Tag Archives: Prayer

No Answers? No Problem!

My drawing above was inspired by David Hayward’s recent post called “Unanswered Prayer“.  David’s version, below, illustrates a common experience of many who have left Christianity and probably of most people who still call themselves “Christian”.

My version shows some of what distracts a person from noticing that there is nothing in the “Answered Prayer” plate.

David Hayward is a former pastor of a Christian church whose superb blog, nakedpastor, is creatively subtitled, “graffiti artist on the walls of religion”.  Please do visit his site, it is fantastic.  Davids honesty, openness and creativity are incredibly refreshing — and he knows his stuff!

My daughter is a budding artist and we often sit around and discuss David’s drawings.  This is the closest my daughter ever gets to Sunday School!

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Endurance Prayer

I successfully completed my first triathlon on Sunday.  Yeah!  It was actually a short “Adventure Race”: Kayak 2 miles, Bike 20K and Run 5K.  My only real goal for this race was to just complete the race without walking.  I did much better than that, but I did worry about pacing myself and enduring the entire race.  When I ended, I had lots of energy left — darn, I should have pushed harder.   🙂

Below is an example how I might have prayed to God for endurance during such an event in my Christian days.  The diagram illustrates one of the many images I had of my relation to the Divine — remember, I have always been a very visual person.  In this image, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and the Holy Spirit helping us communicate .  This Session of Christ Model is one of the many models I saw during my Divine communications.  I recall often wondering how I was suppose to visualize the communication.  In my post Guidance Prayer, I show how our prayers are simply talking to ourselves — literally, to our many selves.  But in the diagram I made there, I left out The Holy Spirit — ooops.  Sometimes you can’t remember all the correct theology in a prayer.  In fact in my post called  forgetting about Jesus I tell about realizing that leaving “Jesus” out of my prayers can not be as bad as I imagine.  That insight about proper prayer then dramatically accelerated my downward spiritual spiral.

Anyway, without further ado, in this post I am again illustrating this simple phenomena:   the actual mechanics of a Christian endurance prayer.  Let’s start with how a Christian may view his prayer to God to get endurance during a bike race:

Below is a naturalist’s model of what may actually be happening in a person praying for endurance — various sides of the racer push him to do better.  A Christian may hear these voices as being the loving supportive voice of their god.

Hearing God’s voice is easy — especially when you really want to.  I am sure there were several Christians in my race who were being encouraged on by their Lord Jesus.  Similarly, Lord Krishna may have cheered on some Hindu racers.  But for all of us, no matter how we interpreted the voices in our heads, the race was fun and I look forward to another race in four weeks.  Hopefully in this next race I won’t daydream about such silly images and instead, run a little harder.

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How Guidance Prayer Works

Joe had been out of work for three months.  He had diligently applied, without success, to every newspaper job listing in his field.  He did not know what to do next.  So Joe prayed to God (in Jesus’ name, of course) and asked for guidance.

Joe miraculously got an answer.  Honoring the message from God, he called his brother who said he had just recently heard of a job opening at his company.  Within weeks Joe was working and in addition to this blessing, God graced Joe with an improved relationship with his brother.  Joe shared this miraculous story with many people being sure to always give Jesus the thanks.

This may be what Joe thinks occurred:

However, in my view of Self (which involves no spirits, demons or gods), what actually happened may be more accurately modeled with the drawing below.

Joe’s present-self prayed and he listened for that quiet inner voice.  And indeed his other selves, given a quiet ear, were allowed to speak, giving Joe more information than his present-self was privy to.  When Joe heard the firm guiding voice he knew it was not himself (his present-self) so Joe attributed this guidance to his god.  What do you think?

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Prayer Methods

Praying MonkPrayer is not prayer is not prayer.  When someone says they are praying, we really have no idea what that person is doing in their heads.  In Christianity, there are many forms of prayer — as I listed below.  Let me know if you can think of others.

