The Power of Prayer - Overreaching Promises/Underwhelming Results

 

Although the Bible is often vague, inconsistent, and/or plainly contradictory on a number of issues (See here and here for some examples.), this is not generally the case regarding what can be expected when a person of sincere faith petitions God through prayer. A number of verses address this expectation directly and in (for the Bible) surprisingly unambiguous and consistent language. Some verses (bold emphasis mine) that concern themselves with the topic of supplicatory prayer, where the petitioner asks God for something, are as follows:          

Matthew 7:7-8:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. [Interpretation: Anyone who asks God for something will receive it. See also Luke 11:9-10.]

 

Matthew 7:11:

 

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?  [Interpretation: Considering that even you heathens know how to give good gifts to your children, just think how much better the gifts will be if you ask God, the ultimate gift giver, to give them to you, his children.]    

 

Matthew 17:20:

 

… for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. [Interpretation: Even if someone’s faith is only marginal, nothing will be impossible for them – including causing mountains to miraculously migrate from one place to another by simply speaking to them. (Someone should tell construction companies that pay big bucks for excavating equipment that they are doing it the hard way.)]

 

Matthew 18:19:

 

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. [Interpretation: If two people pray together for the anything, their request will be granted by the powers on high.]

 

Matthew 21:21-22:

 

If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree [miraculous withering], but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. [Interpretation: Faith cannot only make possible the premature withering of fig trees, it can also cause mountains to hurl themselves into the sea. If someone who is sincere in their faith prays for anything, they will get it, no strings attached.]  

 

The message is reiterated Mark 11:24:

 

Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. [Interpretation: If a person prays for anything, and truly believes they will get it, they will.]

 

John 11:22:

 

But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of god, god will give it thee. [Interpretation: Ask god for anything, and he will give it to you.]

 

John 14:13-14:

 

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my [Jesus’] name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. [Interpretation: Pray for anything in Jesus’ name and you will get whatever you ask for because god wants to glorify Himself through the actions of his son.]

 

John 15:7:

 

If ye abide in me [Jesus], and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. [Interpretation: If a person is a sincere Christian, they will receive whatever they want by asking through prayer.]

 

John 16:23-24:

 

...Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. [Interpretation: God will give you whatever you ask for in Jesus’ name because he wants you to be happy. (Indeed, who wouldn’t be full of joy if they were given everything they desired?)]

 

James 1:5-6:

 

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering... [Interpretation: Are you mystified, confused, perplexed about a particular subject? Just ask God "in faith" without any doubt, and He will clarify matters for you. (This requirement for unwavering faith is at odds with Matt. 17:20 where it is said a rather meager faith "as a grain of mustard seed" is all that is required to move mountains through prayer.)]

 

James 4:2:

 

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. [Interpretation:  Quit fighting and lusting over the things you want and ask (God) for them. The implication being that He will give them to you if you will just ask. See a discussion of James 4:3 below.]    

 

James 5:14-16:

 

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess you faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. [Interpretation: Slathering a sick person with oil and praying for them will cure their illness. The heartfelt prayer of a true believer is very efficacious in healing the sick. (That will come as a surprise to those who conducted the most comprehensive study to date on the purported healing effects of prayer. See here. See also here for more discussion on the failure of prayer to consistently deliver scientifically verifiable health benefits. And see here for more Bible verses that tout the healing power of prayer.)]       

 

Are there any limitations on what one can accomplish through prayer? Not according to Mark 9:23:

 

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. [Interpretation: There are no limitations on what a person can accomplish if that person believes in Jesus when he makes a request.  (Including, in this instance, having a “dumb and deaf spirit” exorcised from one’s son.)]  

 

According to the Bible, some basic necessities will even be provided to righteous people regardless whether they work (or pray) for them, or not. Matthew 6:31-34:

 

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink?  or, Wherewithal  shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. [Interpretation:  People who seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness will not have to worry about obtaining the essentials of life (food, drink, clothes). God will provide these privileged individuals with these essentials because He knows they need them – no asking or praying required.]

