Thursday, 20 October 2016

"Can I Pray For You?"

I have to be very careful here. Polite conversation avoids the discussion of religion, politics, and money. Yet here I am, about to plow into this very difficult soil, the place with rocks and roots that go back a long way. So I am going to start with this, right up front. No, you cannot pray for me.

That may sound ungracious, even unkind. But it isn't. I get asked this question sometimes; more often I get people saying that they are praying for me. Don't! You're doing this for yourself, not for me. It is, in fact, a reality of the teachings of Christ himself. If you are a Christian, not that there is anything wrong with that, one assumes you will have read the New Testament.

There, in Matthew 6 versus 5 - 8, in any number of translations all sharing the same intent,  it says “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

If you say to me, "Can I pray for you?" or tell me "I'm praying for you.", you are saying to me that your prayers must be seen by me, acknowledged by me, your actions approved by me. This, in my mind, makes you one of the hypocrites, praying not for me, but telling me that you have a public and well known connection to God more powerful that mine. It makes the act of prayer more about you than anything else.

It's insulting, just as the assumption that you can lay hands on me and start that praying immediately, even without my permission. Somehow, once again, you are assuming that your link to God is more powerful than mine, or you are assuming that I am praying for the same things you are. Perhaps I don't want to pray for healing. Perhaps I don't pray for a miracle. Perhaps I pray for the will of God to be fulfilled as it should, just as Jesus says in Matthew 6:8.

Asking if you can pray for me, or even telling me you are praying for me means you are focused more on yourself than you are on me. It says to me that you need me to know this, as if somehow my approbation and gratitude are important to you. Or is that just it? You won't pray for me in secret because what's the point? If I don't know about it, where is your benefit? I see this selfishness on a regular basis, the correlation between prayer and doing nothing. Those who say they are praying for me are most likely to do nothing practical to help. The minute I hear that phrase I know there will likely be no real help forthcoming.

Personally I think that any kind of "directed" prayer is simply the human ego in practice, a demonstration of our belief that we can impact the unfolding of time and space through meaningless words. Praying for me also give you the feeling that you are doing something for me without actually having to do anything for me. It's inaction through prayer. It gets you off the hook for taking action on the true lessons of Christ, the lessons of caring, humility, giving, selflessness and so many others.

So no, I don't want you to pray for me. Pray for what you wish, but leave me off that list. Instead, do something, if not for me then for someone else who has ALS, or cancer, or MS, or MD, or any one of the many diseases which afflict humankind. Telling me that your thoughts and prayers are with me is really telling me you can't or won't do anything, not just for me but for anyone on your "prayer list".

Put down that list. Pick up your car keys, or walk, or take a bus. Go and visit someone who needs a visit. Go and serve someone in a care home. Put down that list. Pick up your keyboard and make a donation to a cause. Put down that list. Pick up the burden of service. Get active, and stop wasting my time with stupid questions.

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