Monday, August 04, 2008

Yesterday’s Prayer List

Many churches, back before the internet, had a Prayer List. It was a sheet of paper listing out the current crop of ill, unemployed, or general requests for prayer needed for such mundane things as homes, or cars or recent graduates.

Of course, as people healed, or obtained a job or weren’t graduating from anything, they dropped off the Prayer List for the next needee individuals.

As the proverbial entertainment industry operates, they became yesterday’s news. Today’s blockbuster movie, smashing box-office records, becomes tomorrow’s DVD, and next week’s “Special” and by next month will be in the “$1.99” bin alongside Splash.

When my deconversion initially filtered through the church network, I jumped to the head of the Prayer List. Maybe not the actual paper one (too embarrassing for my family) but the secret Prayer List known to the select few—the one the Pastors and Elders and Deacons knew about and no one else.

They prayed and they prayed and they prayed. They prayed their guts out. And over time…nothing happened. I didn’t come bounding back to Jesus. Turns out this wasn’t a “phase.” I simply stayed not-a-Christian.

Worse, I didn’t pick up any new habits to pray for. No drunken rampages. No divorce. Didn’t lose my job. Didn’t become sick. I became quite boring to pray for. How many times can one say, “God, I wish that feller was saved. Again.”?

I have been relegated to being on yesterday’s prayer list. Old news. Sure, just like the occasional odd movie IS rummaged out of the $1.99 bin, dusted off, and lovingly purchased, I suspect my name equally occasionally is dropped in a prayer every other month or so. But at this point I think the person’s God knows what the person wants. There isn’t any new way to say it.

Just like finding out someone lost their job. Initially everyone feels badly and prays quite extensively for them. As the weeks of unemployment drag out to months, it is human nature to lose the beginning exuberance. We go from “Poor Jim” to “Jim still hasn’t found a job?” Soon it is “There must be something wrong for Jim to not have work by now!”

I was just as guilty. When going through my deconversion, at first I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would help me through it—reveal himself to me. But after a while, I lost the words to say. How many times could I say, “God, I want to know you. Help my unbelief.”? If God didn’t realize it the first time, he certainly didn’t need to hear it 1,094 times more. For all the people that think we deconverts let go too soon—remember we are just as human as you. Are you as faithful praying for “Sara’s Aunt” who was diagnosed with cancer after 2 weeks? 2 months? 2 years? Of course not—we move on. We find new things to pray for.

Why would a God need to hear the same request over and over? If there was a God, and he had been watching humanity for only a few years, I think he got the point we don’t want our grandparents to die of cancer. Does this God really need reminding from Wednesday to Thursday that I don’t want grandpa to die? Does this God need a new Prayer list to smack himself on the head and say “What? Jim wants a job? Gosh, the first 16 weeks he was on that prayer list, I thought they were just kidding!!”

To some extent, I am glad I am off the Prayer list. People should be doing better things with their time than wasting breath, talking to a non-existent being doing non-existent things. On the other hand, I am a bit saddened by it. Because it makes me yesterday’s Prayer list. Old news. Forgotten.

Ah well. Such is the life cycle of a Prayer List individual.


  1. There's a lot I could say here, particularly with the meditative element of prayer, but I'm pressed for time.

    I'll just provide an observation.

    I happened on to a televangelism program on TV, in which the hosts sit on an overstuffed couch in front of a wall with thousands of photographs of various people. The hosts referred to it as "The Prayer Wall". Okay, I thought, these are people with some sort of problem (medical, emotional, economic, etc.) who have sent in their pictures and asked the hosts and their audience to pray for them. It's not something I would do, but to each his own.

    Then one of the hosts pulled out a letter containing a photo and read a heartfelt message from a woman who was deeply worried about her brother "who has not been saved" and doesn't attend church. The hosts then explained that they would pray for his conversion, and in the meantime, they would tack his picture to the Prayer Wall and pray for him to get saved.

    On a theological level, this bothered my inner John Calvin to no end. On an emotional level, I was creeped out that this guy's sister was mailing photos of him to complete strangers to be broadcast on national television.

    I'll say now what I said then: "yikes!"

