A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God

unaswered prayer

From the earliest age I was taught to pray. As a child I prayed, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Bless Mommy, Daddy, Bobby and Robin, and the pastor and the church, Amen. As I got older I learned to pray extemporaneously. Prayer was God and me conversing with each other. As I matured in the faith I came to believe that the divine purpose of prayer was to conform my will to God’s will. I believed it was proper and right to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Lord, not my will, but thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.

As a pastor and a married man with six children, I spent much time in prayer. Hours and hours a week were devoted to praying. I started and ended each day with prayer. I prayed throughout the day. I prayed over every meal and I prayed before and after each of the thousands of sermons I preached.  I prayed before, during, and after every time I preached on the street. I spent thousands of hours in church prayer meetings. Needless to say, I have a good bit of experience when it comes to praying.

I believed God answered every prayer I prayed in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

It was not until I had left the ministry that I began to seriously look at praying in general and specifically the prayers that I had prayed over the course of 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years as a pastor.

I know that many people benefit from praying. They find it soothing and comforting to pray to a God. They find strength from taking their troubles and burdens to the Lord. Even if God doesn’t exist, prayer is still beneficial. People often find peace through praying. I don’t criticize people for praying and I certainly don’t ridicule them. If praying helps get them through the night who am I to condemn or mock them?

Several years ago, I sat down and carefully considered all the prayers I had prayed. There were some big prayers I prayed asking God to deliver people, save people, keep them from dying, restore marriages, elect certain people to office, end abortion, etc.  I prayed for my personal needs, financial needs, physical needs, and the needs of my wife and children. I prayed for the church I pastored. I prayed it would grow and that we would see many souls saved. I prayed God would send us new members, people with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to get busy for God.

Did God answer my prayers? How could I know? Since God could say yes, no, or not now to every prayer I prayed or get me to modify my request so my will lined up with his, how could I ever know if God ever, actually, one time, answered a prayer of mine?

unanswered prayers 2

Christians tend to think that proof of God answering prayer occurs when something they perceive as good happens to them. They get sick and they pray that God will make them well, and sure enough they recover. God healed them.  Money is tight and they ask God to get their employer to give them a raise, and sure enough they get a raise. God gave them a raise.  Since God is good all the time, when good things happen it is God’s doing.

What about when bad things happen? Is God behind the bad things that happen, as in the case of Job? Shouldn’t God get credit for everything that happens to the Christian? Since God is sovereign and in control of the universe, shouldn’t the placard on God’s desk say, The buck stops here? This is a thorny, troublesome issue for Christians. They don’t like blaming God for the bad things of life so they come up with different ways to excuse God:

  • The Romans 8:28 excuse And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
  • The James 1:12-15 excuse Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
  • The Romans 9 excuse So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
  • The Hebrews 12 excuse And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

What do these four excuses tell us about bad things and their relationship to God?

  • There are no bad things. God means everything for the good of the Christian. Things perceived as bad are really good since their objective is to make you a better Christian.
  • That God chastens (spanks, whips, disciplines, corrects) Christians so that they might be better Christians. Once again, bad things happening are really just God getting the Christian’s attention.
  • Enduring perceived bad things from the hand of God will result in a reward from God when the Christian gets to heaven.
  • Questioning God’s dealings with the Christian is not permitted. God can do what he wants. He is, after all, God. He created everyone, so he can do whatever he wants with us. So what if it seems God is being evil and malicious towards us. He has the power, authority, and right to do so. Besides, God is good all the time and he means it for their…let the circular reasoning continue.

answered and unanswered prayer

Now back to my own prayers. WHY always lurked in the background. WHY is this happening? What is God trying to say to me? Is God judging me, teaching me, chastising me, building me up, tearing me down . . ? You know the drill.

Why did God lead me to leave a church I pastored for eleven years and move to Texas? Why did God then change his mind after seven months? Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later? These are but two of a number of stories I could share about God, through prayer, leading me to do this or that, only to change his mind a few days, weeks, or months later.

When I took a big step back and began to look at my prayers and their connection to God, I came to see there was no connection at all. Good and bad things happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether a person prays. Shit happens and that shit is called life. Praying changes nothing. It may help people feel better or give them peace, but in the morning whatever they are praying about is still there for them to face.

Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life. Making a decision can be offloaded to God and that way whatever happens is God’s will. Instead of owning the decision, God gets all the credit–that is, unless something bad happens, and then the Devil or the flesh gets the credit (even though, according to the Bible, the Devil operates under the control of God).

