The Power of Prayer

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    Dang Martin

    Although I’ve never believed, there was one time when I was willing to give it a try.

    The majority of the kids at school were Christian, and had already turned their backs on me. But there was this one girl, Leah, who told me in the third grade that she wanted me to “witness the power of prayer.” She told me about how I would feel god’s love, if only I would stop, sincerely believe, and pray. I listened to Leah, because I had the biggest crush on her. She was probably my first.

    “And when you pray, you’ll notice that your prayers will be answered. God always answers prayers.”

    She gave me some instructions on how to pray, including how to hold my hands, a reminder to close my eyes, and that I needed to sincerely believe. I asked her how I would know that a prayer had worked, and she said that I would “feel” it.

    I had to wait for the right moment, when I could be alone without any distractions. Finally, the day came when my family was going shopping, and I convinced them to leave me at home so I could practice my music.

    After they left, I went into the basement. I’d already had my prayer figured out. I was going to ask god to help me get my bicycle up the basement stairs, so that I could ride it. I could not yet get this big bike up those narrow concrete steps by myself.

    I figured one of two things would happen. Either the prayer was going to work, in which case I’d “feel” it and be able to get my bike up those stairs, OR I’d feel nothing and it would go nowhere.

    I sat in a dark corner, all alone, and put forth my prayer, asking god to please help me get my bicycle up the stairs. I was as sincere as a third grader could possibly be. Besides, I really wanted to get that bike up the stairs and outside, and I wanted to do it without Dad’s help.

    Then it happened. I felt some weird tingle, akin to what one might feel when listening to ASMR. What a rush! It became clear to me that what I felt right then was precisely what Leah was talking about. My prayer had been answered, so it was time to get that bike up those stairs.

    I rolled the bike to the bottom of the stairs, took a deep breath, and lifted the front wheel up two steps. Maybe this was working?

    I got about two thirds of the way up, when I started getting scared. I was physically tired, and I wasn’t going to make it up the stairs. Even if I could make it up the stairs, I had forgotten to open the door. I couldn’t open the door and hold the bike.

    I called out for help, and then remembered that I was alone.

    The bike started to slide backward. I tried to hold it, but to no avail. The bike and I tumbled down those cement stairs in a tangle of flesh and metal, bouncing off concrete slabs and corners.

    There I was, laying on the ground with my bike on me. I couldn’t move. I was not yet certain that I had not broken a bone. A thin stream of blood was pouring, from where my arm got punctured by something on the bike.

    My parents came home, maybe five minutes later. It felt like a lifetime. Mom was horrified. A trip to the hospital was in order, and they figured out that I would be okay.

    The next time I went to school, Leah asked me how things went. I told her that I prayed, just as she had recommended. I told her that I sincerely believed. And then, I had to tell her what went wrong, and how I ended up going to the hospital to get checked.

    She reminded me that “god always answers prayers,” so I was confused. She said that a number of things could have happened. Maybe god did not want me to get my bike up the stairs, because I’d probably get hit by a car while riding. I’d have to wonder why a god would allow an innocent child to get hit by a car after he helped him.

    Then, some blame got shifted to me. “Maybe you didn’t believe strongly enough. Also, you’ve never been ‘saved,’ so there’s that.”

    And then, I got chastised. “You shouldn’t really expect god to do tricks for you, like a trained chicken at the state fair.”

    There was a warning. “When you ask why your prayer was not answered, you are suggesting that prayer does not work, AND you are questioning god. You NEVER question god!”

    Finally, the capper. “How selfish to pray for yourself. That’s another problem. You’re supposed to pray for others.” Ah, thanks for the post-game heads up.

    Leah never talked to me again.

    I have to be clear, that this is NOT the reason why I do not believe. I did not believe before the experiment, so the experiment changed nothing. While it changed nothing, it did teach me about confirmation bias.