These prayer categories are not mutually exclusive. A person’s prayers may contain mixes of these:

  • Supplication

    • Miracle Prayer:  Supplicating God for healing, protection, success and miracles for self or others
    • Guidance & Self-Corrective Prayer: requesting insight into difficulties or changes in temperament or perspectives.  Prayers for understanding of others or self
    • Endurance Prayer: requesting strength
  • Confessional Prayer: Penitence and repentance.  Telling God the wrongs you have done and asking for forgiveness and intercession
  • Worship & Praise:  Admiration, praise, adoration
  • Thanksgiving Prayer: thankfulness and appreciation
  • Social Prayer:  Prayer directed ostensibly at the deity but meant to bond the group in action or attitude.
  • Meditative or Mystical Prayer
    • Contemplative Prayer:  contemplating on some spiritual topic or emotion
    • Absorptive Prayer:  simply abiding in the presence of God

Even if there is no god listening to these many sorts of prayer (yet alone responding to them), nonetheless, spending time in these mental activities will have an effect on a person.  In this sense, prayer “works” — it changes the mind of the person praying.

One cannot underestimate this brain-on-brain affect.  That is, even if there is no god-on-world, or god-on-brain affect, our activities affect us.  Just as you are what you eat, your are what you think.  Prayer is a way of thinking.  But since all prayer is not the same, these effects differ.  Each different type of prayer will have a different effect on a believer’s mind.  And using the wrong type of prayer for the wrong type of person may have unwanted consequences.  Prayer styles should be chosen carefully.

When I speak of prayer, I am not speaking of causal polite meal prayers and perfunctory church prayers, but those of Christians who make prayer a significant, conscious part of their lives.  Chapter 5 of Oliver Sacks book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” is entitles Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes.  It explores how certain music can haunt us — pleasantly and unpleasantly.  One of my brain worms is the game WeiQi — when I speak with people, I can sometimes see pattern emerging in my mind that try to distract me from conversation.  But I also have a pleasant meditation mindworm — a reminder to breath, pay attention and relax.  It comes to remind me often — it is a pleasant uninvited guest.  Prayer mindworms would would the same for diligent prayer practitioners — coming into their mind during the normal day’s activities to remind the believer of what they have chosen to value.  So if these practice are going to flavor our days, it is wise to choose a practice carefully.

In some contemplative Christian traditions, a mentor will guide a novice to practice sacred contemplative practices on subject matters that suit their personality type.  For example, you don’t want a depressed person contemplating God’s wrath, nor, perhaps, a manic person focusing on miracles.   Instead you want a prayer to strengthen a person’s deficient mental areas and/or weaken their undesirable mental patterns.  So when helping a friend within their own tradition, it may be useful to guide them to prayer styles useful within their own faith that best match their minds.

In the Buddhist tradition, especially in Tibetan Mahayana practice, meditation techniques are likewise geared to match to temperament of the practitioner in a prescriptive, curative manner.  Students, thus, are encouraged to be most careful in choosing their meditation teacher to guide one’s spiritual development.

Questions for readers:

  • In your Christian days (past or present), do feel prayer affected your mind?  What styles do/did you use?
  • If you are an Atheist, can you see the benefit of encouraging a Christian to pursuing one type of prayer over another?  Or is it all bunk to you and all thus a total waste of time?

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How to Hear God’s Voice

How to Hear God's VoiceI would like you to try a thought experiment. With your mouth closed, silently say to yourself, “Open the door.” Alright, say it again and listen to the voice carefully. Does it sound like your own voice? Now, again, in your mind only,  this time whisper silently “Open the door.” Next,  yell it loudly (in you mind).  Listen to the differences.  It is odd to call it “listening” because there is no sound, but you all know what I mean.

Now, in a completely different voice, try saying “Open the door” silently.  If you are a man, use a woman’s voice or you women folk, try a man’s voice.  Make up a voice or imagine someone you know saying it.  Can you hear it?   Does it sound like you?

If you ask people who say God speaks to them, they will describe God’s voice in one of four ways:

  1. By circumstance
    The believer may report it like this: “Well, it was the only college I got accepted at, so God must be speaking to me”.
  2. By an emotional feeling
    The believer may report it like this: “I felt a sudden peace come over my heart and knew it was God speaking to me”.
  3. By a voice in their head
    Congratulations, that is what you just did above. You now know what it is like to hear God’s voice. God may say to you, “Go speak to Mary”, “I want you to become a missionary.” or many other things. Oddly enough, God rarely comes up with something you could not even imagine.
  4. By loud normal voices
    This is due to an abnormal brain — either frank psychosis, stress or a strange constitution.