This seems quite maddening to me. I like my current view of life much better. Good and bad things happens. Good and bad decisions are made every day. Luck plays a big part in life. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I am responsible for the decisions I make and I cannot control the decisions other people make. My new perspective on life has forced me to reevaluate the leading of God in the past. If it wasn’t God leading me or God answering my prayer who was it?

Me. That’s right, me. I did what I wanted to do. I may have couched my decisions in Christian-speak, but I was the one making the decisions. There is no imaginary God to blame and no imaginary God to praise. The only God in the equation is of human form. Take the two illustrations I gave above.

I left a church I started and pastored for eleven years and moved to Texas. I became the co-pastor of a young, exciting, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. I saw this as my once-in-a-lifetime move. My wife and I were excited about God “leading” us to this church. Yet, seven months later we were back in Ohio, bruised, battered, and abused. We had our hearts ripped out. The church even went so far as to excommunicate me and to this day they consider me a “publican and heathen” (Matthew 18). What went wrong? Did I “mishear” God? Did God just want to move me to Texas so he could give me an ass-whipping? (See I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

The truth is we never should have moved. The new church offered me a pay increase that doubled what I was making in Ohio. They offered us a new mobile home to live in, rent and utility free. I saw it as a golden opportunity, a chance to get out of the financial hole we were in. I also saw the move as an opportunity to put my evangelism skills to good use.  Everything about this move said…YES! YES YES!

However, I ignored the man I was going to work with. He started the church and, while I was going to be co-pastor, there was no doubt  who was the REAL pastor. This man was just like me. Driven. Strong-willed. Bull-headed. Arrogant. Temperamental. Prone to anger. Certain of his beliefs. It took me all of a few weeks to realize that the church wasn’t big enough for both of us, and over the course over the next six months I lived just this side of hell.  In the end we fought and bickered like an old married couple. We had no love or respect for each other. It was ugly and I am just as guilty in all of this as the other man. So much for a Christianity of love, peace, joy and understanding.

Take the other illustration I gave. Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?

This one is easier to parse. You see, this family was part of the church I was excommunicated from (though they had left it a short time after we moved away). Since God was “leading” them to move to Ohio and I felt “led” to help them, I did everything in my power to help them move. I spent $2,000 helping them move, including going to Texas to help them make the move. I had to sell several prized possessions so I could get the money necessary to help them move. One item I sold was a bolt-action Mossberg .410 shotgun. I bought it new when I was twelve years old for $22.  The gun had special meaning to me, BUT God had a work for me to do so I sold it, along with several high-powered rifles, shotguns, and a handgun.

Those of you on the outside looking in can see what was going on in this story. This wasn’t God “leading”…it was me getting back at the pastor I had a falling out with and the church that excommunicated me. The family moved to NW Ohio, only to moved back home three months later. Why didn’t they stay? They were Hispanic and they had just moved from racially diverse San Antonio to Anglo rural NW Ohio. The culture shock was overwhelming. I had talked to them about this before they moved and they were sure they could handle it. Everything about Ohio was different from the Hispanic culture they moved from. I don’t know what happened after they moved back to San Antonio. I heard they went back to the church and pleaded for forgiveness. Perhaps they repented of following after the evil Bruce Gerencser. I wonder how things are for them.

I tell these stories to illustrate the fact that in each of these cases I was certain that God was leading me and answering my prayer. I have come to see that throughout my Christian life that it wasn’t God leading the way at all. It was me. Was God leading me to go to a Christian college or was it that I wanted to be a pastor and I needed a college education to do that? Did God lead my wife and I to get married or did we get married because we were physically and emotionally attracted to each other? Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. Was that God’s doing? Was God answering my prayers for power from on high? Or did the churches grow because I worked hard, was a friendly pastor, and a pretty darn good public speaker?

As I look at every major decision I ever made that I attributed to God, I can see the hand of Bruce and the influence of other people. If it is God answering prayer then I have finally figured out who God is…I am.

I am sure my critics will take this post as the best proof yet that I never was a Christian. They now have proof that I had a man-powered, man-centered ministry and life. I even said I was God! What they blindly can not or will not  see is that their lives are no different from mine. I am not some special case. I am, in every way, a typical example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus, and who one day woke up and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.

Note

All graphics by David Hayward, the Naked Pastor

012716

print

Subscribe to the Daily Post Digest!