 

“Ask and Ye Shall Receive”

 

According to a straightforward interpretation of the aforementioned Bible verses related to prayer, all any faithful, believing Christian (i.e., one who believes wholeheartedly in the word of the Bible) has to do is to ask God (in Jesus’ name) for anything “whatsoever” and the Bible ensures that they will receive it. God, according to these verses, will always answer "yes." Other than the requirement that the petitioner must be a devoted Christian who prays to God in Jesus’ name, there are no additional stipulations in these verses. If such a person prays to God for anything (marital advice, miraculous healing of a loved one, getting an A on a test, being promoted at work, or an end to world hunger, you name it), it “shall be done unto” them and they “shall receive” it – no ifs, ands, or buts. This is not one of those subjects where the Bible contains numerous divergent teachings so that verses can be easily cherry-picked to support virtually any point of view. In the case of prayer, the Bible is surprisingly consistent in its message. All faithful, abiding Christians who pray in the name of Jesus will get “any thing”, “all things”, and “whatsoever” they ask for and “nothing shall be impossible” for them.

 

If these claims were true, no prayer from a devout Christian should ever go unanswered – not a single one. With all the Christians in the world (some two billion of them), there should be thousands or millions of answered prayers every day. If that were the case, even the most rabid skeptics would be hard pressed to argue against the power of prayer.     

 

Vast Promises.  Half-vast Results.

 

So what kind of success rate does supplicatory prayer by committed Christians actually enjoy? Is it 100% as the preponderance of Bible verses unequivocally claim it is?  In my experience, even the most zealous Bible thumpers will reluctantly admit that they sometimes get shortchanged in the prayer answering department. Less dogmatic Christians will grudgingly acknowledge that prayer is often a rather hit and miss proposition. And, in cases where the efficacy of intercessory healing prayer has been examined statistically, the success rate has been found to be no better (and sometimes even worse) than that predicted by random chance alone.

 

In the preceding verses, the Bible promises, in no uncertain terms, that all prayers (uttered in Jesus’ name) by all believing Christians will be positively responded to by giving them anything and everything they ask for. But in reality, prayers are seldom answered as the Bible promises they will be. (In response to those who claim otherwise, see selection bias.)  In fact, when prayers whose results can be quantified are put to the test, they fail miserably. To put it bluntly, in the case of prayer (among other things), the Bible is guilty of blatant false advertising.  If prayer were some kind of process that came under the jurisdiction of government regulatory agencies, it would have been banned long ago as an unreliable, over-hyped panacea, along with a slew of other ineffectual quack remedies.

 

Damage Control

 

So how do Christians deal with the dilemma created by the obvious discrepancy between what the Bible preaches about the expectations of prayer and their personal experiences? Some of the more liberal Christians deal with this contradiction by acknowledging that certain parts of the Bible make exorbitant claims that are not to be taken literally. Other Christians are either unaware of these unsupported claims or simply ignore them. However, the situation is particularly problematic for fundamentalist Christians who contend that the Bible is inerrant in every respect. In the case of prayer, they are faced with the realization that the Bible promises a great deal more than it delivers. As such, their common response to the cognitive dissonance that this dilemma induces is to invent contrived excuses in an attempt to explain the discrepancy away. Some of their more creative attempts utilize Bible verses which they construe as adding further restrictions. However, as discussed below, even these verses cannot extricate them from the horns of their dilemma.

 

Selected Bible Verses to the Rescue

 

· 1 John 5:14-15:

 

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:  And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

 

The stipulation here is that God selectively grants prayers only if they accord with his will. Now there’s a handy copout. According to all the other preceding verses, God will grant anything any sincere Christian asks for (if they ask in Jesus’ name) with no exceptions. But 1 John 5: 14-15 (and only 1 John 5:14-15) adds the caveat that God honors His word only if it suits His fancy. One would think that the things sincere Christians ask for in prayer would, by in large, comport with the will of God. (Isn’t that what being a Christian is supposed to be all about - bringing a person closer to the will of God?) Instead, considering this passage and the infrequency of answered prayer, it appears that God’s will and the things Christians pray for are, more often than not, at cross purposes. All those lessons in the Bible that are supposed to guide believers closer to God’s will appear to be not having the desired pedagogical effect.

