A man's hands clasped in prayer resting upon an open Bible

A Reflection on Christian Prayer

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I spent many years as a practicing Christian, and there are still certain modes of mind that I experience that have been strongly influenced by the Bible and by the behaviour of Christians. For instance, many times every day I feel the urge to pray.

Prayer is a curious thing. When we pray, we are asking things of God, but in reality, God is in control of the thought processes that arise in our minds during prayer (see this article), so there is a sense in which human prayer is really God praying to Himself. This is somewhat absurd.

A common Christian prayer is one that asks for God’s will to be done (for instance, the ‘Thy will be done’ of The Lord’s Prayer). It is a strange thing to pray for God’s will to be done, because there is absolutely nothing and no one in the entirety of existence that can stop God’s will being done. It is, therefore — at least from this perspective — a rather meaningless petition.

Of course, in the Christian worldview it does make sense to pray in this way, because Christians believe we are all involved in a spiritual battle between the forces of good on the one hand (encapsulated in the person and teachings of Christ), and evil on the other hand (the work of Satan). From this perspective, God is seen as separate from, but intervening in, our life’s circumstances, so petitioning God to bring about His will makes sense.

The truth, however, is that if God is omnipresent, and not only the creator but also the sustainer and animator of all there is (which is my understanding of the nature of things, argued extensively in my books and on this blog), everything that happens is under God’s control, and there is no free will. If satanic forces exist, these are also under God’s control.

I do believe prayer can be an important part of the lives of human beings, but only if that prayer is consistent with the true nature of reality and the fact that God is sovereign over all events. While, as a statement of fact, it might be comforting to remind ourselves during prayer that God is in control, I don’t see any harm in dispensing with repetitive, ritualistic prayers asking for God’s will to be done, when really, there can be no other way.