This may or may not be a cynical barb. And yet, it reflects the thinking of many intelligent Americans. Not everyone who agrees with the above statement does so happily. There are those who only quietly acknowledge it as the substance of their own thoughts.
There are many who once sought comfort in prayer but have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that it is a hollow practice.
Is prayer the reflexive response of those who are either incapable or unwilling to respond in the face of need?
If yes to the first, prayer is a placebo for an aching heart. It doesn’t really do anything. One does get a sense of relief, untethered from reality though it may be.
If yes to the second, it is the practitioner of prayer, not the unbeliever, who is being cynical. If the first makes prayer a placebo, the second makes prayer a replacement for action. Could any goodhearted, intelligent person accept either
Prayer is not a placebo for an aching heart. If not the most famous prayer of all time, the Lord’s Prayer by Jesus surely cracks the top ten. It begins, “Our Father…” The actual word he used for father is closest to our word daddy. The prayer of Jesus begins with confident affection. It is the same kind of unflinching happiness seen in the face of a toddler, playing in the lap of a good dad, as though nothing were wrong in the world. We do know, however, that all is not right with the world. We carry with us a suspicion that reality is not what it should be.
No stranger to global crisis and deep hurts, C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Prayer is our connection to life as it should be. Just as pillow talk bonds the minds and hearts of lovers, prayer is the mortar that binds our thinking and our affections to the real person and purposes of God. This world is not as it should be. There are and will continue to be deep, good, unfulfilled longings until this world is made right and made new. Prayer is not a placebo. It’s the pathway to the only salve for the soul.
Prayer is not a replacement for action. Returning to Jesus’ model prayer, there is a declaration. “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” More than a simple turn of phrase, this the anthem of those who pray. God, your way is best, yet what you intend is not fully realized. As I long for life to be as it should, I commit to align all of my life and all of my efforts to honor your will.
Jesus distilled all of what that means into a single word, love. That word is not a placeholder for the froth of emotion. It’s action, it’s undaunted commitment to the good of others.
Augustine is remembered for saying, “God provides the wind, but man must raise the sails.” The efforts we contribute are insufficient on their own, yet simultaneously indispensable.
Prayer is not a replacement for action; it is a call to action.