A question on intercessory prayer in modern Christianity

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I can't ask this of the Christians in my life. It would be very upsetting to them, but it's something that I've always wondered about.

As we speak, someone in my family is in surgery. I've been informed that an impressive "prayer circle" has been convened to lift her up for the duration of this very dangerous procedure.

I've always wanted to ask how this is thought to work. And although I am not a believer, I'm not being snide. I am bewildered about what paradigm is being sketched out in the idea of intercessory prayer. They fervently believe that it makes a difference, and if she survives the surgery, they will undoubtedly credit the effort of the prayers. But, one level down, what does that mean? What is the characterization of God in this mechanism?

Is God thought to withhold protection or intervention unless petitioned by a significant enough number of prayer warriors (or powerful enough?) Are they suggesting that His plan might have been to let her, or even have her, die, but that He could be persuaded to do otherwise with enough pleading?

I'm very interested to understand what the thought is behind this.
 

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The NT idea of prayer functions as a substitute for OT sacrifices; see for example Luke 6:27-28 where Luke says to pray for those who mistreat us/you.

The Catholic church developed this, via St. Paul the Apostle (see his frequent references in the Epistles to praying for others) in the early church, to the idea of Saints who could intercede on the behalf of those who pray, up to the so-called Mariolotary of the Middle Ages.
 

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Sure, but what is the idea behind modern Christianity's idea that prayer for healing or protection influences God's intervention?
 
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Chris P

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Wow, if I could answer that definitively I would be a very enlightened (and rich!) person.

As with any faith question, it depends on who you ask. To follow the interior logic you need to not cross the streams by showing what contradictions exist with people who believe otherwise, and, for the time being, leave the question of "why" God would set it up this way out it it.

Some Christians believe that--somehow--prayer does bring about a particular response. Many (but I'm not sure if all) of the people who believe this think it is a test of faith and devotion. "If you don't get the answer you want, you are not faithful enough." I myself don't believe this at all, I have trouble understanding it, but the idea is widespread.

There are others who believe God could bring about the response, but does so at his will for his reasons. God is still pleased with the effort, but does what he wants anyway. I don't object to this idea, but it's not my motivation when I pray and I hold my tongue and nod when someone asks me to pray in this way.

Where I most often pray is not for the result, but for the right actions. I have no problem praying for a clear mind and steady hand of a surgeon, but leave the outcome up the big guy; for whatever his reason (if any--I'm not convinced God allows everything for a specific reason). The point of my prayer is to make me accepting of whatever happens, and to give me loving words and actions in response. I have no idea if my prayers have any effect at all on the outcome.

There are then those who take my stance one step farther and say for sure prayer does nothing at all for outcomes, clear minds and steady hands included. They say prayer is completely for us in readying our minds and building community of good will by praying in groups. I understand this view but I believe there is more to it.

That's the spectrum as I see it, anyway.
 

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Ok, so I'm Catholic and we're just a tad different than the prayer you're talking about but similar enough that I could say a thing or two. If you look at it like this: God has a plan for everything and the will to make it happen. However, he does not interfere with our free will. So then we, without complete knowledge of his plan, have to trust that the outcome of some event will further his plan. But we have free will. We want things the way we want them, and this instance, we want this person to have a successful surgery. So we ask for that outcome. It might be the way God willed it this time. (and here's where Catholics start to differ) If he doesn't plan for the surgery to go well it's because it's a part of the plan that he does not want changed. Catholics don't think that by their personal effort that God allowed something. It's by sacrifice and his will. Others believe that it's their personal effort to call God's attention to this one thing.

I'm not certain this helped, but I had to jump in.
 

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That's very interesting, Chris. Thank you for that comprehensive response!

I have to say that this -

There are others who believe God could bring about the response, but does so at his will for his reasons. God is still pleased with the effort, but does what he wants anyway.

is an utterly chilling concept of God. It's difficult to imagine a consciousness deriving satisfaction from agonized prostration and abject begging, while remaining unmoved to respond. *shudders*

If things cannot being changed, or will not be changed, keening from the supplicant should beget empathetic keening in the loving and hand-tied Petitioned.

In this instance, in my family, there is some sort of almost competitive consolation - the more prayer warriors, the more likely a positive outcome. Which, of course, makes zero sense to me.
 

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So we ask for that outcome. It might be the way God willed it this time. (and here's where Catholics start to differ) If he doesn't plan for the surgery to go well it's because it's a part of the plan that he does not want changed. Catholics don't think that by their personal effort that God allowed something. <snip>
I'm not certain this helped, but I had to jump in.

Thank you! It's all interesting, so I appreciate the response.