    I would hear Leah talking to other kids. When something good happened, god had answered her prayers. When something bad happened, it was “god’s will,” or she would say that “god has a plan.”

    Sometimes, Leah would even suggest that satan wields more power than her god, and that bad things are caused by satan.

    That was the pattern. See a good thing, and attribute it to god’s graciousness. See a bad thing, and it’s either part of god’s plan, or satan took over.

    It all just seemed way too convenient.

    There is no doubt that the human mind is powerful. Sometimes, I’ll sit alone in the quiet darkness and reflect upon life, and “find my center,” as they say. Shutting out the distractions of the day and re-focusing is valuable to me. I can see how someone could do this while engaging in prayer. I just don’t see it as a god giving an answer or intervening.

    But there is this conflict between the concept of god answering your prayers, and god having a plan. If you’re praying for something, even for someone else, it might or might not happen. Removing that, one can then focus on the idea that this god has a plan.

    If god has a plan, then prayer is useless, at best, and offensive to god, at worst. It’s like saying/praying:

    “Dear god. I know that you have a plan for the world, and a plan for everyone and everything on this planet. I trust that your plan is strong, and that it has a purpose that can sometimes extend way beyond my abilities to understand. However, it seems that part of your plan involves making my mother very ill. She is in a great deal of pain. I know that her illness, extreme pain, and incurable illness are all part of your plan. But I’m here today, on my knees with my hands together, to let you know that your plan is breaking my heart. Your plan is a major inconvenience, and it’s not working for me. By praying to you, I am asking you to consider changing your plan for my personal benefit, even if it means shifting the pain and suffering to a completely stranger. Amen.”



    I sent a message to the Hemmingway Cat Hotel just before the hurricanes hit them, to ask if there was anything I could do to help.  They responded “include us in your prayers”

    WTF?  If I was a prayerette, I’d already have done that, but the automatic assumption that I had a direct line to god was jaw dropping.  I politely replied, “not really religious here, was thinking of something more earthly”. Silence.  No reply.  Evidently they survived safely as per the news reporting, and clearly didn’t need my checkbook.  Plah. Religious bloody cats.


    Andrew Brown

    We atheists agree prayer is a purely personal experience and wishing for things doesn’t make them true. Focusing on an idea and praying about it daily will condition one to make progress towards the goal. Prayer is the mechanism by which Christians change the world. If you want to change the world, change yourself.

    Meditation and prayer allow the practitioner to condition their own mind; a powerful technique indeed.



    Dang Martin

    That’s one reason why I’m here. I have no idea on what it is that “we” agree about, beyond the idea that there does not seem to be a good reason to belief in any gods, regardless of whether or not they are commercially-available for purchase. The other reason is to be as offensive as possible, or so I’ve heard.

    I probably told the story before about the Buddhist guy who was chanting for weed. He’d chant every morning, and get his weed. But one day, he got nothing. Chanted harder, and nothing. He asked his Lion Hahn about it, and the response was, “You did not get your weed, because the Universe does not feel that this would be good for you.”

    One red bean stuck in the bottom of a tin bowl
    Hot coffee from a crimped up can
    Me ‘n my girl named Bimbo


    Muslims and Christians always tell me that “God has a plan for us”. Apparently their God loves us and does not send us anything we could not bear. “God has His reasons” is a regular statement and theists talk about having the humility to surrender to their gods’ will. If I meet a Christian that knows their Bible I will quote Isaiah 14: 26-27 “For the Lord of Hosts has planned and who can frustrate it?”

    I will then ask them why they pray. I mean if your god has a plan for you which he laid down since the dawn of time, then are you asking him to change that divine plan? How can you claim to be humble when you are constantly petitioning your god to change his mind? If your “God has a reason” then why do you not accept that and move on? Is praying not informing your god that you are not happy with his plan.

