Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Religiously Biased Thoughts on The God Delusion #3

Prayer. It is something that is greatly misunderstood by Christians, atheists, and everyone in between. That is why it is not a shock to find Richard Dawkins commenting on a prayer experiment done by the Templeton Foundation on pages 85-90 of The God Delusion. Dawkins ends his comments with a bit of mockery writing; “Yeah, right: we know from our faith that prayer works, so if evidence fails to show it we’ll just soldier on until finally we get the result we want” (p. 90).

First of all, I want to point out the complete insanity of trying to do an experiment to see if prayer works. I have written about this topic before in a post entitled Testable Prayers. Performing experiments to see if prayer works reeks of all the people who came to Jesus and demanded that He perform some sign for them so they would believe. This is what Jesus told them; “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign” (Mark 8:12; NLT). Prayer ceases to be prayer when it is said in the spirit of trying to get God to do your bidding. We shouldn’t expect God to do anything in those situations.

Second, I want to mention our complete misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. The purpose of prayer isn’t to convince God to provide for us the good life, but it is to usher in the Kingdom of God. Remember the model prayer Jesus gave to us (Matthew 6:9-13)? We can break this model prayer down into three parts. The first part is praise. Jesus shows us that our prayers should start with praising and thanking God for who He is and what He has done. When we open with praise we orient our focus on God. The second part of the prayer could be labeled priorities. Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and that His kingdom comes. Each one of us have our own agenda when it comes to life and ministry, but Jesus reminds us that what matters most is God’s will and His Kingdom. The last part could be called provision. It is here that we focus on our needs. First, there are our physical needs, our daily bread. Second, there are our spiritual needs, forgiveness and deliverance. Here is my point: when we align our priorities with God’s priorities our understanding of what we need for life will change. Our prayers will be more about advancing God’s kingdom than about curing grandma’s bunion.

Third, I know that prayer works, but I have no evidence that prayer works. What evidence can I offer to show that when I ask for wisdom as I am working on a sermon that God grants me wisdom? I know He does, but I have no proof. This is the problem with prayer, unless you experience there is no proof that it happened. Take for example Jesus turning water into wine, after the miracle happened what was the proof that it had happened outside of the testimony of a few people? The same is true for answered prayer. Outside of the testimony of a few people who have experienced it, what is the proof that God acted? That is why answered prayer is an unconvincing argument for unbelievers.

Let people like Richard Dawkins mock us for praying. Proving to them that prayers make a difference in our lives will not change their opinion or bring them to faith. Saving faith has never been built on miracles and signs, but rather it is built on the example of other Christians and a commitment to God’s Word. Instead of trying to convince them that prayer works we should focus on living faithful lives, because in the end it is the faithful life that is the best evidence for the working of prayer and God’s existence.


Mr. Woolf said...

Great post! That's a wonderful passage. Can you not just imagine Jesus exasperated at the demands for a sign?
Mr. Woolf

Paul said...

Nice to hear from you again Mr. Woolf. I can imagine it, and then I think about all the times I have tried to convince God to give me a sign. People tend to be slow and stubborn when it comes to faith.

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