I guess my question is, if God's will is what it is, what is the point in praying for what you want? Do you think Catholics think you are supposed to pray for what you want to happen, or is it something they do because we, naturally, can't help ourselves from asking for what we want? As a Catholic, do you think God wants you to pray for what you want? Is it a Catholic duty to do so?

I know that supplication prayer is very different from praise prayer - which is, by most Christian perspective that I'm familiar with, a religious obligation.

(In full disclosure, I was raised Evangelical/Pentecostal and converted to Catholicism when I was 27 years old, but none of it ever took.)
 

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This is an utterly chilling concept of God. It's difficult to imagine a consciousness deriving satisfaction from agonized prostration and abject begging, while remaining unmoved to respond. *shudders*

If things cannot being changed, or will not be changed, keening from the supplicant should beget empathetic keening in the loving and hand-tied Petitioned.

If you believe in God as a Father figure, then you do believe that the response is grief for our grief. But it is also the job of a parent to do what's best because they can see farther and more clearly than their children.
 

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If you believe in God as a Father figure, then you do believe that the response is grief for our grief. But it is also the job of a parent to do what's best because they can see farther and more clearly than their children.

Sure, but the chilling part would be that petitioning prayer would be pleasing to God, not the idea that He, because of a God's-Eye view, cannot respond the way you wish. If you thought that God suffered when your agonized pleas needs must be ineffectual at changing anything, it would seem easy enough for God to communicate to not ask for things, since it only caused everyone involved extra anguish.
 

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But we have free will. We want things the way we want them, and this instance, we want this person to have a successful surgery. So we ask for that outcome. It might be the way God willed it this time. (and here's where Catholics start to differ) If he doesn't plan for the surgery to go well it's because it's a part of the plan that he does not want changed. Catholics don't think that by their personal effort that God allowed something. It's by sacrifice and his will. Others believe that it's their personal effort to call God's attention to this one thing.

This is part of the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism that falls on the works vs faith debate; faith alone (Protestantism) faith and works (Catholicism).
 

Cyia

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Is God thought to withhold protection or intervention unless petitioned by a significant enough number of prayer warriors (or powerful enough?) Are they suggesting that His plan might have been to let her, or even have her, die, but that He could be persuaded to do otherwise with enough pleading?

No. Not at all.

As others have said, the belief is different depending on denomination, but as someone raised "non-denominational" (protestant, though) but you're not trying to "convince God" to do anything.

The simplest way to say it is that God already gave everyone healing, but they have to accept/believe it. They may have to fight for it, because of the belief that there is a spiritual component to life where "battles" take place.

Prayer isn't: God, please I beg of you to grant me this...

Prayer is: I believe I'm healed, and I am holding the line until the thing trying to make me sick concedes defeat. These other people are my brothers in arms, doing the same. (It goes with a verse about two or more people joining faith and using the authority of Jesus' name.)

It's tied to the belief that victory comes from "The Blood of the Lamb (Jesus) and the word of their testimony," meaning that you speak forth the thing you believe God has given you. You're exerting legal authority; not begging.

That's what I was taught.
 

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I'm Catholic and more of a pray-on-my-own type. But, don't know I'll feel comfortable questioning other people's connection to God, as long as it doesn't impact anyone other than a willing, sane adult.

In the situation described by OP, I'll probably in the hospital chapel with lights off. I try to pray for strength to accept outcome, but mostly it becomes a whine-fest.

As for group prayer, hey, if it gives them hope...
 
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The simplest way to say it is that God already gave everyone healing, but they have to accept/believe it. They may have to fight for it, because of the belief that there is a spiritual component to life where "battles" take place.


Prayer is: I believe I'm healed, and I am holding the line until the thing trying to make me sick concedes defeat.

Wow! So if you die, if the risky procedure doesn't go well, it's because you didn't, on some level, accept your healing? That's is fascinating. Wow.

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain that perspective.


ETA - So, in this way of thinking, does this only apply to untimely deaths due to illness? It would sort of have to exclude inevitable illness in old age, or sudden death from injury, right?
 
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Cyia

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Wow! So if you die, if the risky procedure doesn't go well, it's because you didn't, on some level, accept your healing? That's is fascinating. Wow.

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain that perspective.

It can be that, or it can be that a person fears death/sickness to the point that it pollutes their faith. (Faith being faith in God; fear being faith in the thing you're afraid of. So you side with the one you have the most faith in.)

When my grandmother was in hospice, she actually had a nurse who would come in and pray for her to die because she thought it was compassionate. (that did not go over well when family found out. G-ma was in top 5% recovery percentile until this woman got her so focused on death she gave up.)

