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Why Pray?

post #1 of 36
Thread Starter 
I recently had this question posed to me by a friend who identifies as a secular humanist and it has sparked a very interesting discussion between us.

She originally wondered why bother praying if you believe in an all knowing, all powerful God. Why would you need to ask Him for help if you believe he already knows that you need it? Why would many people praying (blanket prayer requests of a mass group) be more effective than only one person's prayer? How does God decide to answer prayer?

I am Roman Catholic, I have responded to her from my own religious perspective. I am curious how people from all other faiths (and denominations within Christianity) would answer her basic question.
post #2 of 36
I would say that prayer is about your relationship with God, not just a request line. You want to talk with someone because you love them, even if they already know things right? So we talk with God and tell him the things that are inportant to us, because we love him and he loves us.
post #3 of 36
It is about relationship where prayer a mean of communication within that relationship.
post #4 of 36
Well, I guess I view it as prayer is just basically talking to God. And, there are many different types of prayer -- adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. So while sometimes we are asking God things, we are also praising and thanking him.

Also, one of the things I've come to realize is that prayer doesn't necessarily change the situation, but it often changes my perspective.
post #5 of 36
I don't have time to give this an answer right now but want to make sure I come back to it tomorrow....

so hold that thought
post #6 of 36
Quote:
She originally wondered why bother praying if you believe in an all knowing, all powerful God.
I'm not sure I do beleive in an all-knowing, all-powerful G-d. In fact, I'm pretty sure that doesn't at all describe the G-d I beleive in. Can G-d do anything... not so much. We have free will after all. G-d cannot make us do many things. I'm not sure I beleive that G-d can, for instance, know my thoughts. Maybe sometimes, but it's not like I think G-d is inside my head all the time or anything. I'm not sure I really thing G-d... cares on that level, or is that personal, to be constantly "monitering" any given person.

Quote:
Why would you need to ask Him for help if you believe he already knows that you need it?
Because asking for help is powerful. It is admited you NEED help. And it's comforting. To ask g-d is to feel that you don't have to do it alone, that there is something/someone else there to help you. Someone listening to you, and be with you.

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Why would many people praying (blanket prayer requests of a mass group) be more effective than only one person's prayer?
I don't know whether or not it is. what I do know is that praying the same thing in a group can be powerful for the pray-ers. Does G-d hear it more or listen closer? I haven't a clue, though it makes sense that G-d might, that more people praying together would be spiritually "louder".

Quote:
How does God decide to answer prayer?
Haven't the least clue. I do know/beleive that there are certain prayers/times etc that gets through to g-ds ear particualrly well. Whether g-d answers them more... I don't know. For instance, prayers that are so heartfelt you are moved to tears, are supposed to go straight to the ear of G-d. I don't know if it's true, I do know that when something is overwhelming and upsetting, crying out to G-d, and asking for help/strength/whatever, telling G-d you can't take it anymore is cathartic. A woman after she light's the shabbos candles, it's a special time where her prayer's have extra power. I don't know if it's true, but it's a very special moment, and a great peaceful moment of connectedness. the first time I lit candles, I felt connected to all of the other jewish women in the world lighting candles, who ever had and ever will. I'll remember it all my life. A woman on her wedding day, between the mikvah at night and the wedding has extra power to her prayers. Is it true? I don't know, I'm not married yet. I sure plan on praying a lot then, and taking some time away from getting ready physically etc, to sit and pray and ask for blessings and meditate. A woman in labor has extra power to her prayers. No kids yet, but I imagine it's true.

So, in answer to the question "why pray", I do feel it's as much for the pray-er as for the divine. Or more. When I pray and ask for help, I feel stronger by not being alone, by asking for help, by sharing my worries. When I pray to praise/bless G-d, I am uplifted. And when I pray traditional prayers that have been said for millenia, I am connected to my people as well as G-d, past and present. I pray because through prayer, I connect to G-d. I can connect to G-d and the divine through meditation, but prayer is also powerful, transformative, and important.
post #7 of 36
The short answer would be because god asked us to.