 

So how is a believing Christian to know if their prayer request jibes with the will of God? Well, according to James 1:5, all they have to do is ask God for the “wisdom” to determine if their request meets the proper qualifications. According to this aforementioned verse, God will eagerly clarify matters for them if they will just ask Him. That being the case, there should never be any doubt about whether or not a particular prayer request will be answered. In keeping with the teachings of the Bible then, here’s a simple, fool-proof technique that should guarantee “true” Christians a 100% success rate when they pray to God to act on their behalf:

 

1.      Decide specifically what it is that they want God to do for them.

2.      Beseech God for the “wisdom” to discern whether or not their request is in agreement with His will, vis-a-vis James 1:5.

3.      If the imparted “wisdom” leads them to the conclusion that the answer is no, they should go back to the drawing board.

4.      If their newfound insight leads them to an affirmative answer, they should commence praying, confident that God will deliver whatever they ask for.

 

Using this technique, time will not be wasted praying for things that are contrary to God’s will and those who pray should receive everything and anything they ask for.  (Disclaimer: Any difficulties encountered in receiving unambiguous “wisdom” from on high or any other problems experienced in achieving satisfactory results from this procedure should be dealt with by directly contacting God Himself, from whose Good Book these straightforward instructions were derived.)  

 

Rather than providing a rational explanation for the fact that many prayers go unanswered, 1 John 5:14-15 inadvertently reveals the futility of ever praying to God for anything in the first place.  According to the Bible, God’s plan (will) has been established in immutable form since the beginning of time. (See substantiation of this premise in the discussion of God’s omniscience here.). If that is true, then nothing that anyone asks for now can have slightest effect on the predetermined course of history. If everyone’s fate is predestined, then praying for anything that could alter the pre-programmed flow of events is a complete waste of time. Furthermore, an omniscient God would know precisely what everyone wanted regardless whether they prayed for it, or not. That being the case, listening to prayers would be a waste of His time as well.   

 

Taking these biblical teachings regarding God's omniscience into consideration, if someone prays to God and subsequently receives what they asked for, the outcome is nothing but an adventitious happenstance. Their prayer appears to have been fulfilled simply because that is what God had planned for that individual since time began. The fact that they realized an outcome that they desired is coincidental to the fact that they prayed for it.

 

Supplicatory prayer is, in essence, begging God to change His mind and to deviate from His pre-ordained script to accommodate the desires of the petitioner. The Bible says that God is immutable and does not change His mind. (See Mal. 3:6; Ps. 102:25-27; and Heb. 13:8.) Hence, in accordance with God's unchanging character as described in these verses, praying is an exercise in futility.

 

· James 4:3:

 

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

 

Here another disqualifier is presented to account for the fact that some prayers go unanswered. In this case, it is disclosed that God will not fulfill prayers that are inappropriately motivated by the desire to satisfy one’s base pleasures – specifically the desires of adulterers and adulteresses in this instance. Now there’s a no-brainer for you. Surely, most Christians have sense enough to steer clear of asking God for things that are sought merely to titillate their lustful yearnings. One would think that it would be obvious to them to avoid praying for gratification from things that fall into categories that are clearly frowned upon in the Bible, e.g., gambling, adultery, homosexuality, excessive usury, invoking curses, critical thinking, etc. The instances of half-way-sensible Christians praying for outcomes designed to gratify pleasures that are offensive to God have got be pretty darn few and far between. (If believing Christians have not figured out that lustful desires do not harmonize with the will of God, then the Bible is doing a mighty poor job of getting its message across. Ditto, if praying Christians have serious trouble distinguishing lustful desires from righteous ones.) While James 4:3 may explain the failure to answer certain prayers involving pleasure-seeking or selfish motives (or, stretched further, prayers that encompass biblically verboten subjects in general), it could only account for a rather inconsequential portion of those that go unanswered. It should be obvious to discerning Christians that praying for such things as winning the lottery or scoring a hot date are not going to rank at the top of God's list of prayer-answering priorities. If not, then the Bible is woefully inadequate in clarifying such matters, and/or preachers are ineffective in getting the word out, and/or Christians, as a whole, are seriously lacking in reading comprehension skills.