  2. That is pretty creepy, flycandler. Here is a virual cyber-prayer wall that gives me the hives (and I am not even sure why):

    Sure, looking at some of the things on this site that presumably people are praying for is creepy and eerie, but once I start reading I cannot look away.

    Bizarre, huh?

  3. Flycandler,

    I agree that prayer can have a meditative benefit for the person praying. And, it can provide a way of saying, “I am thinking of you” when someone wants to be supportive, but has no other words to do so.

    But after a while—don’t you think God gets it? And I would bet you and I are in agreement that prayer, in and of itself, is never enough. We have to do something as well.


    That has to be among the top 5 creepiest things I have EVER seen! Wow! Some guy praying God will “make” a girl agree to marry him? Like you, once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

  4. But after a while—don’t you think God gets it?

    Well, yes, of course. As a good Calvinist, I believe that God is omniscient and (to paraphrase some Jewish dude) knows what the person praying needs before s/he even opens his/her mouth.

    I think in a very real sense that prayer is in a very big way a means of communicating to oneself in addition to God. And often, the silences speak louder than words could.

    I would bet you and I are in agreement that prayer, in and of itself, is never enough. We have to do something as well.

    Of course, and I think that Jesus himself would agree. Deliciously ironic that an atheist gets that when so many Christians don't.

  5. heissailing wrote:

    "Sure, looking at some of the things on this site that presumably people are praying for is creepy and eerie, but once I start reading I cannot look away."

    This reminds me of how we stare at accidents on the freeway lol.

    I confess, I still pray even though, God knows, I am a deconvert. I admit when I pray that I don't know who I am praying to, just acknowledging something . I am still convinced that things happen when I pray, and it's usually pretty fast. As a matter of fact, my prayers seem more 'effectual' since I deconverted. I don't pray for stuff like people getting "saved," I don't know of any such thing. It's usually personal. I wonder if we are all connected on some level, some other plane, and prayer might effect that? Some "higher self?" "God?" I don't claim to know, I just cannot escape that stuff happens when I pray, so I don't rule it out as something to do. I'll be darned if I understand it though.

  6. Paul, my wife still prays, and I occassionally join her just for the sense and sake of unity in our thought. If she is praying for something like the safety and welfare of her family (who lives about 7500 miles away from us), I sometimes join in, just as a chance for me to personally focus on something or someone that I care a great deal about. She does believe that God hears and answers her prayers, and I do not, but she understands what I am doing and she is ok with that.

    I have sometimes written on these Internet blogs of my experiences when out running in the desert with my dogs - when I am finished, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I am physically able to accomplish that long and difficult run - and feel the great need to thank *something*. And sometimes I do - even though I know nothing is listening except the Wind who whistles through the sagebrush.

    Even for a de-convert, I do not think it is all so strange to occassionlly pray. Either that, or I am just really out of touch with what a real de-convert *should* be thinking ;)

  7. DagoodS:
    "That has to be among the top 5 creepiest things I have EVER seen!"

    Maybe just the fact that it is virtual is what makes it so creepy for me. There are CGI flowers growing and CGI butterflies dancing about - for what purpose? Certainly not to impress God with the programmer's skills...? To put the prayerful Christian at ease I guess?

    As I already mentioned to Paul, my wife sometimes prays, and sometimes she goes to a local Catholic shrine to light some candles and concentrate on the Saints. No, I don't believe in the 'Power of Prayer', but I understand her devotion. Maybe I find the website so creepy because I see it as a cheap surrogate for real devotion that would really churn my stomach if I were still a Christian.

    Who needs to go all the way to the shrine to pray for your loved ones and concentrate on being a better person when you can just type in your browser and light devotional candels simply by clicking on them...?

  8. I was raised Catholic and then "non-denominational" (so I was a Catholic re-born again twice). My deconversion began when I started asking questions no one could answer, like about free will and omniscience or about omniscience and prayer. As far as prayer went, I never understood why anyone prayed--for anything--if God was omniscient. Seemed like an ego-stroking, comfort-inducing endeavor more than anything else, which indicated a lack of faith, at least to me.

    BTW, my Website is (I can't add that to the comment identity box.)