Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple


“Prayer Doesn’t Work…”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

I suppose one of the reasons I got this gig to do a prayer blog for Beliefnet is because I’ve co-written two books with my friend Jennifer Schuchmann about communicating with God. Our first, “Six Prayers God Always Answers – Results May Vary,” deals with how we talk with God. The second, “Nine Ways God Always Speaks – Only Available in Certain States,” addresses how God talks with us.

So does publishing a book on prayer make me an expert? Hardly. Maybe I’m just plucky enough to spout my ignorance, or at least my desperation. Truth is, I just want to grow closer and more authentic in my relationship with God. Writing about the process is just a great way to learn – and be accountable to developing my side of the equation.

That said, periodically I’ll drop in an excerpt from one of our books. Item #1: Here’s the introduction to “Six Prayers God Always Answers – Results May Vary.”

Prayer doesn’t work.

God works.

We often get that confused, don’t we?

We think there is a certain formula we have to follow–a right way of doing prayer. If we do it right, God answers. It’s like using the correct postage after a rate change, the proper stamp ensures delivery. But when our prayers don’t get answered, we believe we’re somehow at fault. We prayed the “wrong” way. There are lots of ways we could have screwed up–not enough postage (or good deeds), mislabeled the envelope (prayed to God when we should have prayed to Jesus) or forgot to seal it (with a promise to do better next time).

If that’s how you think, this isn’t the book for you. The authors don’t believe in a right way or a wrong way. Yes, biblical literature, church history, and religious traditions present some great guidelines when you need an example to follow, but the truth is, prayer is nothing more than communication with God. Some of us prefer long, elegantly handwritten notes on premium stationery. Others prefer text messages with abbreviated words that aren’t grammatically correct (and that parents can’t decipher). But regardless of how we pray, it isn’t prayer that changes things. It’s God who changes things.

 Sometimes, we forget that.  Six Prayers

Question: What do you think? Does prayer work? Or does God work through prayer? Those are two different ways to look at our world and spiritual reality. How do you see it? Does faith bring answers to prayer? Or does God work through faith to answer prayer?



  • Charles Cosimano

    Oh, this is too good to resist, so forgive the irreverent humor of an old seculatist.
    “Prayer doesn’t work. God works.” Ok. But then we add:
    God doesn’t work either. On the Seventh Day he rested and is still resting.
    Or another one. You find a slip of paper in your prayer closet that reads, “Thank you for your prayer. Unfortunately it does not meet our needs at the present time. Best of luck with another deity.”
    And finally, “We’re sorry. Our prayer answering service has been eliminated due to cost control considerations. Heaven appologizes for any inconvenience.”

  • Mark Herringshaw

    Touche’ Charles! Good humored (and “irreverent humor” as you put it can be quite good) barbs are always welcome. On the challenge side, I’d simply add that we see empirically what we look for, a la quantum physics. We used to play a game with our kids on road trips – seeing who could spot the most yellow VWs. It’s amazing how many you can find when you’re trying to see them! Look for reasons to disavow God’s power through prayer and you’ll see it. Flip it around and honestly look for God’s hand at work… you’ll see just that. Call it a dare.

  • Josh

    I understand the “prayer doesn’t work, God works” line of thinking. However, the question then becomes “Does prayer have any effect on God working?”
    In other words, does praying for a desired outcome increase the chance of that outcome happening?
    I just watched a YouTube video of parents of a young girl diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor begging for worldwide prayers on her behalf. I’m sure there are thousands praying for her.
    I can accept that, somehow, it might be God’s will for her to die. But if that’s the case, then the prayers were useless to obtain the desired outcome of her healing, right?