 

· Psalms 66:18:

 

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the LORD will not hear me:

 

This verse is a handy catchall excuse that can be used to explain away any prayer that goes unanswered. Here an attempt is made to put the onus for unanswered prayer on the sinful nature of the petitioner. Are most believing Christians really so wicked and sinful that God reflexively turns a deaf ear to their prayer requests? Are God’s standards so unrealistically high that (judging from the poor success rate) very few Christians actually cut the mustard when it comes to having their prayers fulfilled? If one has to be essentially sin free to make the grade, why bother to pray at all?  No one that I know of meets that requirement. 

 

If harboring iniquity in one’s heart disqualifies a person from having their prayers heard by God, why was there no mention of this restriction in the first 15 New Testament verses I quoted in this article? Why is this qualifier only mentioned in a rather obscure verse buried in the Old Testament? (It is as if God were trying to sucker people into playing the prayer game while hiding some of the rules.)  What about all those Christians who sincerely confess and repent of their sins on a regular basis? Shouldn’t they enjoy a higher success rate regarding answered prayer than do other run-of-the-mill Christians? There is no evidence, that I am aware of, that they do.

 

Considering all the foregoing passages, the Bible teaches that, so long as sincere believing Christians pray in the name of Jesus, pray in accordance with the will of God (easily ascertained vis-a-vis James 1:5) and do not pray to satisfy lustful desires (should be second nature for the vast majority of them) anything and everything they ask for will be granted to them. Unfortunately, getting specifically what one asks for in prayer is a rather rare occurrence. According to the apologists, it can’t be that the Bible is wrong about prayer, or that the theology is wrong, or that God (if He exists) is unresponsive to all prayer. The Bible leaves only one other explanation for this less than stellar performance. It must be then that most Christians are so full of evil thoughts that their prayers aren’t worthy of God’s consideration. If most Christians have such filthy hearts and vile dispositions that God repeatedly ignores their prayers, what good then are all those biblical morality lessons that many have had drummed into their heads from the time they were infants?

 

A Not-So-Hypothetical Scenario

 

Consider the following scenario. A devout Christian couple has a young son who is suffering from the advanced stages of bone cancer.  The child cries out in agony for them to make the unrelenting pain go away. Trusting in the word of the Bible (Matthew 18:19 and James 5:14-16), the distraught couple prays fervently in Jesus’ name for their young child to be cured of his disease and restored to good health. As is most often the outcome in these types of situations, the child lingers on in pain for several weeks and finally succumbs to his illness.

 

Surely the cessation of pain and the restoration of heath for this young child would not contradict God’s will, would they? Surely extended suffering and the premature death of a young person would not be “according to His will”, would they?  It is inconceivable that such a heartfelt plea could be misconstrued in any sense as a having lustful connotations. Presumably, since these are good Christians, an unacceptable level of iniquity in their hearts shouldn’t disqualify them from consideration either.  (One the other hand, why should it make any difference if the parents harbored iniquity in their hearts, or not. It is the wellbeing of the child that is a stake here. If God has His priorities straight, the condition of the hearts of the parents should be irrelevant with respect to what they are praying for in this situation. It shouldn’t matter to a God who is said to be merciful, gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness, truth, and loving kindness (Exod. 34:6; 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 5:13; Ps. 103:17, 106:1; etc.) whether Mother Teresa or Adolph Hitler were praying for the child. He should be focusing on the plight of the child, not the degree of iniquity of the parents.) Yet, in spite of meeting all the criteria set forth in the Bible, their prayers still went unanswered.  Although what I have described is hypothetical, in real life, similar types of scenarios play themselves out all too frequently on a daily basis - encompassing everything from the failure of prayer to save miners trapped underground to its inability to protect children abducted by crazed killers in their schools. 

 

While selected Bible verses may help some Christians rationalize the fact that their prayers so often go unanswered, they are, in reality, nothing but convenient copouts.  Most believing Christians would be expected to rather easily satisfy the conditions specified in these verses, i.e., accordance with God’s will, avoidance of lustful intentions, and having an acceptably righteous attitude. (If not, then it must be acknowledged that Bible study is an ineffective means of engendering proper moral behavior.)  And, if these conditions are met, the preponderance of scripture dealing with prayer states, in no uncertain terms, that all their prayers will be answered in the affirmative. The fact that the results fall far short of supporting these grandiose claims provides yet another example why the Bible is not the unwavering beacon of truth that it is so often cracked up to be.