    Most theists tend to look totally confused with this line of questioning. Sometimes they will try to wriggle out of it by claiming that they are praying for other peoples’ welfare but the arguments I made still apply. If God sends a hurricane that must also be part of his plan. If God allows a child to die from a terrible illness He must have his reasons. When the prayers fails they will ignore that and say something asinine like “God has another angel now” or “He has his reasons which are not yet made clear to us”. Again, if this is the case why pray in the first place?

    I have had all sorts of answers as to why but they all seem to want their god to change his mind. They plead pious humility but claim the Creator of the Universe is on standby to grant their demands when they use telepathy to send him their list.

    Prayer is nothing more that wishful thinking. It is nonsense to say that their prayer is a form of meditation. No theist says “I was using prayer to meditate and because I did, I passed a job interview or found my house keys”. No, they say “I prayed to God and X happened”.

    Granted repetitive mantras can be soporific and calm down an agitated mind but that is not “prayer” in the sense they mean it. They claim it to be something that works because it has power and because they believe they can communicate with their god as he is always listening.

    Imagine if the Catholic god existed. (I know, it’s not easy but bear with me). Then every day God would hear billions of “Hail Marys’”. Every day!! Ten to apologise for a minor “sin” and another ten to ask for world peace!! The arrogance!!

    Would he not go mad? Enough already you sinners. I told you I have a plan for you. Stop asking me to change it!!

    Nothing fails like prayer.



    I have seen prayer work. But I’m sure you’ll disagree


    David Boots

    Ask a supernatural being to suspend the laws of the universe and in my favour alone? Not for me.


    Yes, I am sure humans can get the Creator of the Universe to change his mind.



    Wow Belle, that’s incredible. All you have to do is provide a convincing argument (probably including evidence) and you’ll make a lot of us believers overnight!


    On the other hand, I’m guessing all you have is coincidental anecdotes which ignore all the times that prayer DIDN’T coincide with the prayer working. We have higher standards of evidence than that.


    Now back to the OP: Sounds like prayer could be a bit like placebo… if you have the confidence of knowing a supernatural being is “helping” you push your bike up the stairs, you’re more likely to  be able to do it yourself.




    Wow Belle, that’s incredible. All you have to do is provide a convincing argument (probably including evidence) and you’ll make a lot of us believers overnight!

    I seriously doubt that




    I will then ask them why they pray. I mean if your god has a plan for you which he laid down since the dawn of time, then are you asking him to change that divine plan? How can you claim to be humble when you are constantly petitioning your god to change his mind? If your “God has a reason” then why do you not accept that and move on? Is praying not informing your god that you are not happy with his plan.

    You must only talk to strict Calvinists




    Did Dr. Bob write this non-answer?


    The Bible says your Gods’ plan set. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul writes “We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will”. This idea of predestination is mentioned in various other parts of the NT and various Surah’s in the Koran.

    I am not sure why you don’t accept this because this time it is literal and not allegorical as you claim the creation story to be – a claim only made since the Theory of Evolution came along. Now we are going to debate the Bible here. No apologetics this time around from anyone.

    You could tell us why you don’t believe your God has a reason for what He does and why you don’t accept he has a plan for you. That would be addressing the point I made. I know you said you are not religious but the billions of Christians and Muslims that are religious do believe their God has a plan for them.




    So you’re allowed to quote the Bible (I didn’t – you did) but I’m not allowed to answer? Ok.

    Your interpretation of predestination seems to be that you think God has literally decided every single detail of all of our lives ahead of time. That is the Calvinist position. That is not what that verse says. You’re cherry picking and twisting it to be what you want it to say. It’s a Hitchens move. That’s how he made his millions.

    I don’t think God has spelled out every thing about my life or anyone else’s  in advance. That’s really the bottom line.



    @Reg this is the verse I recall was used to teach that god has a plan for us…

    However “his will” conflicts with the”free will” concept, so again the bible is confusing.

    And He made known to us the mystery of His will . . . according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:9.11).

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