Let me add one final detail to the phenomena in # 3. Have you ever played with an Oija board? Well, it is a divination board that you lightly touch which mysteriously spells out words.  The Japanese use a similar tool called Kokkuri-san where a penny moves on a piece of paper.  In both of these divination methods the pointer is moved by people (not spirits), but the question is, how intentional is the movement.   Likewise, when you ask your mind a question, it can sometimes speak to you without your present intention of creating the voice, but nonetheless, it is your mind’s voice.  This unintentional conversation with yourself can happen to folks even when they are not seeking God’s voice, it happens even to nonbelievers.

Have you heard voices?

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Theology 101 — Best out there !

This is an amazingly fantastic piece by QualiaSoup. All religous folks who wish to debate their theology should watch this several times, be sure they understand it, then debate this before getting hung up debating any of their scriptural or theological details. Most folks don’t embrace their faith theologically, then I hope they hold that faith lightly and don’t let it divide themselves from others and just use it just as a personal tool. And for those who have a strong intellectual theology, as long as you only use it only to reinforce good emotional and personal habits and don’t use it to hold back science, then fine. But this video may help you as you move your theology closer to reality.

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Trading Jesus for God

I have a challenge for Christians — a mental experiment.  After the experiment, please take the poll at the bottom of the post.

Weighing_GodSo here is the experiment.  Please entertain the following hypothetical situation:  Imagine that someone was able to prove to you that Jesus was not a god — that either he was a totally fictitious person or that he was just another failed generic apocalyptic Jewish doomsayer whose vision failed and he was even surprised himself to be killed before a messiah came or something that dispelled the essential aspects of your belief in Jesus.   I know, it is painful, but for the sake of the experiment, please imagine that you are now convinced Jesus did not die, was not resurrected and did not have a divine nature.

OK, now, once you believe this, my question is, “Do you still believe in God?

Pause and think about it before reading further.  Now, I am assuming that most committed Christians reading this have a prayer life where they talk to God.  Well, they probably talk to Jesus too.  Well, they jump back and forth and remind themselves constantly that they are really the same.  But either way, they are talking to God.  And many would even say they have a relationship with God.

So, if you have a relationship with God but are now convinced that the Jesus story is all false, do you keep talking to God?  Or would you totally give up on God and the whole deal?

Would some of you say, “Well, I still believe in God” and then become a Jew or a Mystic.”   Or would you just say, “Wow, I really fooled myself and I have just been talking to myself all along — I am out of this.”

Let me tell you my story, to offer full disclosure.  When this happened to me, I was very uncomfortable with admitting that I had been talking to no one all these years.  I then explored (in this order) Mystical Christianity, Judaism, General Mysticism, Raja Yoga, and then Buddhism.  It took me a long time to give up Theism.  Remember, you have to assume the Jesus story has proved to be false in this experiment.  Go in your prayer head and imagine trying to talk to God now.  What would happen?

So here is the conclusion of the experiment.  Please answer the poll. I’d appreciate choosing one of the answers even if a stretch from the way you’d phrase it. But if you can’t, please leave a comment below. Thank you !

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Self-Talk Prayer DOES work

Praying to GodAnother excellent post by Tom Rees at Epiphenom shows that prayer works.   Mind you, as my previous post showed, magic prayer does not work, but prayer that amounts to self talk does work.  I have often said that the problem with people who deconvert from their religion is that they often throw the baby out with the wash.  So, for those of you Atheists who use to have a deep prayer life, start talking to yourself more and you may be surprised to find God back in your heart again !

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Praying for the Sick does NOT work

dont pray for sickEpiphenom posted a great review of a 2009 meta-analysis that firmly shows that prayer for the sick does not work. So don’t waste your time. Instead, visit them, send them money, write them letters, help their families.  Practical compassion helps people while kneeling, squinting and talking in your head to an imaginary spirit is a waste of time.

Source: Roberts L, Ahmed I, Hall S, & Davison A (2009). Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2)

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