

Like some, I struggled for years with the model of prayer with which I was presented as a child. As a child, the only form of prayer I was taught was intercessory prayer: the kind of prayer where you spend most of your time either asking for things or giving thanks for things. On a few rare occasions, I would also vent my frustrations; but I always felt a little guilty about doing that.

Intercessory prayer (at least the way it was taught to me) was based largely on the notion of a distant or transcendent God: a God who was “out there”.

As my theology developed over time, however, I struggled with that model of prayer. I grew to see God not primarily as distant or transcendent (“out there”) but imminent (“right here”). As that shift occurred, for a while I become unsure of how to pray.

So how did this theological shift inform my prayer life?

In a couple of ways. In the early days of the shift, I noticed the tone of my intercessory prayer time changed. The tone of my conversation became less informational (i.e. “God, here’s what’s happening”) and more conversational. I focused less on outcomes and more on my feelings and responses to what was happening. As more time passed, I found myself spending less time in intercessory prayer and more time in meditation and centering prayer. The primary purpose of these spiritual disciplines is to increase my awareness of God’s presence.

With all of this said, my understanding of what is meant by “the power of prayer” has shifted over the years. When I practiced a basic form of intercessory prayer, I defined the power of prayer to mean “Did I get what I want?” If a loved one was healed from cancer, for instance, I could assert prayer worked! If a loved one wasn’t healed from cancer, then I would question the power of prayer – or repeat to myself a saying that someone else had taught me (i.e. “Sometimes the answer to prayer is not yet, or no!” or “God’s ways are beyond our understanding”). It was hard for me to feel very good about those responses, however.

Today, my view of prayer is that the time I spend cultivating in myself an awareness of God’s presence isn’t meant to change God; it’s primarily meant to change me. When a loved one has cancer, for instance, I spend my prayer time holding that person in loving thoughts and focusing my energies on being as present to God, myself, and the other person as possible so that my ways of being can bring expressions of peace and wholeness to the situation.

So what do you think? (Oh, and keep the questions coming!)

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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4 Responses to The Power of Prayer?

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I like your way of doing it. I was raised in a church that taught that intercessory prayer was wrong; I can still hear my Sunday school teacher thundering “God is not a vending machine!” I was taught that prayer is only for thanking God for all his blessings in your life and then listening for the “still, small voice” telling you what he wanted you to do next. The gratitude part worked well, but the listening could be frustrating and upsetting because I never felt like I got a clear message and figured maybe God just didn’t have any use for me.

    Now I agree that prayer (and secular meditation) works best when it is, as you say, less focused on a desired result and more focused on being open to what is around you. So if something’s troubling you, instead of trying to figure out how you can make it turn out the way you want (or ask God to do it for you), you can focus on seeing the situation more clearly and being present in the situation. Sometimes that leads to finding something you could do to make things better, and sometimes it leads to finding a way to be at peace with things as they are, or bring peace to someone else.

  2. Lila says:

    Thank you. I have struggled with prayer for the same reasons that you have as my understanding of God changed. Your meditative approach resonates for me.

  3. Olivia Brancusso says:

    I have a Bible passage question I would love for you to help me with: During the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, did Christ actually calm the storm, or did He just go out to the disciples to be with them and help calm their fears? I like to think that He just went out to calm the men–to show that He
    won’t promise that we won’t have troubles, but that he will always be there to help us become peaceful again. So lovely.

    Thank you for your time,
    Olivia Brancusso

  4. Stevie says:

    This has all been spinning in my head for a couple days. I remember the exact moment that I felt the presence of God, and knew that He was real. That was the day that changed my view of everything I had ben taught in the Baptist Church. I was seven. From that day to this, I have communed with God in an almost “person to person” way, during my time of devotion and during the day. However, I chose my faith community on the basis of my feeling of spiritual connection within the church’s walls. That barely makes sense even to me!
    However, something happened in my life this week that helped things become clear. Since your thoughtful reply to my question, Craig, a sad event happened. Some close friends lost their 18 year old son in a motorcycle accident. He was a vibrant, smart, good kid. I spoke briefly to his mom, and will visit this week. But last night I realized that—during the many times they crossed my mind yesterday–I had the same feeling as when I connect with God. So THAT is what you mean by “holding someone in prayer.” I wasn’t “praying” for anything….but really I was. And I do it every day. Wow!.

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