 

Prayer Nixes Free Will

 

Christians commonly pray for God to intervene to influence their own decisions or fortunes, or those of others. For example, they might pray that they will receive one job offer in preference to another, that they will directed to choose the best remedy for an illness from a list of many, that they will be guided to make the proper choice regarding an investment, or that scientists will cease choosing evolution over biblical creation. However, any intervention by God in these instances to honor the requests of the petitioners would nullify the concept of free will. If God acts to influence our choices or modifies circumstances to eliminate our need to make certain choices, then free will, which is all about making personal independent decisions, is null and void. Any intervention by God to make up our minds for us is incompatible with the concept of free will which demands that we must act on our own initiative. Therefore, prayer is not only incompatible with predestination as discussed above. It is incompatible with free will as well.

 

Bottom Line: Prayer = Wishful Thinking

 

The only observable effect prayer has is making the praying person more superstitious through habituation of ritual. - Anonymous contributor to this forum.

 

This article has shown that the Bible makes extravagant and erroneous claims about the efficacy of prayer. Not only do the false promises of the Bible regarding prayer contradict scientific results and common experience, but they are also incompatible with other biblical teachings (themselves internally inconsistent) regarding predestination and free will. Believing that an invisible supernatural entity whose very existence is a matter of faith will magically intercede on one’s behalf is wishful thinking. Simply put, prayer is a superstitious ritual that people cling to in the hopes that they can achieve at least some command over the adverse factors that affect their lives. Theirs is a futile attempt to gain control, through the agency of an unseen and disembodied force, over that which is inherently uncontrollable. Nonetheless, as flimsy as the evidence for its effectiveness is, it is unlikely the faithful will stop pretending to themselves that prayer can be counted on to produce positive results any time in the near future. After all, faith is a belief in the absence of evidence or, in the case of prayer, in spite of it.

 

If they were truly objective about the subject, proponents of prayer would ask themselves why, when prayers are supposedly answered, the results (at least those that can be verified objectively) always involve natural outcomes that could have originated by sheer coincidence or human perseverance alone. Why, now that methods for checking on such things have gotten much more sophisticated, do purported answers to prayers no longer involve miracles such as those that are said to have occurred with great regularity in pre-scientific times? Why are the things, that are now claimed to be fulfilled through prayer, things that one might reasonably expect to occur naturally as a consequence of chance or individual initiative without any divine intervention at all?

 

While the faithful assiduously avoid confronting the limited scope of answered prayer, one skeptic has tackled the issue head on. Why, he asks, in light of all those miraculous prayer results mentioned in the Bible, does God now appear to be unable (or unwilling) to grant the simple (for Him) request to regenerate a severed limb on an amputee? This request should be a piece of cake for an omnipotent God like the one described in the Bible. And surely somewhere a believing Christian (or group of them) must have sometime, in the not too distant past, prayed for such a thing to happen and met the qualifications to have their prayers responded to in a positive manner. Yet nowhere in recent history is there a single documented account of severed limbs spontaneously growing back – under the influence of prayer or otherwise.     

 

For a cogent, well written, and insightful discussion of the amputee conundrum and the questions it raises about the validity of prayer, see Why won’t God heal Amputees? (Warning: Those who do not want to see the prayer-answering illusion destroyed by logical and common sense reasoning should avoid that website like the plague. Anyone who can assimilate the material on that website and still tout the power of petitionary prayer can only do so with their reality-distorting goggles and fact-deflecting helmets securely anchored in place and their evidence-ignoring compartmentalization capabilities fully engaged.)

 

A Modest Prayer Proposal

 

If one searches the Internet for "prayer challenge," he/she will receive numerous hits. These challenges are directed at everything from curing illness to converting heathens to Christianity. Unfortunately, the success rate of these challenges is rarely reported and the exact manner in which prayers are actually answered is rather difficult to pin down. For example, people may pray for one thing and then chock up a hit when some other outcome is realized. In order to take any ambiguity out of the process and to provide believing Christians with the opportunity to demonstrate the power of prayer in a truly convincing and unambiguous manner, I propose the following challenge.