Sign up now and receive an email every day containing the new posts for that day.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Powered by Optin Forms

17 Comments

  1. Karen the rock whisperer

    My mother was in the hospital in a coma for three weeks before she died. Her body just decided to shut down, and they were desperately trying to keep things functioning, but she wasn’t taking in enough oxygen for her higher brain to function (despite assisted breathing). Without sufficient oxygen, of course, the brain deteriorates. I could put 2 and 2 together, and I knew what the end would be; she was, for all practical purposes, gone. My job was to help my dad deal with pointless intervention after pointless intervention, while his beloved wife of 58 years slowly slipped away — and to put off dealing with my own feelings, because they would overwhelm me and make me useless.

    However, for my mother’s friends, this was a job for prayer! They came every day to pray for her. They told her (and told us) they were sure God was going to intervene any minute now, and she’d wake up and be her old self again. For the sake of my father, I nodded and thanked them. I think the outpouring of support encouraged him. I desperately wanted to tell them all to go away. I wanted this surreal pageant to just be over, and the rah-rah crowd was not helping me one bit.

    Fortunately, when Dad’s time came, he died quickly and with very little discomfort and no drawn-out medical struggle. The prayer warriors didn’t have time to assemble, and I was intensely relieved.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Karen, your story of your mom’s death reminded me of something that recently occurred with my mom. She is on her own in an apt. (Dad at 95 is finally in full-care) and she makes her way around the rooms trailing an oxygen line. I tripped over it regularly during an August visit and she made little quips and comments about how she never trips on it. Several days after my visit, she tripped, did a real header onto her nose and smashed it up, broke bones in her hand and tore a rotator cuff…. hospital for a week!
      I tell you this because it must have really triggered by older brother. When I got a letter from him it was entirely a sermon and almost no personal info. Praise God for sustaining and God is great and all in CAPS of course, GOD GOD GOD! And I guess this was his safety net, hearing that mom had gone down. But it frightened me that he was so far gone into woo-woo. In some ways, I began to grieve his passing, if you know what I mean. I agree with Bruce that prayer can be helpful because it is meditation and expression; it is mortal, not magic. But when my brother leaves his own personality and life and in distress becomes a preacher, I just feel sad and sigh.

      Reply
      1. Karen the rock whisperer

        That’s very sad. I’m sorry your mom is declining and had such a nasty accident, but I’m just as sorry that your brother has fallen so deeply into the religion mindset. I wouldn’t grieve his passing just yet; he might recover. Still, he will have lost a piece of his life.

        It’s very difficult to watch parents decline, and everyone deals with it differently. I never did any praying, but I did a lot of wondering whether I was doing/had done enough to help. And when it got really bad, I did a lot of going numb — and that required its own recovery time. So I feel for both you and your brother. I don’t think his approach is terribly healthy, though.

        Reply
  2. PatF

    Pretty much the same as above. My mother is confined to a hospital bed in a nursing home and I’m praying my heart out knowing..knowing that my mother wasn’t going to get any better. And I didn’t really want her to stay in the state she was in. A vibrant, involved, intelligent woman confined to a bed in a diaper going in and out of reality. Once I asked her if she had been praying and she rolled her eyes at me. This was a woman who attended church all her life and truly believed. That was it for me. I stopped praying. I knew she wasn’t getting better and wasnt going to get better. She was like that for only 13 months. She stopped eating.

    I had no problems with others praying for her. It made them feel better. Me, I realized it was a waste of time. Dad still goes to church, but I’m pretty sure it’s for the social aspect, and he’s not expecting me to go with him. Well, I did for Father’s Day. I didn’t get struck by lightning. 😉

    Reply
  3. Appalachian Agnostic

    I grew up praying and when I look back on it now it seems more like organized worrying. When I was very young, maybe four or five, I would go to bed each night praying that the scary things they showed on the news would not happen where I lived. Floods, fires and hurricanes terrified me. However, since I had seen footage of an earthquake where boulders rolled down a hill,I reasoned that an earthquake could not happen where I lived because the land was flat. So my prayers did not include earthquakes, though I did not realize that hurricanes were unlikely to do much damage in my home state of Kentucky, and I kept them on my list of things to worry/pray about.

    In my teens a high school teacher rather than a Sunday school teacher introduced the idea of loving all fellow human beings. But it got me to thinking about prayer. If all humans were equally worthy of love, shouldn’t we pray for the whole human race and not just the people we happened to know personally? This thought perplexed me, but did not bother me until years later when I started to question my faith more rigorously.

