Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Mystery of Prayer

A little girl went missing last week in Woodstock, Ontario, apparently spirited away from school by an unidentified woman in a white winter coat. The police won't call it an abduction but given that the child is eight years old, how could anyone consider her disappearance "voluntary?"

There was a massive ground search, eventually called off my authorities when absolutely no evidence turned up. As the days progressed a vigil was organized that drew hundreds of people. Local churches included little Victoria in their prayers over the Easter weekend.

This sort of intercessory prayer is important, it seems to me, yet we seldom speak of what we hope will happen. Do we think that God's mind will be changed somehow by our prayers? Will the abductor "see the light" as a result of prayer?

Several years ago a retired United Church minister wrote an article in an Eastern Ontario newspaper offering his cynical view that this sort of prayer was misguided and that the outcome of such sad situations wasn't altered at all by approaching the Deity. It was a rather cruel and decidedly unpastoral opinion that didn't seem to benefit anyone. His outlook seemed arrogant and unfeeling.

I have come to realize through the years that intercessory prayer is a mystery without predictable outcomes. Insisting that God will answer prayers in a specific way can be just as cruel as suggesting that God has better things to do than listen to us. But I have also seen how prayer has comforted and given courage to both the afflicted and to those who are praying alike.

I have no easy way of measuring the efficacy of prayer, yet I don't really want to live in a world without it. We can all pray for Victoria's safe return.
Any opinions?


Laurie said...

I think prayer is a comfort to those who pray. It makes them think they are doing something in a situation where they are powerless. I do not think "God" answers requests.

pupil said...

I know that many people are praying for a loved one of mine, and although I don't expect a miracle in regards to the health of this loved one, I truly believe in the power of this prayer to work in the lives of my family. I may not get the "request granted" but there is comfort in the knowledge that strength is being lent to us through the power of these prayers. It is a kind of "holding up" and care that can come in no other form. Although we may be powerless in many situations, we are never powerless to approach every grief or even horror with the guidance and aid of God. Personally I would rather this, than the alternative which to me would be giving my personal power away to forces truly beyond my control and beyond my persoanl capacity to cope with.

Laura said...

I don't believe in a God that picks and chooses which prayers might be answered. Wonderful things happen, and awful things happen to those who pray.I do believe prayer brings about the communion of spirits, human and Divine, and strength and comfort are found in that communion.

lionlamb said...

Thank you for these thoughtful and honest responses. They are a relief as a blogger -- I've wondered if I was talking to myself lately!

While I may never understand what seems to be unanswered prayer, I have never given up on the biblical witness that God not only hears us, but in love answers.

Not Alone said...

I had an Easter lunch with both Christians and atheists at the table. The discussion came up about the possibility of attending the candlelight vigil in Woodstock that night, and one response was "What good would that do?".

I had to quickly review in my own heart and mind as to how I felt about the power of prayer in such a situation. Although I had precious milli-seconds to think, I responded that if only it gave the family and community the feeling that there were people there who were supportive the vigil would be worth it. For the Christians among us, I would hope that such a vigil would also bring those attending closer together in a sense of community.

I feel the act of praying together 'magnifies' our faith, love and hope that the Spirit lives in each and everyone of us and reaches out through our thoughts, words and actions.

lionlamb said...

I agree Not Alone. Yesterday we invited people to pray for the grandson of members who was badly injured by a car as he walked along a local road. Doing so united our spirits in a common concern, even though there was probably a great range of outlooks about how those prayers would affect the outcome of the young man's health and wellbeing.