Thursday, September 07, 2006

Answers to Prayer

Over the summer, I've had some pretty cool answers to prayer. For example, I knew that I needed to sell my house, and that it would take about 6 weeks to get all the legal faffing sorted after selling it. This gave me two weeks to sell it. I prayed about it. How long did it take to sell? Two weeks.

I needed to pass my driving test. There was a small problem. I didn't really think I was ready. My instructor didn't think I was ready. And I was taking the test in a ridiculously heavy rainstorm, it having been dry through all my lessons. I'd prayed about it. I passed.

The question is this: Why am I so reluctant, when talking to non-Christians, to say that these are direct answers to prayer?

If I wanted to blame other people, the obvious people to blame would be those nutcases who say "If you send me £20, I will post you a cloth I've blown my nose on and prayed over, and it will make you better" or the many fake or psychosomatic accounts of healing. I'm not saying there aren't genuine healings out there - I'm pretty sure there are. But the dodgy ones give the whole area a bad name.

Another group I might try to blame is the people who ascribe every little thing to answered prayer. "The bill at the shop came to £5.73, and you'll never guess how much change I had in my purse. It was a real answer to prayer - I didn't have to use that ten pound note." The issue here isn't triviality - I'm sure that God does care about every little detail of our lives and is quite capable of making sure we have the exact change - it's pointlessness and high probability of coincidence. Even making naive assumptions about money, you'd expect to have enough change not to go into the next pound up at least 50% of the time, and the chance of having the exact change is only around 1 in 100 - you'd expect it to happen once every few weeks. So claiming it's a direct act of God (in a way that it isn't if you'd had 10p over), when there's no real purpose to it and it didn't actually help you much is silly. It makes people think that "God" is just the name that you give to coincidences.

The pointlessness thing is also important. God is not a slot-machine God. We don't pray and then get whatever we pray for. God is the all-powerful, all-wise creator of the universe. He doesn't exist merely to give us whatever we want. God's purpose is glorifying his name. The point of prayer is largely to submit ourselves to God and to rely on him for everything we need in following him. That's partly why I'm sure that me passing my driving test and selling my house were in response to prayer. Realisitically, those things needed to happen when they did so that I can go on this course to train to be a minister in the C of E. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what God wants me to be doing, so he will make sure that it happens.

So why do I find it difficult to tell non-Christians that it's answered prayer? Is it because stuff like I've discussed above has so messed up their conception of prayer that they think they understand it but really don't? Is it because I'm somehow embarrassed? Is it because I don't want to get into an argument about why God never answered their prayers for a pony (or whatever)? Probably a bit of all of them.

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