Today’s question(s) comes from Yvette. She writes: “Oh my goodness, I do not want to sound like a negative ninny, but I swear if I read one more post from a religious person saying that that are praying to God to help this country I am going to scream! I do believe that things will turn out how they were meant to turn out. But why do people actually think that solely praying to God without any other action from themselves will solve anything? Do you not believe God wanted all humanity to live in peace and harmony? Why do some people believe that solely praying about it, it will miraculously happen? And, I am sorry, but God – if God is truly watching – does not solely care about the United States. Sorry for my frustration but sometimes people frustrate me and when they bring God into it– seems I reach my boiling point. Sorry for the rant– did I ask a question? Why do some people feel like praying to God will navigate their ship on the correct course?”
There are many, many, many directions I could go with your questions. I think for the sake of clarity, I’ll focus on the first part of your question about prayer.
There are several different ways a person can approach their prayer life. Each way is a reflection of an individual’s beliefs about God (or a person’s theology). Some people, for instance, believe in a transcendent God: a God who is entirely “out there” or “other” – an entity completely separate or distinct from our realm. Folks who believe in a transcendent God typically use a type of prayer called intercessory prayer. In such prayer, they are hoping that their prayerful energies will cause God to insert Godself into our realm and change a particular outcome (i.e. whip Americans into shape and right the course of our country).
My personal theology is not based upon a transcendent God. My belief system is based on the belief that God is immanent (with us). That shift in belief means I focus my prayerful energies less on updating God on what’s happening “down here” and more on encouraging myself to connect with God’s energy and presence right here. That’s one major difference.
A second major difference that your question raises has to do with who prayer is intended to change.
As I said earlier, some people believe that prayer is an activity designed to change God, or God’s will. I see prayer differently. I believe that prayer is an activity (and attitude) that is meant to change me – as a result of spending time focused on God’s presence and activity in and around me.
This leads me to your concern that some might simply say, “I’m praying for the country” and leave it there. For me, when I spend time in prayer – and think about all of the tremendous challenges facing our world – I feel more inspired and motivated to find ways to POSITIVELY affect the world.
Why did I put the word “positively” in all capitals in the last sentence?
I did so to underscore a major insight I’ve had to live into over my 49 years.
Over the years I’ve noticed that when I encounter injustices in the world and simply react to them, I tend to go out into the world with a spirit of anger and self-righteousness. As a result, I tend to make things worse – by adding to the bitterness that exists in the world.
It’s only when I stop and ground my concerns in prayer that my way of being changes. First of all, I no longer simply react to the injustices – I respond. Second, having spent time connecting with the loving and grace-filled energies of God, I’m more likely to incorporate those energies into the way in which I engage the world. When I encounter those who advocate for different policies or causes, for instance, I no longer feel compelled to defeat “the other side”. Instead, I am more likely to want to engage and collaborate with them to achieve a greater good.
As you can see, though, prayer for me is NOT something I use to abdicate my share of responsibility. Prayer for me is a way that I regain a sense of perspective about what share of the world’s problems are mine – and what share is God’s. Then I try to use the spiritual energy I draw from my prayer life to lovingly address those things that are mine. At least on my good days.
Those are just a few thoughts Yvette’s questions raised for me. How about you? What do her words raise for you?