A question on intercessory prayer in modern Christianity

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

Silva

saucy
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 24, 2015
Messages
1,758
Reaction score
245
Website
twitter.com
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

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

This reminded me that having a supportive social community is one of the (three?) major factors that frequently come up when longevity is studied.
 

cmhbob

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 28, 2011
Messages
4,323
Reaction score
601
Location
Green Country, OK
Website
www.bobmuellerwriter.com
I've supposedly been a Christian either since I was 14 (confirmed as a Lutheran) or 31 (saved as a Nazarene). I still don't understand intercessory prayer. I apparently don't even have the faith of a mustard seed, because not a single one of my intercessory prayers has ever received a positive answer. None of the people I've prayed healing for have been healed. Every one of them ultimately died of the condition I was praying against. Some might say they were perfectly healed, since they were taken to heaven when they died, but that doesn't sit well with me.

I've become rather cynical over the topic of prayer in the last few years, and have come very close to turning my back on God. It's been 19 years since I felt any real connection to him through prayer. That's a lot of busy signals on the prayer line.

There have been a number of articles and studies on the efficacy of prayer. The basic interpretation of most of the studies is that there is no indication of any effect, or at best, only a small positive effect. I thought I remembered one study showing that 3rd party prayers (prayers by someone not associated with the person being prayed for) actually hindered healing in some way. I'm probably not recalling that correctly.
 

Dennis E. Taylor

Get it off! It burns!
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 1, 2014
Messages
2,590
Reaction score
342
Location
Beautiful downtown Mordor
There have been a number of articles and studies on the efficacy of prayer. The basic interpretation of most of the studies is that there is no indication of any effect, or at best, only a small positive effect. I thought I remembered one study showing that 3rd party prayers (prayers by someone not associated with the person being prayed for) actually hindered healing in some way. I'm probably not recalling that correctly.

You are remembering correctly. the researchers speculated that it was a negative effect from, uh, performance anxiety, because it only happened when the subject knew they were being prayed for. Link

There was also a study by the Templeton Foundation (A Christian think-tank) which similarly showed negative results. I can't find the link, but I remember being impressed that they were honest enough to admit that their study didn't give the answers they wanted. A lot of groups would have just announced success anyway.
 

frimble3

Heckuva good sport
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 7, 2006
Messages
8,718
Reaction score
1,367
Location
west coast, canada
I've never been a believer, in prayer, God or anything else. The one time I tried prayer was when my mother was slowly dying. Then, I prayed 'God, do whatever is best for her'. She died, but I don't blame God, he probably did what I didn't dare pray for. I knew it was a long shot - a furtive prayer from a non-believer.

In general, I'm in agreement with the old saw: 'God answers prayers. Sometimes he says 'No'.' Also, Garth Brooks song: 'Unanswered Prayers'.
 

ColoradoGuy

I've seen worse.
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 11, 2005
Messages
6,674
Reaction score
1,481
Location
The City Different
Website
www.chrisjohnsonmd.com
There's also the idea that if your prayers are answered, that that's a sign you're one of the Elect.

Yes. And this notion leads one into a very tangled theological web. Predestination is logically airtight in some ways, but it brings a host of practical questions in other ways.
 

eruthford

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 24, 2017
Messages
169
Reaction score
18
Location
Maple Valley, WA
Website
theydontcry.wordpress.com
If I might put my two kopeks in, I'm Eastern Orthodox (as in Russian Orthodox, though I'm not Russian, I just go to church with Russians). The idea behind intercession is that it's an extension of liturgical worship. That is, a group of people are necessary to make a liturgy happen (liturgy meaning 'corporate act' in Greek) and so you need a group of people to make a similar community in this request for help for the sick person.

I remember one priest saying during a lecture that God exists outside of time and therefore can hear our prayers from before the moment of creation and can therefore hear them and take them into account in advance.

A chapter I often read when I'm thinking about intercession is John 17, which is a long, complicated prayer Jesus Christ is making to God the Father with lots of layers of unity and oneness. It includes verses 22-23: "that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one..." Here Jesus is asking God that people on earth may be unified to one another as the three parts of the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- are unified to each other. And a great deal of prayer is necessary to have this unity between people.

So it is in this spirit that people are having intercessory prayer. Perhaps it won't "work" in the sense of the desired medical outcome resulting from the prayer, but it can help us gain the humility to accept what happens, or the act of praying as a group may help us see other people's needs we have overlooked.

