Why pray?


I think I’m right in saying that most Christians subscribe to the idea that prayers can and do influence outcomes. These outcomes can include the health and happiness of us humans. This strikes me as pretty odd. Surely if God exists, and is both omniscient and omnibenevolent - both fairly orthodox notions, I would assume - he always knows what is best for his creatures, and always acts likewise. In which case prayer is unnecessary.

I might add that as an agnostic who finds the idea of a loving God very seductive, I find this conundrum less perplexing than the idea that prayers actually do influence the health and happiness of human beings. For surely a God who shows greater favor to those who have more people praying for them; or who decided to heal a dying child because enough people asked him to, when he might not have done otherwise, is, in fact, a devil.

I realize none of this is very original. But it bugs me a lot. I would be glad to learn what people here think - most of whom, from what I can tell, really do believe in a God of love (as opposed to paying lip service to the idea, as do infernalists of whatever hue).


Antonius, I’ve thought about this a lot, and the only conclusion I can come to is that our prayers actually do something in the spirit realm/dimension/whatever – something beyond just begging God to do X. Sometimes prayers “work” and sometimes they don’t seem to. I could reconcile myself with the idea that prayer isn’t mere asking; it’s rather, communication with our Father. However, if I tell myself this, I feel I’m not telling the whole truth, because even the word “prayer” basically means that one is making some request.

I read about a study some scientists did regarding prayer, and I wish I remembered where to find it, because I’m sure I’m not remembering it perfectly. The results seemed to indicate that prayers in which the pray-er personally prayed, in the presence of the pray-ee, and (I believe) touched the pray-ee, tended to elicit a statistically significant increase in recovery, whereas pray-ers, of whom the pray-ee was not aware, didn’t seem to make much difference. If the pray-ee WAS aware that thousands of people were praying for him, then recover WAS enhanced.

Not that I’m basing my doctrine on one study, dimly remembered, but there are a lot of things in the bible, particularly things Jesus said, that seem to me to indicate that prayer isn’t just something we ask for and God does. The asking seems to be an important factor, and it seems to be important that the asking is done correctly. Such as when Jesus said, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and it will be done as you say.”

Jesus usually laid hands on the people He was praying for. There must have been a reason for that. I don’t know whether this was a typically Jewish way of praying for the sick, but I do know that according to the scriptures, His ministry was met with shocked amazement, and with jealousy on the part of the religious leaders of the time. Maybe laying hands on was common (I don’t know), but the positive results were a surprise.

I read an interesting article in one of my nursing journals once about the importance of touching our patients (appropriately and with permission of course). Patients who were touched recovered more quickly and had more favorable results from treatments. Patients who were touched and prayed for had an even better outcome. (Again, permission must be willingly granted.) I was caring for a patient who had brainstem damage and could not breath on his own. The doctors said he would have to use a respiration machine for the rest of his life. He was a young father and I felt so bad for him. At the end of my shift, I asked him if he’d like me to pray for him and he indicated “yes,” so I touched his arm and prayed a short prayer out loud, then said goodbye. I was off for four days. When I came back, he was gone. I figured he must have died. How’s that for faith? :unamused: As it turns out, he had started breathing on his own, so the doctor started weaning him off the respirator that morning after I went home (I worked nights). By the time I came back to work, he was in a regular medical room downstairs, awaiting his discharge.

Now a person could make all sorts of excuses for this and maybe they’d be right. The doctors were wrong. I misunderstood the doctors. It was just one of those things. Could be. But it happened just as I’ve told you here, and I think it was a legitimate divine healing. Would God have just, on His own, healed him if I hadn’t done that? I don’t think so, really. Maybe someone else would have prayed for him in that way, and he’d have been healed. I guess it’s like, if I don’t fix my husband breakfast, nobody else is going to do it, including God. He’ll do it for himself of course, but this guy, he couldn’t do it for himself. He needed somebody else to do that, and I did it. If I hadn’t done it, well, it probably wouldn’t have been done. That’s not because God is a monster. It’s just that some things, WE have to do, because it’s our job.

More often than not, when I pray for a person, they don’t get healed. Sometimes they do. I think I probably just don’t practice enough, because I’m afraid it won’t work – like a kid who doesn’t want to go ice skating because he often falls down. If I did it more, then honestly, I think I’d get better at accessing that power that I believe God wants us to access. He won’t do it for us. Maybe He can’t do it for us – just as your dad couldn’t ride your bicycle for you. All he could do was coach you until you figured it out. This is our planet to rule – maybe our universe even, to rule. We have to learn to ride that bicycle. Not even God can ride it for us perhaps, because it’s OUR bicycle, and WE have to ride it.

