Prayer, Plain and Simple

On Wednesday I posted an excerpt from an interview that poet and force behind , Alex Ness posted on his blog last year. Here’s another. Background: We’re talking about “Six Prayers God Always Answers,” one of the books I’ve written with Jennifer Schuchmann.

Alex Ness: Your book title suggests that you know which prayers God answers. Isn’t this a bit presumptuous?


Mark Herringshaw: It’s not The Six Prayers God Always Answers… Actually, we’re saying God answers all prayers, but not always in ways we expect. These six are categories for appeals we tend to make: desperate prayers, questioning prayers, prayers for justice, audacious prayers, selfish or audacious prayers, prayers of beauty. We could have sliced prayer any number of ways.


Many see prayer as a mechanism – do this, say this, just the right way, and out comes a mass produced response. We think God answers all prayer personally and his main objective is to keep conversation going. Often he answers with words not actions. He does respond with actions but his point is to build friendship. When my daughter asks for the car keys to got out for the night she wants my answer to be simple – I reach in my pocket and give her the keys. But in reality the exchange is more complicated than that. I ask her questions before I hand them over. “Where are you going?” “When will you be back?” “Who will go with you?” “How are you doing?” Her first request becomes an avenue for dialog. That’s how God sees prayer. It’s an invitation for him to get personal with us. He has something we want and he uses that as leverage to build our capacity to speak and listen.


Alex Ness: Why these six? Are you planning a follow up book of prayers God always rejects? 


Mark Herringshaw: Actually we include some of those prayers too. There is one prayer God doesn’t want to hear – the prayer that isn’t a prayer. We’ve all heard people make speeches at us while praying. Maybe we’ve done that ourselves. That isn’t a prayer; it’s a manipulation. God hates religious posturing. He’d rather have us hideaway and prayer in secret so we’re not tempted to use prayer as something it isn’t.

We also say there is a prayer God seldom answers: “Why?” God is honest. When we ask “why?” he’s obligated to tell the truth. But he can’t because a full truthful explanation to why some horrible thing had to happen would probably take him a million years to explain and we don’t have the time and the brain capacity to get hold of it. So God simply says, “Long answer is too long. Short answer is, ‘I’m God and you’re not.'” Instead, he challenges to change the question from “why?” to “How?” “How can I turn this bad situation into something good?” That’s a prayer he loves to answer! It could be number seven I suppose.


Finally, there’s the prayer God hates to answer but will – “Leave me alone.” God won’t force himself on us. If we want to be removed from his presence and influence, he’ll accommodate, though it breaks his heart. He sends no one to hell. But he’s built it for those who don’t want to live in his house.

What do you think?

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