Sunday, July 1, 2012

Does Praying During a Firestorm Matter?

In the June 27, 2012 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette, Dr. Barry Fagin suggested that those who are praying for help against the wildfire are wasting their time (Prayer Warriors Accomplish Little When Fighting Wildfires). Dr. Fagin is not mean-spirited nor is a disinterested party. He lives in Mountain Shadows, the neighborhood that has been affected the most by the fires. His contention is that science and reason are doing more to fight the fire and save lives than all of our prayers. He concludes his article by requesting, “Please keep everyone impacted by this random act of nature in your kind and extremely rational thoughts.” Certainly, Dr. Fagin would agree that this is not a very “rational” statement. How does keeping anyone in your "kind thoughts" help?It is nothing more than sentimentality, which seems to be the very charge he levels against those who hope in prayer. At least prayer is appealing to Someone to do something. If that Someone is there, then prayer is productive. Prayer, at least, has the potential of being productive.  Kind thoughts do nothing.

Dr, Fagin’s main point is that prayer is counterproductive because the effects of prayer cannot be proven. People would be better off spending their energy doing something that actually solves the problem (like thinking happy thoughts?). I would agree with Dr. Fagin that the effects of prayer are not usually empirically verifiable. One can usually find another explanation for the results of prayer. In fact, Romans 1:18 teaches us that those who do not have the Spirit of God will seek any other possible explanation of events.  Of course, the lack of empirical verification does not prove that prayer does not work. I am sure Dr. Fagin would concede this point. He also would say that it is irrelevant.
The main problem with Dr. Fagin's argument is that he seems to misunderstand the nature of prayer. Prayer is not an incantation or magic lever that we pull to force the Almighty to comply to our wills. God is not under our control when we pray. Rather, prayer is communication with our heavenly Father. The same rules that apply to a child’s communications with her earthly father apply to prayer.
My daughter often pleads with me for things. One might call this prayer. Sometimes I respond by giving her what she asks. Sometimes I respond by not giving her what she asks. If all an outside observer saw was her pleading and never saw me, this observer might conclude her “prayers” make no difference at all. After all, there would be no way to verify empirically that her pleadings made a difference. Since I do not always give her what she asks, does that “prove” that her pleas never “work?” When I do respond positively to her pleas, how would the outside observer know that I would not have given her, her request without her asking? After all, correlation does not prove causation. So, must we conclude that the pleas of a daughter with her father are a waste of time? I do not believe that is a reasonable conclusion.

God cannot be manipulated through prayers or incantations. He is a Father who hears the pleas of His children and always does what is best for them.
One might ask, "How could a good God ever allow something like the devastation of the Waldo Canyon fire?" It is very hard to conceive of anything good coming out of this fire that justifies the amount of destruction. At present, we cannot understand why God would not answer our prayers by sending rain and putting an end to the destruction.
Yet, if God is God, then we must approach Him with humilty. That is, we must assume that he knows more than we do, that He is wiser than we are, and that He actually knows what He is doing.
Children and parents often disagree on what is best. However, in most cases we would assume that the thirty-five year old parent has a better understanding of what is “best” than the five year old child. In the same way, Christians assume that the infinite God has a better understand of what is best than the finite child who is pleading with Him. So, when God does not do what we ask, we do not assume that prayer is ineffectual. Instead, we assume that we pray to a Father who knows more than we do.
Our confidence in God does not hinge on Him obeying our prayers. Our confidence in God hinges on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is the proof that God brings beauty out of the ugliest events. It is also the proof that God loves us. After all, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
So, Dr. Fagin, you can keep your happy thoughts. In the meantime, I will keep praying for you.


ppccrhetor said...

Great sermon today, Mark.

ppccrhetor said...

I was told, however, that while we did not receive much rain, that our humidity did increase, so I take it that God did honor our prayers--just modified the answer to the desires of our hearts. Another way to look at it.

Matthew Tuttle said...

Yeah, God sent rain to Monument, bringing the temp in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday, I think, down to 75 from the high of of 95. Even if he hadn't, we would still know he has a plan.