Tuesday, August 07, 2012

God Always Answers Our Prayers

God always answers our prayers. Sometimes the answer is “no.” You’ve probably heard this said dozens if not hundreds of times. It’s God’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card. In other words, no matter what you get in response to what you pray for, you can say God answered your prayers, and your faith in God is maintained.
In his new book The Ultimate Conversation Charles Stanley writes that while God always answers our prayers God may not do so in the way we expect. Case in point Stanley says is the Jews and the coming of Christ. Two thousand years ago the Jews prayed for a military redeemer who would overthrow the Romans and liberate the Jews. What they got was the Prince of Peace and almost 2000 years of Jewish persecution at the hands of his church. Talk about not getting what you want!
But why stop with the Jews? If God’s answer to prayer can be the exact opposite of the prayer itself, why can’t it be that when Christians prayed for the return of Jesus, God sent them Mohammed instead? If God can supplement the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament, why can’t God supplement the New Testament with the Qur’an? Or, to be more blunt, why is it that God can mess with the Jews but not the Christians?
It seems to me that prayer is simply an expression of egoic desire: we pray to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. Because we don’t always get what we want and yet cannot give up on the idea that we could get what we want we invent the notion that God always answers our prayers but not necessarily by giving us what we want.
This reminds me of a guy I met at a gas station yesterday. He was buying lottery tickets. By the looks of him he had been hit hard by the economy. I asked him if he had ever won any lottery money. He said he hadn’t. I asked him why he continued to spend money on lottery tickets. He said he didn’t want to give up on the dream. Maybe he should pray a little as well.


Yael Raff said...

The path ahead is not always clear. Sometimes we have to slow down and attune to what is all around us. Sometimes we have to stop completely to realize just where we are. Sometimes we are stopped in our tracks just before we reach our destination. The view from the mountaintop can be exhilarating. Also heartbreaking.

Tricia Datené said...

my idea of prayer is being quiet so we can hear God (or tune into the music of the universe). When we are "in tune" we are more able to dance through our lives.

eashtov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

God's answers to prayer: yes, no. and not so fast.

And more prosaically, in the words of Sir Michael Philip Jagger, and Keith Richards:

"Oh, you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need."


Rabbi Rami said...

I find it interesting that none of us seem to have a conventional idea of God and prayer. And no one spoke about praying to God something in particular.

Yael and Jordan (at least in his quote) don't seem to need God at all, and Tricia equates God with the music of the universe. I can't disagree with any of this, and would love to hear more.

eashtov said...

Shalom Rav,

To paraphrase a teacher of mine (whose commentary/translation on Ecclesiastes I just worked my way through):

Life deals each of us hand moment by moment. Fairness is not always in the cards. Thus we must meet each moment justly, loving kindness, and with humility.

Relatively easy to say but, at least for this ponytailed aging boomer, very tough to do.


Julie said...

I don't pray to an entity. Gave that up with the old guy in the sky. I have hopes and desires and gratitude that I recognize as prayers, but much more personal. I was driving in DE once listening to the radio and a nun being interviewed said she believes that the sensation of swallowing that first sip of coffee in the morning is a prayer. I got that. For me I try to keep an awareness and not a prayer dialogue. I find the whole concept mysterious.

Lindsey Clayton said...

My daughter just had her 12-month vaccinations, and my aunt had been very nervous about her getting them, afraid of a bad reaction, autism, etc. When I spoke to her a few days later to let her know that everything was ok and the little one was acting as if she'd never even had them, my aunt exclaimed, "Praise the Lord, that's an answered prayer!" I wondered if she thought that meant that if she hadn't prayed, my daughter would have had a bad outcome, and what would she think of me as a parent if she knew that I hadn't prayed at all about anything since well before my daughter was born. I don't think God would be a magic genie here to grant us our wishes, but I get the impression that MANY people do. And I find it very hard to reason otherwise with those people.