  • Mark Herringshaw

    Josh, you’ve hit the deepest of all mysteries. I don’t suppose there is any clear answer to this question. The way I understand is by not trying to understand it. Somehow, I believe, God factors our prayers into his purposeful will. One wise person said “In prayer God grants us the dignity of causation.” Somehow prayer matters, even though God is still in charge. I can’t figure that out. But then again I can’t figure out electricity and I yet I can flip on a light switch. God invites us to pray, not grasp how it works. If you’d like to explore this question more I’d invite you to check out my book “Six Prayers God Always Answers.” The link is on the blog page. And I’d love to dialog more with you on these questions. You’ve struck the heart of the matter. Well done!

  • Your Name

    I don’t pray for money or anything that will benefit me materially. i have almost everything i need. i am unemployed but still manage to pay the bills and put food on the table.But one thing bothers me. Really bothers me. And if you are a male you will know what i mean. I am going bald. Now i know what you all will say. Its in the genes. Wrong. No one on both sides of my family is bald or have ever been bald(My brother who is a year younger has more hair than a monkey). It makes me almost break down and cry. And for 6 years i have been praying for my old hairline. I’m a decent soul. Cause no trouble but yet he cant grant me something that will make me a happier person(slowly growing miserable). I know I know that there are children starving and all I’m worried about is my hair. I know the debate. But its quite apparent to me that prayer doesnt work. Like i said if you are a guy you will know how hard it is losing hair.But i still believe in a greater mystery even though he or she sometimes doesnt seem to care.

  • 1Greensix

    If prayer worked no one would get sick or die. Saying stupid things like “God has a plan” is just making excuses for something that is supposed to be ALL POWERFUL, and dedicated to HIS PEOPLE. God is totally imaginary which is why no prayer to do the impossible is EVER answered. Just try praying some day for the ability to do something like walking on water. It certainly wouldn’t hurt anyone if you could walk on water, so why won’t God answer your pray to allow you to do it? It’s not like walking on water really makes a difference to anyone in the world, other than a drowning man, so why won’t God let you, or me do it? Because it is against the laws of nature, that’s why. But supposedly Jesus did. Hmmmmm. Imaginary, plain and simple. Religion is a hoax sold by con men that are only interested in money, prestige, or controlling other people.

  • Confused College Student

    Mark, not sure if you’re still reading these comments, of if you’ve moved on to other things (I won’t be offended if you have), but I have a thought/question similar to Josh’s. In the familiar passage in Matthew about prayer (Mt 21:21-22), the “moving mountains” passage, it suggests that if we believe our prayers WILL be answered, i.e. “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for.” There are parents that pray for their newborn baby with some type of disease or birth defect to live, and undoubtedly would ask their church family to pray the same, and the baby still dies. And on the same floor of the hospital, an atheist couple with a child with the exact same problem lives w/o an ounce of prayer. So this suggests 1 of 2 things. Either A) the scripture is flawed somehow or in some way or B) the parents didn’t really “believe.” However, I have a tough time believing with the countless number of situations there are like this that NONE of the people praying them “believe.” So….. I just don’t know what to think.
    I want to add that anyone feel free to comment or respond, not just Mark. I was just playing on the dialogue he and Josh had. Thanks.
    Confused College Student

  • Dan

    Guys…you’re all missing the clear, easy, reasonable answer. Prayer doesn’t work because there is no god. Plain and simple. Had you not been brought up in your religion, you wouldn’t believe it. Just like you don’t believe in Thor, Baal, Allah etc. Think analytically, not emotionally!

  • jawee

    hi guys… my prayers doesn’t wor i think… if god gave me answer i promis to him that i will help others and share all that i have… just 1 shot GOD… promis i wont blew it….

  • Statistics don’t lie, people do.

    Come on. Prayer simply happens to work as often as statically modeled data.

    You can rationalize all you want, but the correlation between any and all prayers is exactly the same as statistics dictates.

    Now to show you that materlialists have a warped sense of humor…

    Why is it that when a starfish prays to have his/her amputated limb restored, the answer is almost always “sure, no problem?” When a human amputee prays for the same treatment that the starfish gets, he/she only gets the “no.” Never happened in recorded history.

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