A lot of people think of faith like the physical being the part of a play that can be seen and the spiritual being everything going on behind the scenes. The one informs the other, even if you can't see the players on both sides of the curtain, and the one can impact the other.
 

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There's also the idea that if your prayers are answered, that that's a sign you're one of the Elect.
 

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...pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.--James 5:16. When you hear "lifted up" think of a petition that is presented. It works, let me tell you. I won't go into detail but a whole bunch of people prayed for the healing of my unborn great nephew, who wasn't expected to live, and he was healed, baby. He's one month old now and thriving.
 
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...pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much ---> James 5:16
Yeah, this^ - I pray because God told us to, it gives me hope, peace and comfort, and because I've (literally) seen answers to my prayers.

I leave the outcome up to Him, and whether it comes out positive or not so positive, I have faith that "Father knows best." :Shrug:
 

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It can be that, or it can be that a person fears death/sickness to the point that it pollutes their faith. (Faith being faith in God; fear being faith in the thing you're afraid of. So you side with the one you have the most faith in.

I'm utterly fascinated with this particular take on it, because of the ramifications if it.

Medical science would actually be redundant, at best, or possibly interference at worst. And several hundred years ago, when people were dying of mundane infections that a simple round of antibiotics would cure today makes me wonder about the relative strength of faith in people back then vs. now.

Even with all my religious background, this is a new way to look at it, for sure.
 

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I'm utterly fascinated with this particular take on it, because of the ramifications if it.

Medical science would actually be redundant, at best, or possibly interference at worst. And several hundred years ago, when people were dying of mundane infections that a simple round of antibiotics would cure today makes me wonder about the relative strength of faith in people back then vs. now.

Even with all my religious background, this is a new way to look at it, for sure.

This is where the complexity of what's happening "behind the scenes" comes in, and why one of the disciples was a doctor.

A person may believe that their healing requires a doctor, so they'll pray for the wisdom to know which doctor to go to. This doesn't mean they lack faith, but that they're using their faith to find a tool to achieve their outcome.

I've seen people who will claim their healing, and use medicine to treat "symptoms" in their bodies until their physical and spiritual sides line up.

The belief is that God never intended for people to be miserable. If you need medicine because you're in pain or have a fever, then by all means, take the medicine and stop your suffering. That doesn't mean that you don't believe God has healed you. Sometimes it takes time to manifest.

It can get really, really complicated.

I can point to someone like my dad who had an early-onset degenerative disease. He believed for many years for his healing, and people will look at that and say he didn't get it. But he would have told those people that his life expectancy was 6 months and that his faith brought him 22 years of extra life that even his doctors couldn't explain. I can point to family members who have prayed for children who were sick, who then recovered within the hour and will tell you that their prayers were the difference. (None of these are people who would withhold medicine on account of "faith" btw)

Many people boil it down to God's system being perfect, but also existing in a world which is imperfect. It doesn't fit flush, so some things bump along or fall through the mismatched edges. And it can be very hard to explain.

(FWIW, I come from a non-denominational / evangelical background)
 
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Cyia, I asked this before, but would the claiming of healing only be for untimely death by internal illness, and not the seemingly inevitable decline with age, or death by traumatic accident?

In theory, could extreme devotion and acceptance regrow severed limbs?
 

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Cyia, I asked this before, but would the claiming of healing only be for untimely death by internal illness, and not the seemingly inevitable decline with age, or death by traumatic accident?

In theory, could extreme devotion and acceptance regrow severed limbs?

To people who believe in "perfect peace" healing - meaning "nothing missing, nothing broken, everything perfected to God's measure" they look for life to be lived that way beginning to end. (and from a biological standpoint, the only reason those "inevitable" declines happen is due to damage, not actual genetics. A simplified version is that chromosomal caps get damaged after so many copies are made, causing imperfections that result in aging. So if not for damage, the body wouldn't decline at all.)

I know of people who would tell you it's not theory, and it doesn't even have to do with extreme devotion. There's a Bible story about a man with a "withered" hand who was healed and had his hand restored. The lepers in the Bible would have been missing parts that would have had to regrow before the elders would declare them "clean."

The belief in this case is that there's literally a perfect blueprint for every person and that God wants every person to function according to that blueprint. No one should die before they're ready to stop living this life and step into the next one. God's word (promises of health) is medicinal (or like vitamins, maybe) and should be taken daily in the form of finding affirmative promises that say you're healed, you're strong, you're whole, etc.

It really is a lifestyle. Prayer circles in emergencies are extensions of this.