Topics on Truth said...

I think you are right

Lyn Baker said...

I too have given up on the idea of the angry old space pilot god man in the sky. There is no god like that except in people's minds. It's what they accept as real. It's not what I accept as real any longer. Rationalizing it is a waste of time I've learned even though I still like to talk about it. This I know for certain: I know that the Universe is made up of energy, energy that takes many forms; rocks, trees, water, air, people, planets, stars, space, etc. That energy, that light, can be called God if you like. So, praying, as I used to do, is useless. The Universe is impartial whereas the Bible God is not and because it/he is not, it falls. It is a house divided. The Universe is like the way the Bible describes God though. God is quoted in it as as saying, "I am that I am." That's the universe too. It always was, it always is, and it always will be.

I do, however, say 'thank you' every morning directed toward that energy that is the Universe. I am grateful for being alive, being self-aware. That very thought, that 'thank you' is the Universe because all of the Universe is connected to itself. It is one. And I also affirm, every morning, that the day will be an awesome, wonderful day. And it is.

Karen Phillips said...

I learned a new way of praying, saying to God, "I am...[fill in the blank, gratful, angry, confused, in love, hungry, etc]." I'm inclined to think God already knows me, but it sure helps me know myself a little better. I think God wants me to know myself, live in the present moment, and deal with life as it comes. I'm not so sure about praying for things though. I used to have the notion that God would give me a great parking place if I prayed for it, but my mind's a little more jaded than to think like that now. I sometimes wish I could go back to that innocence. ... Also, when I end my prayers, I say "Amen and Awomen." You know, everything needs to be balanced.


Coy Krill said...

My prayer takes three forms: 1) for others that I know who are experiencing difficulty, 2) for myself when I am experiencing difficulty and 3) as a conversation with G-d when I feel lost or distant from G-d. I generally do not expect G-d to give things, mainly to help us through lifes challenges. I have seen what could be called miracles from prayer, but I don't get hung up on that aspect. The aspect of prayer I feel is most important is that it is a bridge to bring me back to feeling closer too and less distanced from other human beings and G-d. When I'm feeling frustrated or angry, I separate myself mentally and physically from others. Prayer brings me back from focusing on self to focusing on all of creation.

Claire said...

Wasn't it Reb Nachman who advised us to tell God everything? Every shame, every terror, every dark emotion that we have?

When people engage in petitionery prayer, isn't this what they're doing? They can't quite bring themselves to say the words, "I am terrified that my child will die", but they can pray with great honesty and fervor, "Dear God, save the life of my child!"

Many of us reading your blog, Rabbi, and perhaps you yourself, do not believe in a God "out there", but only believe in a God "in here". We could understand Reb Nachman's urging to "tell God everything" to be the equivalent of "be completely authentic with and to myself". And for those who are agnostic and atheists, that phrasing might be better, anyway.

But I find it more powerful to do that pouring out of all that dark side of myself to something I can term God. The God In Here is ready to listen with compassion, mercy, even kindly humor, to all my angst, anger, and fears. The God in Here also knows when I'm bullshitting, so I had better be completely honest and authentic - otherwise, what's the point?

She (It?) hears me beg, "please don't let me fail at that big presentation"; "please forgive that really stupid thing I said"; "please drop [insert politician's name here] in a dark well, never to be seen again" and she listens to the very real fear, pain, and anger behind it with such deep patience. Such deep love.

Are these prayers "answered"? I am not sure a Cosmic Concierge ready to do my every bidding would really be that healthy for me. But having a Cosmic Listener? A side of me that I can be totally honest with, that really gets what I'm saying, and still loves me anyway? Don't we all need that on some level?

No One Special said...

I've always struggled with even the idea of praying as it seems to denote an entity outside of oneself that we are addressing.

Rather, I find 'connection' more descriptive.

And sex can be as close as we can come to that mystical connection of Soul/Beloved.