A longer answer would probably be something along the lines of, in my particular little "revealed faith" world at least, god having expressed not only the specific request to pray but the more general request to be remembered, and remembered as the source of all we know. That he said remembering him and what he is, even in the limited capacity we are able, is valuable to us. And that praying, and praying for things, no matter how big or small ... arguably especially for that which is small ... are ways of expressing that remembrance and reminding ourselves.

I've never thought much of the notion that prayers are sort of like petitions ... the more people you can get to sign on the more likely it is your request will be met. I can't imagine it working that way. But I can perceive of the act of prayer itself doing something for me. In my faith people like to talk up the concept of taqwa -- god-consciousness, essentially being aware of god at all times and making choices in life in accordance with that awareness. The concept is taqwa builds good character, and sincere regular prayer builds taqwa.
post #8 of 36
Quote:
The short answer would be because god asked us to.
My answer exactly. I get asked a similar thing as a Calvinist - why evangelise if God is ultimately in control of who gets saved? Same answer. He told us to. And (with both evangelism and prayer) it's the means by which He works out His will.

Also, I wonder if your friend isn't bound by the "vending machine" concept of prayer. Prayer isn't just about asking for stuff. There's asking God for forgiveness, for instance - and, like any person, just because God knows you're sorry doesn't mean saying sorry is meaningless. Similarly, it isn't a waste of time to tell someone you love Him, even if He already knows.
post #9 of 36
Prayer is an act of worship. It is acknowledgement that God is the center of the universe and should be the focus of our entire lives. Mainly I pray because I am a sinner. I pray to be forgiven and for help that I can become closer to God because I need help badly. And I pray that all others become closer to God, as well. It is an act of love toward God and to others. I believe we are created to worship and glorify God, and prayer is essential to this end.
post #10 of 36
The most basic and I think foundational sort of prayer says something like "Oh God, you are God". Clearly God does not need us to tell him that, nor anything else that is true in his creation. Prayer is for us, and has a number of functions. Because we are creatures of flesh, we can't just think things, we must do them. Because we are living in time, we must set aside times for different tasks. Prayer is one way in which we act out our convictions in time and space. Prayer is didactic, when we do it according to proscribed guidelines, or even use "prepared" prayers, it instructs us in right action and belief.

Prayer in groups also reveals truths to us and is an important anchor. It provides structure which can be important, especially during times of stress or difficulty. It provides a community to help us realize our prayers further. It emphasizes that we are organs in the Body of Christ, and cannot set ourselves up independently, because we are interdependent.
post #11 of 36
A good secular humanist answer is that double-blind medical studies have demonstrated prayer to be an effective healing tool. People report feeling better even when they don't know that someone was praying for them in secret...compared with a control group who were not being prayed for.

Prayer is a type of meditation that reveals inner truths to us. Prayer is known to have a calming effect on the person praying, which has all sorts of health benefits.
post #12 of 36
I'm Hindu. We belive that praying is good for us, not good for god. It refines the prayer, so to speak.
post #13 of 36
Quote:
A good secular humanist answer is that double-blind medical studies have demonstrated prayer to be an effective healing tool. People report feeling better even when they don't know that someone was praying for them in secret...compared with a control group who were not being prayed for.
How would one be able to determine that no-one in the control group was being prayed for? All it'd take is for someone to pray for "all the people with cancer" (or whatever the illness was), or for "everyone in the state of Texas" (or wherever), or a grandmother several generations back to pray for her children and grandchildren... you just don't know. You can't isolate people from prayer, particularly if you consider that some religious groups pray for things that happened in the past, or that future prayers could impact the past by God working within eternity... and so on. I mean, it's a nice thought, but it's not exactly rock-hard science. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins once used a study measuring rates of cancer recovery in prayed-for and non-prayed-for groups in order to prove that prayer didn't work. I was a little appalled by his ignorance of the scientific method there, and promptly invalidated his experiment by praying for the control group (which, yeah, passive-aggressive and not particularly spiritual, perhaps, but come on!).
post #14 of 36
I don't think prayer so much provides God (who as OP said is all-knowing) with something. It provides the one who prays with something. Pause, acknowledgment of what matters, focus on beauty and goodness, awareness of truth, a process of coming to terms with life and releasing control and fear, a spirit of gratitude. Praying for others creates an invisible connection that has powers not precisely known. I rarely pray for specific outcomes, because I feel God knows better than me what outcome should happen. But I pray for things to be resolved, for help and guidance.