I think I'll include a few paragraphs from my fatherhood memoir in which I was struggling with the significance of my son's super-high-risk birth and doubts of whether I'd "gotten it right" with my decisions and prayers:

Father John sat in the sanctuary, which was empty and quiet. We were sitting on the same row of benches along the wall, sitting next to each other but turned towards each other so he could listen and give advice. His beard was long but square. He wore a black cassock and a gold stole that tied around his neck and went down his middle to the floor.

I was quiet for a long time before I started explaining why I needed his advice. I was glad that Gabriel’s birth and recovery went as well as it did, but I had an awful amount of “what if” thoughts dragging me down. I also was worried I might have gotten Gabriel’s emergency baptism wrong. It was the first and only sacrament I had given to anyone, and the Orthodox take a literal attitude towards the presence of God changing the people involved in a sacrament, so we do not allow much variation how we have the ceremonies.

I gave a long explanation of how upsetting it was to balance all of Gabriel’s competing needs versus the advice of Dr. S and Dr. Grumpypants.

“Miri was not confused, but I was so confused,” I said. “And having come so close to making a mistake, I feel like I can’t make other decisions well.” I was hoping that he could lead me out of the confusion, helping me with the complexity of balancing all the factors here so that I could do better if I ever had to deal with something so overwhelming again.

Father John took a different completely tack than I expected. “In Corinthians, Paul said that a wife’s prayers could save her husband,” he said, referring to First Corinthians 7, in which he says “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife.”

That stopped my train of worry and made me remember that it was all right that I was too weak to come up with the right answer. God does not command us to be successful, but faithful. Sometimes the help necessary to make the right decisions comes from outside us.

Then he said, “And when you have a problem like this that’s making you feel alone, you have to pray for all the other fathers who are having trouble making decisions and leading their families. When all these people pray, a community is formed, and then we all believe together that God can turn evil to good.”

I hope your relative is doing ok.
 

lonestarlibrarian

senior bean supervisor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 30, 2009
Messages
701
Reaction score
104
Website
librariansaide.blogspot.com
Just popping in, but remember the story of the wedding at Cana. The wedding runs out of wine, and Mary points this out to Jesus. And Jesus says, "What does that have to do with me? It's not my time yet." And Mary tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you to." And then Jesus proceeds to perform his first public miracle by turning about 180 gallons of water into the best wine, and saving the wedding party from embarrassment.

So-- if this was someone who could heal the sick, cure the lame, make the blind see, calm the storm, feed the thousands, and raise the dead, what might he have chosen for his first public miracle? But instead, he was pleased enough by her intercession to act. Was it a surprise to him? Probably not. But if she had kept silent, would he have done anything? Probably not.

It's also important to note that she didn't press him in one way or another; she aligned her prayer with his will. Remember that we're stuck inside of time and space, and God is eternal, and life is very, very short, and we are limited by our senses, and he has a much better view of the big picture... What matters in the face of eternity is not necessarily whether we get 40 years, or 70 years, or 100 years, but how that time that we did get was used, a la the parable of the talents. I went to a funeral for a pair of twins who had died at 6 months' gestation... They had never been born, but they had accomplished such a tremendous amount in their short lives... listening to the effect they had had on those around them made me feel really inadequate with how much I was doing with the resources I had at my disposal.

One thing that I found rather helpful in making the abstract more comprehensible was when I had children of my own, and saw how very limited they were in their understanding of situations, especially when they were too young to be reasoned with. "I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store; I can't feed you right now, but I'll feed you in five minutes" doesn't mean anything to them. All they know is that they're not getting what they want, right now. :) "I know you're not in your bed, but if I have to keep stopping this car every three minutes because you're screaming yourself blue, we'll never get to a better place than that car seat you're in." "No, leave that giant chunk of concrete on the ground. It's not a toy; no good will come of it; you're only going to hurt yourself." Especially in that first year or two as they discovered the world around them, they provided a constant stream of parallels that gave good food for thought about the big picture...

I wish the best to your family member in surgery, but also to their friends and family who are affected by the situation.
 

Opty

Banned
Joined
Jul 8, 2006
Messages
4,448
Reaction score
918
Location
Canada
Sure, but what is the idea behind modern Christianity's idea that prayer for healing or protection influences God's intervention?
I grew up rather fundamentalist Christian (Church of Christ) and have also studied religion and religious belief at various times throughout my academic career and I can tell you with certainty that...

...I have no idea.

On a serious note, though, there's quite a bit of variation in beliefs in modern Christianity about intercessory prayer. A person can't really say, "Christians believe X about prayer," because many denominations disagree about fundamental aspects of Christianity. If we took a Baptist, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Church of Christ, Disciple of Christ, etc. and put them all in a room together and asked them to explain what Christianity says about prayer, I doubt you'd get much agreement/consistency.