 

It has become a common practice in Las Vegas to demolish outdated casinos by means of explosives. So here's the challenge. Assemble a group of sincere Christians and direct them to pray for God to destroy a casino slated for imminent demolition. (To maximize their chances for success, they would be advised to carefully select those whom they think have the best praying skills. This assumes, of course, that they actually have some means of measuring such a thing.) In order to remove any doubts about the causative role that prayer has played in destruction of the building, it should be inspected beforehand to ensure that no explosives are present and that the structural integrity has not been seriously compromised in any way. The organizers should specify a rather narrow time frame in which the event will occur so that the public can be kept at a safe distance. (After all, we wouldn't want anyone to suffer collateral damage from God's mighty hand, now would we?)  Arrangements should also be made to ensure that the media are present to record the event and that public safety officers are present for crowd control. (My guess is, if prominent Christians publicly announced that they were going to bring down a casino simply by praying for its destruction, the media and police would not need an engraved invitation to the event.)

 

If all the claims about prayer in the Bible are true, this challenge should be a cinch to accomplish. Presumably, it would pose no problem to enlist a group of upstanding Christians who would meet the proper requirements for praying to meet the challenge. One would also think that God's will would greatly favor obliterating one of Sin City's dens of iniquity. And, most assuredly, if prayer can provide whatever one asks for (including the movement of mountains - Matt. 17:20 and 21:21-22) as the Bible claims, the prayer-caused destruction of  a mere building should be a matter of child's play.

 

It just so happens that, at the time of this writing (11/2/06), the Stardust casino in Vegas is scheduled for demolition early next year. I urge Christians everywhere to take advantage of this God-given opportunity to prove that the Bible is not guilty of false advertising in selling the power of prayer. (In keeping with Matt. 21:21-22, they could arrange for an even more compelling demonstration by having the Stardust uprooted and cast mountain-like into Lake Mead.) If they can't work the Stardust into their schedules, there will likely always be future casino demolitions that they can use to meet this challenge. [Having missed the opportunity to demonstrate the power of prayer by miraculously blowing up the Stardust, perhaps they could take advantage of the upcoming demolition of the New Frontier which is scheduled for sometime in November, 2007.]  Succeeding at such a challenge would work wonders in convincing current doubters about the error of their ways. And pulling off such an impressive spectacle would no doubt greatly swell the ranks of committed Christians and permanently drive many, if not most, gamers from the gambling tables. Considering these benefits, it is difficult to imagine why prayer advocates would have any hesitation about undertaking my challenge. (Except for the fact that they know deep down that the Bible's outrageous claims about prayer have been disproved by their own experience. Hence, it is highly unlikely they would ever commit to any challenge that would expose the Bible's false advertising to such widespread public scrutiny. It is more likely that gambling will be outlawed in Vegas than that they would ever risk proving themselves and the Bible wrong on such a grand scale.)

 

[Some prayer proponents will undoubtedly denounce my challenge by arguing that it is a test of God. And they will remind me that God is not to be tested. (See Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:7; Luke 4:12.) However, this is not a test to see if God has the ability to smash buildings. Presumably, if He is omnipotent (as the Bible claims He is), such an undertaking would not raise so much as a bead of sweat on His mighty brow. Instead, my challenge offers the opportunity for believing Christians to demonstrate that what the Bible says about prayer is true. It is not a test of God's abilities. It is a question of determining whether or not the Bible can be trusted as a reliable source of information. The fact that God repeatedly encourages believers to pray for "whatsoever" they want and promises to deliver "anything" they ask for makes it clear that He does not consider such requests as unacceptable tests of His abilities or will. If He did, it would make no sense for Him to have filled the Bible with all those promotional ads for prayer.]  

 

Holding out Hope

 

Will any of this material that I have presented encourage inveterate prayer practitioners to seriously question the extravagant claims made about prayer in the Bible?  Will it lead them closer to a realization that begging for special favors from an unseen God Father in the sky is a not a rational approach to solving their worldly problems? Will it encourage them to more strongly rely on their own abilities and initiative to shape their destinies (and to take responsibility for their own shortcomings) instead of trying to cajole some ostensibly indifferent spirit being into greasing the skids for them?  Unfortunately, I don’t think it has a prayer (to borrow a phrase). Hopefully though, it may stimulate some critical thought about the subject in those whose minds have not yet been thoroughly ossified by religious indoctrination. That is really all that can be hoped for.

 

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