I think that we have to agree that a thing will be done, and that for us, it isn’t all that easy. We have this grip on what we believe to be “reality,” but our “reality” may not even exist in the context of eternity. It MAY be no more than a thought. If we can let go the iron grip of our physical senses and the ruts in which our thought patterns constantly flow, we might be able to jump the tracks (so to speak) and in fact see that mountain move.

In any case, if you’re not into all this quantum stuff, a lot of what I’ve said may not make much sense. (sorry :blush: ) I do believe that the matter of prayer and answers to prayer is a two-way thing. Jesus gave us the teaching to follow, though it’s been very difficult for us to do that. We need to learn. It isn’t that God does or doesn’t answer prayers so much, I think, as that we have a part to play and that our prayers actually DO something (or are intended to do something) other than merely to beg for supernatural intervention. We are the conduit, and we are clogged up for some reason. Probably our doubts – and not getting X done isn’t a punishment for doubt – it’s a symptom of doubt. It might not matter that much, btw, what your brain believes. It may be more important what YOU DO, and how persistent you are at trying to push through. We’ve got to keep trying to learn to ride that bike, or we’ll never learn it. If we don’t learn it, then that’s not a lack in God’s goodness, but in our faith to persevere.

These are merely my musings, and inadequate I fear. But maybe someone else will jump in here and unjumble this for me. :wink:

Welcome to the forum, btw, and thanks for an excellent discussion point.

Blessings, Cindy


Oh my gosh, Cindy! That was an awesome reply. I loved the part about " If we can let go the iron grip of our physical senses and the ruts in which our thought patterns constantly flow, we might be able to jump the tracks (so to speak) and in fact see that mountain move." The definitive aspect of prayer is that is spiritual. Any sort of physical or perceptual thing that happens is because God interacts with us. :slight_smile:

As for the philosophy of Christian prayer, the idea is that there is a desire or hope for some greater power, Jesus, to act on our behalf because we are incompetent, basically. The neat thing about all of this is that you don’t have to be a Christian, in name, for prayer to be effective. While the meaning of prayer is ‘request’ as Cindy states, it really should be defined as communication with the Divine. I base this off what I hear from people when they say they are praying to God. They’re not asking for stuff, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s all about what we can’t see or don’t normally value. I submit to you that prayer is a means of acknowledging the presence of Jesus and reaching out to Him as He is already reaching out to us. After all, when I hear people sincerely pray, they’re usually telling God how He is worthy of worship.

From a Biblical perspective, He is knocking on the doors of our hearts (this can be found somewhere in the Book of Revelation, I forget where exactly). This often gets construed as a plea for salvation but it is a whole lot deeper. It’s really about how immediate God is in this life. Since He is eternally present and sovereign AND He loves us (John 3:16), He shows us a way out of our current mindset of fear and negative thinking and dead religion and sin and so on. Prayer is opening the door to new opportunities, particularly to letting God live inside of you, so to speak. What this actually means is that the way you live is patterned how God would live if He lived your life.

This might sound intimidating or threatening or pushy but it is the only “good” option. There is either slavery to sin or slavery to righteousness. Connecting the dots, when we pray we allow the possibility of becoming like Jesus, for better or worse. Hands down, I think Jesus is worth it.


I am friends with a Roman Catholic priest, who has the gift of healing and can hear the voice of God. I’ve been on the receiving end of his healing services many times. He always says that, “God either gives us what we want or something better for eternity.” I have pondered this many times.

And it raises the question: does God answer the prayers of non-Christians? I believe he does. I’ve seen many prayers answered in the Native American ceremonial prayer practices. In fact, I’ve been invited to them and joined them many times. But then, I do believe they have a covenant with God, like he still does with the Jewish people (i.e. also a Roman Catholic viewpoint on the Jewish people).

I have also attended a few Christian Science Wednesday evening testimonial meetings in the past. What was interesting was all the sharing of answered prayers.


Prayer, I believe, is sacramental, a means of grace. It is a means of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


Hi Cindy

Thank you for your very thoughtful and honest response. I’m not sure if I’m less or more perplexed now!

I’m interested in that prayer experiment you mention. It makes sense to me that sick people would have better recovery rates if they knew a lot of folk were praying for them, but for purely ‘natural’ reasons - some form of placebo effect, if you will. Surely it’s the ones who get better who didn’t know who present the challenge to rationalism. Although the study you mention seems to imply that there aren’t so many of those.

Maybe the person you prayed for really did get better when he otherwise wouldn’t have. But doesn’t that worry you? Say you hadn’t prayed, and the guy had died? Would that have made you somehow culpable for his death? A sin of omission? (Not that I would say that. I’d say you did good. But you seem to be saying that about yourself almost.)