    Reply
    1. Karen the rock whisperer

      I was introduced to a “happiness” meditation that is useful for quieting a stressed mind. One starts out with “May X be happy”, where X is the person closest to you. Then “May Y be happy”, where Y is someone else close to you. And you work outward, thinking of all the people you want to be happy, until you’re working to see if you’ve remembered everyone. At that point the thought changes to “May everyone be happy”, and you repeat that as many times as necessary to help calm down.

      The important thing is that you don’t get drawn into the specifics of each person’s life. You’re simply naming people who you’d like to be happy, without thinking about what might make them happy. It’s just a series of wishes, not a prayer to any deity. I have found it to be quite effective.

      Reply
      1. Michael Mock

        …And, of course, it focuses your thinking on people whom you’d like to be happy, which (not coincidentally) are very likely to be people who make you happy. So, yes: of course that sort of prayer would help you calm down.

        I rather like that. I’ll have to try it.

        Reply
  4. Daniel Wilcox

    I sure identify with what you are saying about prayer in this article.

    For years and years, I prayed with deep sincerity, and constantly questioned any lack of faith, any possible sin on my part, and triple-booked, so to speak, trying with everything within me,
    YET
    not once did I ever see a miraculous answer to prayer to any of my or my family’s prayers, or for that matter anyone else’s prayers, not in over 60 years!

    Yet people in all those years kept claiming that I needed to wait, to be patient. Well, the time for most of those prayers has long since gone, never answered.

    And none of those prayers were for ego, or things; most of them were spiritual in nature. But never answered.

    Strangely, enough, sometimes the exact opposite happened.

    Also, Bruce, I don’t know if you ever dealt with “faith promise giving” as a pastor.

    But years ago, I read incredible stories from Christians about how wonderful faith promise giving was, and read this book on it when I was an elder, and thought, since we were on a limited teacher’s salary, this would be a way to be able to give more to missions and outreach and for our church to increase its ministry.

    Only, contrary to the amazing stories I read and heard, even though we tried it a number of times with all of my heart, and diligently, etc.,
    it also never worked.

    I never got windfalls we could use for missions. I don’t remember receiving one dime extra, let alone the claimed events of faith promise givers receiving thousands of dollars for the Lord’s work.

    I don’t know if this is an example of “unlucky” versus lucky, or a case that the faith promise stories were deceptive, fraud, or count-only-successes.

    Or something else.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Faith promise giving was a big part of the religious culture I grew up in. I got away from it when I pastored in a poverty ridden area in SE Ohio for 11 years. If I preached faith promise to this congregation they would sacrificially give, even if it increased their poverty. I couldn’t do it. tithing, giving God 10% of your gross, plus an offering, and throw faith promise on top? It seemed immoral to me, taking money from well meaning people, knowing that it would further reduce their already poor existence,

      Reply
    2. Ian

      Faith Promise Missions, we were part of that, way up in Alaska. Jim White was one of the evangelists who came to our church every year. He was involved with Bearing Precious Seed, out of Ohio, who printed KJV Bibles that couldn’t be bought, they could only be gotten by pledging to Faith Promise Missions. Our whole church got sucked up in that. As a kid with limited income ability, I used to pray (worry) about where the money would come from. A couple of times, my parents would give the money to me. See, prayers answered!! Now, I realize they did what any loving parent would do, they helped out their child in need. It had nothing to do with praying the money from heaven.

      Reply
      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        Funny how you mentioned Bearing Precious Seed (BPS) , a ministry of Charles Keen and First Baptist Church, Milford, Ohio. Keen went to the same college I did. (Many years before) His son-in-law, Bill Duttry, is now the pastor of First Baptist. Bill was my best man.
        Small world,eh?

        To illustrate your point. I remember the Bearing Precious Seed missionary coming to the church I pastored and his free Bible for a Faith Promise commitment plea. A dozen families took him up on the offer to get a free Bible. They were poor and here was an opportunity to get a nice Bible. I thought….there’s no way these families can afford to give a monthly offering to BPS. And I was right. They tried, but when forced to choose between gas/food and BPS, temporal needs won. A lack of faith? Nope, just economic reality.

        Reply
  5. maura

    amen. prayer is useless. really its bait and switch advertising

    Reply
  6. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    Thank you to everyone who shared their story, perspective about prayer. I think a book could be written from the stories shared here.