Even if someone knows what you need and want, it's better if you stick your neck out and ask. It shows them the relationship matters and you give it attention and effort. It also shows YOU the relationship matters.
post #15 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluegoat View Post
The most basic and I think foundational sort of prayer says something like "Oh God, you are God". Clearly God does not need us to tell him that, nor anything else that is true in his creation. Prayer is for us, and has a number of functions. Because we are creatures of flesh, we can't just think things, we must do them. Because we are living in time, we must set aside times for different tasks. Prayer is one way in which we act out our convictions in time and space. Prayer is didactic, when we do it according to proscribed guidelines, or even use "prepared" prayers, it instructs us in right action and belief.

Prayer in groups also reveals truths to us and is an important anchor. It provides structure which can be important, especially during times of stress or difficulty. It provides a community to help us realize our prayers further. It emphasizes that we are organs in the Body of Christ, and cannot set ourselves up independently, because we are interdependent.
Love this!
post #16 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post
Interestingly, Richard Dawkins once used a study measuring rates of cancer recovery in prayed-for and non-prayed-for groups in order to prove that prayer didn't work. I was a little appalled by his ignorance of the scientific method there, and promptly invalidated his experiment by praying for the control group (which, yeah, passive-aggressive and not particularly spiritual, perhaps, but come on!).
This made me giggle.
post #17 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by littlest birds View Post
I don't think prayer so much provides God (who as OP said is all-knowing) with something. It provides the one who prays with something.
That is what I was going to say. God does not require worship, but we benefit from worshipping Him.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post
How would one be able to determine that no-one in the control group was being prayed for? All it'd take is for someone to pray for "all the people with cancer" (or whatever the illness was), or for "everyone in the state of Texas" (or wherever), or a grandmother several generations back to pray for her children and grandchildren... you just don't know. You can't isolate people from prayer, particularly if you consider that some religious groups pray for things that happened in the past, or that future prayers could impact the past by God working within eternity... and so on. I mean, it's a nice thought, but it's not exactly rock-hard science.
In addition, according to people in some denominations, we can continue to pray for others after death. In my church, we assume we benefit from the prayers of countless church members who have passed on, and there is no way to keep track of those prayers or their possible effect.
post #18 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post
How would one be able to determine that no-one in the control group was being prayed for? All it'd take is for someone to pray for "all the people with cancer" (or whatever the illness was), or for "everyone in the state of Texas" (or wherever), or a grandmother several generations back to pray for her children and grandchildren... you just don't know. You can't isolate people from prayer, particularly if you consider that some religious groups pray for things that happened in the past, or that future prayers could impact the past by God working within eternity... and so on. I mean, it's a nice thought, but it's not exactly rock-hard science. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins once used a study measuring rates of cancer recovery in prayed-for and non-prayed-for groups in order to prove that prayer didn't work. I was a little appalled by his ignorance of the scientific method there, and promptly invalidated his experiment by praying for the control group (which, yeah, passive-aggressive and not particularly spiritual, perhaps, but come on!).
Not to mention the spiritual issues - would God really take the prayers of people in such a case seriously? Is it real prayer if you are purposely not praying for someone? And does this not fall under the warning "Do not tempt the Lord thy God"?
post #19 of 36
Well, yeah, it doesn't really engage with the nature of Christian prayer either. But I kind of expected that from Dawkins, whereas I did think he'd have a better handle on the scientific method. Very odd, all told...
post #20 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smokering View Post
Well, yeah, it doesn't really engage with the nature of Christian prayer either. But I kind of expected that from Dawkins, whereas I did think he'd have a better handle on the scientific method. Very odd, all told...
Dawkins may be a very rational person normally, but his extreme distaste for religion seems to affect his judgment to some extent.
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