Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Strange Understandings of Prayer

There are some rather strange understandings of prayer. However, prayer can be such a highly personal matter that we should be careful about judging the prayers of other people. It is not unusual to hear someone ask God to rearrange the natural order of things to suit some seemingly trivial situation. I must confess that in ordinary life predicaments I have made some strange and even petty requests of God. "Dear God, help me find my car keys." " Please, Lord, don't let me have flat tire on this long bridge." " Lord, help me negotiate this traffic so I will not be late for the funeral."

Sometimes we make a decision for which we do not want to take responsibility and we then use prayer in an attempt to shift the responsibility for our actions to God. There was a man who was addicted to those wonderful glazed donuts. He was on a diet that did not include glazed donuts. One morning as he was on the way to work he passed the donut shop, and he could smell the donuts. He said to himself, "I am going to drive back by the donut shop, and if God wants me to have a donut, there will be a parking place in front of the shop." Would you believe he found a parking place directly in front of the donut shop -- the sixth time he drove around it? Then, of course, he prayed, "Thank you, Lord", as he ate what he assured himself was a donut from God.

Recently I read of an even more convoluted use of prayer in an story that has circulated on the internet for several years titled, "Local Bar Sues Local Church". Here it is.

In a small Texas town a business man began constructing a building in which to open up a new bar/tavern. A local church started a campaign of petitions and prayer meetings to block the bar from opening. However, work progressed on the building right up until a week before the opening when the bar was stuck by lightning and burned to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug after the lightening bolt struck the bar, until the bar owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, either through direct or indirect actions or means. In their reply to the lawsuit the church vehemently denied all responsibility or connection with the destruction of the building. When the case came up on the docket, the presiding judge looked at the pleadings and commented, " I don't know how I am going to rule on this, but it appears from the paper work that what we have here is bar owner who believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that doesn't."

The lesson in this amusing case is that prayer does not always make your troubles go away. Prayer can make your life more difficult. Many Christians routinely pray: "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven". Yet a positive answer to that supplication would radically rearrange the life of the supplicant and the supplicant's world. Are you ready for that?

Prayer can be dangerous! Be careful what you say when you pray. God may think you are serious in what you ask.