(If you're wanting a case to research, you can look at the story of Dodie Osteen, who is megachurch pastor Joel Osteen's mother. She has a book or booklet detailing her own fight with cancer. It involved a daily faith-based regimen that she continues to follow long after being certified as cancer-free. It might give you a clearer picture.)
 
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There are so many vastly different beliefs about prayer and what it is and what it means and what it does, it's rather mind-spinning trying to keep up with them.

Some say it is a petition that will be granted or denied based on God's knowledge of what is best--like an authoritarian parent figure that will answer with "yes" or "no" and that is that. Some say it is simply a conversation, because you should talk to God all the time (and listening for an answer or sign back) because that's what actual, close relationships look like. Some say that it is something you do because God says to do it, and we cannot understand God, so there's no use asking why. Just do it, because it's the right thing to do. And for some, of course, there's an element of liturgy and worship.

Charles Finney, the arch-heretic among Calvinists, believed that prayer, if done fervently and doggedly enough, could actually force God to change his mind, like how Moses convinced God to change his mind on behalf of the Israelites (a Calvinist will say that God never changed his mind, that perhaps he was just testing Moses-- it ties in to beliefs about God's sovereignty). Finney advocated a kind of prayer where you set everything aside--don't sleep, don't eat, don't do anything except pray--until you receive an answer. Finney was not Pentecostal (licensed Presbyterian minister, actually, though he didn't teach Presbyterian theology and got in trouble a lot for that), but I think you can see some variation on his teachings in some Pentecostal churches today.
 

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In theory, could extreme devotion and acceptance regrow severed limbs?

As an avowed humanist, I can (I think) see and sympathize with a bit of what I call "bristling disbelief." I stay out of discussions like this because they otherwise turn into (usually) fairly acrimonious arguments.

My wife's side of the family is catholic, and my side is fundamentalist, so I have a good view of different aspects of Christianity. I tend to take the attitude that, as long as they don't ask me to pray or to pretend to believe that the prayer helped, I'm easy. It may not help the patient, but it certainly helps those who are praying to cope.

The problem, for me, comes when someone tries to convince me that I should be praying. That's when you have to make a choice to go along to get along, smile and walk away, or argue. Being a curmudgeon, I tend to go with door #3, although it's not always the best choice.

My only advice would be to recognize that the other people are as worried as you and are trying to cope in their own way.
 

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That's very interesting, Chris. Thank you for that comprehensive response!

I have to say that this -



is an utterly chilling concept of God. It's difficult to imagine a consciousness deriving satisfaction from agonized prostration and abject begging, while remaining unmoved to respond. *shudders*

If things cannot being changed, or will not be changed, keening from the supplicant should beget empathetic keening in the loving and hand-tied Petitioned.

In this instance, in my family, there is some sort of almost competitive consolation - the more prayer warriors, the more likely a positive outcome. Which, of course, makes zero sense to me.

It is chilling, and I think a large part of the reason churches in the western world, particularly in Europe, sit empty on Sunday mornings. Don't get me started on how strict biblical literalism, unattainable moral codes, and other nonsense have done more to drive people away from faith than preserved it.

I agree with your assessment of "prayer warriors." I don't think that's how it works either, so I can't really say much more about that.

Sure, but the chilling part would be that petitioning prayer would be pleasing to God, not the idea that He, because of a God's-Eye view, cannot respond the way you wish. If you thought that God suffered when your agonized pleas needs must be ineffectual at changing anything, it would seem easy enough for God to communicate to not ask for things, since it only caused everyone involved extra anguish.

Hmm, idea. Let's turn that on its head: What makes more sense? Is God pleased by prayer because he's reduced the person to begging miserable servitude, or is God pleased because the person is taking a loving action on behalf of someone else in the face of a totally uncontrollable situation? It could be read either way. The former fits what people sometimes describe as the "jealous God" or "Old Testament God," while the latter fits with the "Jesus as my best bud" attitude more prevalent today. Even the "Prayer warriors" are probably more likely to ascribe to the latter. What effect prayer has on the outcomes in the world is where the spectrum lies.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Okay, so my perspective isn't Christian, but what happens is, when you pray and you're centered about it, you align yourself with the Infinite, the Universe, with whatever you want or don't want to call it.

Funny thing is that nuns have the highest rate of 100 year old in the business...and their job is prayer. Does that mean that pray can extend life indefinitely? NO.

But there is a level of healing that happens. So, I was in the hospital for what may have been food poisoning. (I'd been bleeding out the back end.) My husband notified someone in my sangat (congregation), who in turn, notified everyone else. I could feel myself held in a safety net of prayer. Did that mean I healed instantly, miraculously? NO. Did it mean I had support for martialing my own healing energy? I think so.

Not sure if any of that answers your questions.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 
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