    Bruce

    Reply
  7. Melody

    My prayers not being answered was one of the reasons for my questioning. I’ve suffered depression a few times and the first time, I read the Psalms which helped me a little: at least I wasn’t alone in feeling miserable and disconnected from God. But then the 2nd and 3rd time arrived (every 4th or 5th year or so) and I was a bit angry at God (the 2nd time), I figured He had helped me get out of it, but here I was again… I guess I stopped trusting him. The third time, I didn’t even bother praying anymore ’cause I knew it would be useless. After I got out of it, that sort of dawned on me…. I hadn’t prayed, nor had I trusted God to help me… So what did it say about prayer, about God, about me?

    At “Godless in Dixie” I think, I may be wrong, there was a challenge. Pray for big things, write them down, see if they happen. Not things that chance can fix for you, but ‘moving mountains’ kind of things, don’t share it with anyone, just God, so no-one can talk you into thinking that your prayer has been answered when it hasnt. So I did. I already knew, secretely that the things wouldn’t happen, but I still wanted to give it a try. I asked God for big things (not for myself 😉 in case you’re wondering) and even though I knew it wouldn’t happen, I still watched the news ect.. to see if it had… 🙂 Just to make sure.

    A couple of times in the past, I thought my prayers were answered. These were mostly pleas for solace and comfort. So I thought I had occassionally heard God’s voice helping me etc. It makes so much more sense to me now. When I was depressed, I wasn’t able to help or comfort myself, so it seemed as if God wasn’t there… When I’m not depressed, I can tell myself to hang on, to keep going, to enjoy life etc. I can be my own cheerleader 🙂 and so it wasn’t God in the first place. It feels very empowering to know that I can do things, that I can often help myself and that when I can’t, I should get some real, human, help instead of relying on Divine support which never arrives.

    Reply
  8. Melody

    “Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life.”

    I think this was often the case with me. I can find life pretty demanding and scary sometimes and the idea of a God leading and helping, helped with that. At the same time, it also frustrated me greatly as the leading by God was far less visible than I would have liked. So I waited for God to guide me and show me the way and help me, eventually still ending up making my own decisions and choices.

    A few years before I deconverted, I was on my way to find out what the final grade for my thesis was. The grade before my final alterations was not yet a passing grade and so I was petrified that I might not have passed. I kept praying on my way over there, feeling very anxious, but I kept thinking that praying wouldn’t change the grade.

    Either I had passed and God would not need to do anything, but even if I hadn’t passed God would have to change the mark on my thesis. But then my advisor would know that it was the wrong mark, so God would also have to change her mind about the grade, or change her memory of it. And all the records would have to be magically altered by God as well. I just knew in my heart that that wasn’t going to happen. That it wouldn’t, not that it couldn’t, because God could do those things if He wanted to…. However, I felt that my grade was set in stone, no matter if I prayed or not. Also if God would magically alter my grade, I hadn’t actually done it myself and it felt like some sort of divine cheating. Which wouldn’t be very Christian either…

    I kept believing for quite a while after that yet it feels as if that was one of those moments where skepticism began to stir and speak up. There where a couple of other moments, but this is one I still vividly remember.

    Reply
  9. Brian

    One might as well howl to the moon as hit their knees and pray. It is the same thing, a very human need to express and connect. The tragic reality is that most of us learn at a very young age that bonding/connection is a very dangerous thing for the child when the parents are delusional. (Believing in invisible beings can be delusional.) Some parents handle this delusion better than others but too many fruitlessly set their hearts with God rather than their own progeny and leave the kids without primary connection that is necessary and simply foundational for a healthy life. Is it any wonder then that we seek God instead, the perfect father and mommy? Is it any wonder we suffer depression and easily find addictions attractive? Prayer changes things. It sure does.
    Hug your child today and tell them there is nothing and nobody in this world or any other that is more important to you than they are…. Go ahead, Christian. You won’t be struck by lightening. Get out of jail free.

    Reply
  10. Cob

    As I read this post and comments it occured to me how wonderful it is to face life using my brain instead of hoping God would intervene. I think of a really rough patch or two in my life, how much easier it would have been if I had just saw it as a situation I needed to use reason and the resources at my disposal to address. It would have been so much easier, I could have avoided so much heartache without the crutch of faith. It reminds me of the footprints in the sand story, when jesus says, “those are your footprints dumbass, I don’t exist”

    Reply

Leave a Comment

You have to agree to the comment policy.