As others have noted, some Christians believe God grants prayer requests if it fits His plan, some Christians believe He will change His plan to grant requests, some believe that He gave us free will and there is only a "goal" but not a deterministic "plan" which means that He will grant prayers/miracles occasionally if the conditions are right, some are probably not really sure what they believe about it, etc.

A person can read an internet article(s) about the history/origins of prayer in Catholicism and Christianity, but that doesn't quite capture the variation and nuance that exists in real life (religion as it is actually preached and practiced) among all the Christian denominations throughout the world.

While I was growing up in the church, I was always kind of confused about intercessory prayer because I was always getting vague, somewhat conflicting messages about it from my preachers, Sunday School teachers, and high school Bible teacher (I graduated from a private Christian school). Back then, I didn't know the word for it ("intercessory") because my church didn't differentiate. Prayer is prayer, ya know?

There are various verses that Christian intercessory prayer beliefs are based on. One of the main ones is Mark 11:24: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[a] it, and it will be yours."

There's also the "Ask and it shall be given unto you" verse from Mark 7, which also implies that prayers will be answered. There are others, too, but those are good for this point.

However, there are also several verses which many Christians interpret as saying that the world operates "according to God's divine plan," like Ephesians 1:11, Jeremiah 29:11-14, and 2 Peter 3:9, just to name a few (there are also references to God having a plan in the OT, such as in Psalms).

There's also the issue of the differences in what is literally in the scriptures and what is actually taught from the pulpits. From my experience, it seems that a lot of Christians have an overall kind of inconsistent and fuzzy idea about prayer and God's plan, but they don't really give it much deep, critical examination (probably because doing so would unravel some logical conundrums).

I was taught that if we pray, God sometimes grants what we ask, but the details of how all that works was always glossed over, therefore always a bit fuzzy to me. I would be told "Everything that happens is according to God's plan" in one sermon, and then in the next week's sermon, I'd hear a lesson on "The Power of Prayer! Ask and it shall be given unto you." So, which is it? I don't know. It seemed that people I grew up with would apply whichever of those beliefs best fit the situation they were in and would allow them to feel more positive about it.

It never really made much logical sense to me (it still doesn't, which is one reason I'm not really religious anymore) and my confusion can be summed up by two flowchart pictures (this one and this one). Those aren't at all meant to belittle or dismiss anyone's beliefs about prayer, but they do highlight the logical inconsistencies in Christian prayer doctrine that I always struggled to reconcile.

Overall, my experiences while I was a Christian and my experiences with Christians from different denominations is that, even though there's a lot of variation and disagreement among Christians about prayer, and many of those beliefs are logically if not doctrinally contradictory, prayer brings them comfort. Some believe that their prayers really do lead to miracles, but I think a lot of them know that nothing will happen and they use the process of prayer as more of a tool to give comfort to themselves and others in times of need. Like a warm blanket in the cold.

If it helps them feel more connected to themselves, their loved ones, and their god, then I don't really see anything wrong with it and I'm glad they have a tool which helps them find peace.

But, for those who really do believe that prayer leads to healing miracles and they rely on prayer rather than medicine to heal their loved ones (kids), then I have a huge problem with it because that belief leads to injury and death of innocent people.
 
Last edited:

Roxxsmom

Beastly Fido
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 24, 2011
Messages
19,953
Reaction score
3,731
Location
Where faults collide
Website
doggedlywriting.blogspot.com
An interesting and educational thread.

As someone who isn't religious and is no scholar of religion, I've always taken the "I'm praying for you," or "Please send prayers" statements as a social nicety or show of solidarity, akin to saying, "I'm thinking of you/sending good thoughts," or "Please keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow during my job interview." Many folks probably don't really believe it does much, if anything, but it's a way of saying "I care," or asking for a show of care.

But from reading this, I can see there's a huge difference between someone who isn't even really religious and thinks of God in a sort of warm, fuzzy, Hallmark card way saying "I'll send prayers" or whatever and someone who subscribes to a very conscious and deliberate theology about prayer and its purpose saying the same thing. It's obviously complicated and has different meanings for different denominations and individuals within. And if someone for whom prayer means a lot says they're praying for me or a loved one, then I take it as an honor, even if I don't share their beliefs and can't understand logically how prayer could make a person survive surgery, recover from a disease that would otherwise have killed them, or go to Heaven if they wouldn't otherwise have done so.
 