I’m with you all the way on the quantum stuff, by the way. There’s a common misconception that science has got nature all figured out, but I say hooey to that. Not that I understand quantum mechanics, gosh no. But I am pretty sure that what we call ‘reality’ is really nothing like. A little learning and all that …

Thanks again for being brave enough to engage with a really tough question. It’s my experience that most Christians don’t want to think about this sort of stuff, perhaps because it rocks their worldview too much. It did mine.


Hi Nick

I’m encouraged to hear you say that you don’t have to be a Christian for your prayers to be effective. There’s a whole bunch of Christian-type folk who might disagree with you there!

Maybe prayer is those things you say it is, “letting God live inside of you” etc. You say, “when we pray we allow the possibility of becoming like Jesus.” I do like the sound of that. Except I don’t know if I want to become more like Jesus. I feel like I want to be free to be more like myself.


This isn’t so much the problem of prayer for me as the problem of why God allows us to do anything at all. Why gives creatures the ability to do what he could do by simple fiat? We have causative agency that can actually affect the course of the universe. I think the problem makes more sense if we view the world as “fallen”, and view God’s relation to us one of real “risk” (on his part and ours) where the future is partly “open.” In that case, prayer really does cause things to happen that otherwise wouldn’t. And it helps too to remember Christianity assumes a non materialist worldview - a world where we exist in a spiritual realm as well as a physical, and where our powers operate across the space-time continuum in very mysterious ways.


Here’s a good reason to pray:

Philippians 4:6-7New King James Version (NKJV)

6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.



I love your desire to understand others’ thinking! Personally, I too would be troubled if God’s favor depends on the number of pray-ers a person happens to have, and I resonate with your notion that prayer is about changing me and my outlook or insight, more than about changing God. Still, I’m not sure that already knowing what is best means that a prayer of request should never make a difference in what God did. As a parent, I may recognize what would be ideal for my child. Yet in some situations, whether my help toward that would be best or healthy is influenced by my child’s openness to such assistance, as manifested in asking for help. What if God were like a father who knows that his strength brings the most blessing when we humbly acknowledge that we need and desire it?

Blessings on you,
Bob Wilson


Hey Antonius,
I’m glad you are encouraged by those words. I just wanted to mention a response to your quote “I feel like I want to be free to be more like myself.”
I think I understand now when you say that you are agnostic. I do not mean that as a jab at you but I think I understand you better now. I’m interested in knowing a little bit more about your background.
You also mention the idea of a loving god as very seductive. What do you think about the notion of loving God in return? Do you think that has an impact on prayer? I ask because I think you are onto something that most Christians don’t bother to think about. For me, having a view of a loving God makes me want to love and talk to Him in return.



Thanks for coming back. :slight_smile: Lots of people don’t, but even if they don’t, they are a benefit in getting us to discuss things that might not otherwise come up. Anyway – it’s fine. I’d never expect anyone to agree to everything I say. Some of it I’m not all that sure about myself. But if I don’t put it out there, I think I miss part of the development process for spinning the mass together into something more coherent and useful. Regarding the guy with the brain stem damage, first, he wasn’t actually in danger of dying particularly (but that happens so much in critical care that you’re always kind of halfway expecting it anyhow.) He was in danger of having to carry around a portable respirator for the rest of his life, though. At the time, the doctors and staff felt it was a done deal. I’ve always wondered whether if I hadn’t prayed for him, whether anyone else would have done that, in that way, and whether he’d have recovered. It seems a heavy responsibility, but then there are a whole lot of things that if we don’t do them, they won’t get done and others will suffer because we failed to act.

If that were to result in people spending eternity in hell, it would be a much bigger problem. Most of us here are very doubtful of that possibility. The worst damage we can do is to make of earth a hell, or fail to make it more heavenly when we could have done that. Bad enough, quite, but thankfully, not permanent. Inexcusable? Kind of – we have to learn to love one another, so unlove can’t be excused; it must be rectified at some point. I don’t think Father allows us the power to do irreparable damage, though.

Regarding prayer being a placebo effect – if it is, it’s a remarkably effective placebo, and I wonder why? Most placebo effects are very, very weak. They work best against psychosomatic illness and inconsistently even then. When you have a documented physical condition, placebos seldom do anything at all. That’s a big reason we so seldom use them. While it’s true that many people who are prayed for never recover, no matter how the praying is done, some do, and it’s a statistically significant some. Placebos don’t cause the brain stem to repair itself from severe trauma, dissolve tumors, heal broken bones instantly. So while I do think prayer is often a placebo, for small things, things that may even be under our subconscious control such as a headache, etc., it seems to me there’s more to it than that.

Anyway . . . I’ve got to get going. You got me thinking, and I like to put that down before I lose track and forget. :wink:

Blessings, Cindy


There are a lot of reasons for praying.

For one it builds up our relationship with God. Can you sustain a relationship easily without communication?

Plus it helps God build us up.