CathleenT

I write
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 6, 2014
Messages
5,093
Reaction score
1,970
Location
Northern California
Interesting thread. I'm Catholic, and this is my understanding.

We believe God can do anything, which of course leads to smart-alecks like George Carlin asking, "Hey, Father, can God make a stone so big even he can't lift it"? :)

But seriously, then why does God not act? Why do good people suffer? It's a conundrum that every person of faith has to confront.

The simplest explanation is that we believe God is not alone in terms of supernatural agency. That can also lead to blaming everything bad on the devil, which would be an oversimplification. We believe in free will, that our choices have consequences and we have to own up to them. Much evil in this world (and good) can be directly traced to the actions of humans.

Perhaps part of the reason for intercessory prayer is as simple as God wants to be asked. We believe we are created in his image, and nobody likes to be taken for granted. That's a reason for prayer on its own.

In that sense, it's a courtesy, if you will.

Other than that, Catholics believe that we participate in making God's will happen on earth. A lot of the direct quotes on this come from the saints, but it's rooted in the Bible, too. St Teresa of Avila has been attributed with: "Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours."

The wedding in Cana has already been cited as a Biblical example of intercession. God doesn't need our prayers (or anything else from us). But when Jesus died and the curtain in the tabernacle tore in two, and certainly when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Our Lady at Pentecost, it was a sign that the deal had changed. We were now to work with God to make his will manifest in our world.

That doesn't mean the answer to our prayers is always yes. We believe no prayer is wasted, that God always acts. He doesn't, however, always act in ways we understand. There are numerous accounts of people who didn't have their prayers answered in the manner they were hoping for and were later glad of it, although I've never heard this expanded to someone who was glad that a healing was denied.

Comfort may be given to those who remain. We believe prayers can be used as expiation for sins, not only ours, but those of others (the whole purgatory thing). We don't always know what good comes of our prayers. Sometimes we have tangible results, but most of the time we act in faith. That's why it is faith--not science. What faith is needed to believe gravity works? None at all, merely observation.

My understanding is that we must choose to believe, and that God gives our belief and our prayer power. That he takes our gift of time and love and lifts it up into something better. That we work together to make this world a better place. Or not. It's our choice.
 
Last edited:

chompers

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 19, 2013
Messages
2,506
Reaction score
383
But, for those who really do believe that prayer leads to healing miracles and they rely on prayer rather than medicine to heal their loved ones (kids), then I have a huge problem with it because that belief leads to injury and death of innocent people.
This reminds me of that story...

There was a flood and a man climbed onto his roof to try to escape it. Someone comes by on a boat to rescue the guy. But he declines it and says, "Don't worry about me. God will save me." The guy in the boat leaves. Another boat comes. "Don't worry, God will save me." That boat leaves too. Then a helicopter comes. "Don't worry, God will save me." The man ends up drowning.

Once he is in heaven, he says, "Lord, I thought if I believed in you, you'd be there for me. Why didn't you save me?"

God says, "Why do you think the helicopter and boats came?"
 

ColoradoGuy

I've seen worse.
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 11, 2005
Messages
6,674
Reaction score
1,481
Location
The City Different
Website
www.chrisjohnsonmd.com
Interesting thread. I just have a few things to add.

In some traditions prayer is a public act, witnessed by others; in other traditions it is very much personal between the supplicant and God. I think this affects expectations.

In general I think the potentially transactional aspect of prayer has been a problem for theologians for millennia. This has particularly been so when asking for an answer to a prayer means taking away from someone else, from wars to football games.

Unfortunately the "thoughts and prayers" thing has been appropriated by politicians to replace actual substantive responses to tragedy.
 

Opty

Banned
Joined
Jul 8, 2006
Messages
4,448
Reaction score
918
Location
Canada
This reminds me of that story...

There was a flood and a man climbed onto his roof to try to escape it. Someone comes by on a boat to rescue the guy. But he declines it and says, "Don't worry about me. God will save me." The guy in the boat leaves. Another boat comes. "Don't worry, God will save me." That boat leaves too. Then a helicopter comes. "Don't worry, God will save me." The man ends up drowning.

Once he is in heaven, he says, "Lord, I thought if I believed in you, you'd be there for me. Why didn't you save me?"

God says, "Why do you think the helicopter and boats came?"
I heard that one while growing up in church (but I heard a slightly different version. They're all pretty much the same point, though).

Sorkin included a version of it in an old West Wing episode that I thought was pretty good:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06dQaOZIcH0
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Featured Book