In Theory

Daily Pilot

Has God ever failed to answer your prayers? As a religious and/or spiritual leader in the community you likely have preached about the power of prayer, but can you honestly describe one instance from your personal experience when you did not get what you prayed for? Did that disappointment shake your faith in the concept of an almighty being, and how did you overcome this?

As Patton’s army entered Belgium, inclement weather slowed the advance. Patton ordered the chaplain to write a prayer for good weather. The skies cleared for eight days, affording the opportunity of victory. With gratitude, Patton awarded the chaplain a bronze star.
Contrary to this naivete, prayer is not results-based. God does not grant petitioners their requests just because they ask. We cannot press the right prayerful buttons and expect to receive our answer. God is not the spiritual equivalent of a Pavlovian dog’s responses to stimuli.
The faithful pray regardless of outcomes. The best prayers do not ask God to meet our needs, but rather offer gratitude to the One who bestows our blessings.
The best prayer is not to ask God to do what we want, but to accept God’s challenge to do what He wants. Our goal in prayer should be to channel God’s will, not change it.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller
Temple Bat Yahm
Newport Beach

Zen meditation is nontheistic, and we do not petition a God or divine being. And yet we do trust in the benevolence of life, which is always present to assist us. It is human nature to hope that things will go the way we think best, and especially to hope that suffering will be relieved and people will be happy.
I find that it is good and healing just to recall in mediation those who need help. We come to identify with the vast universe and all of life’s mysteries, rather than our limited ideas about how things should go.

The Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett
Zen Center of Orange County
Costa Mesa

God’s ways are not our ways!
Many, many times I have either not received what I prayed for or thought that I was praying in a vacuum and not recognized God’s response until much, much later. But always ... always ... there has been an answer: I have prayed for particular gifts, and received others; I have prayed for relief from physical maladies, and received healing possibilities that would not have occurred to me on my own; I have prayed for beloveds’ wellness, and they have moved along to the wholeness and holiness of that next adventure I can barely imagine.
 Of course I have been disappointed to not get what I want. Isn’t that human? I keep on praying and doing all I am able, reminding myself that ultimately I am not in control and trusting God who is.

(The Very Rev’d Canon) Peter D. Haynes
Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church
Corona del Mar

Personally, it seems to me that there is a much better chance of getting good things to happen by getting people to work like crazy to make it happen, rather than praying that someone or something else somewhere will magically make it happen. Goals can be achieved by hard work and determination. Praying is simply a form of wishing.
And wishing without any follow-up simply does not make it. Of course, prayers sometimes seem to have been granted, but there is never any proof that the desired result was the result of the prayers. Life is a crap shoot and improbable events do occasionally happen. When good things — or bad things — happen, it can be just the result of chance.

Jerry Parks
Member, Humanist Assn. of Orange County

I admit that as a child when my dad was dying, I prayed that he would live. I believe that my father’s death forced me to think theologically at a young age. Clearly his death had an incredible impact upon me, but I do not think it shook my faith to the core. It did make me rethink prayer and why and how we use it. I do not believe in intercessory prayer. That is to say, I do not think that God intercedes in the way we wish. I do believe that God offers us intangible responses to our prayers. I still pray daily for things like world peace, an end to violence, poverty and homelessness, but now I pray that God will grant me the strength, courage, perseverance and grace to work toward a manifestation world peace and global health and wholeness. I believe that God offers us healing, comfort, hope, courage, love and empowers us to be the Spirit’s hands and heart in the world. Prayer strengthens us to live our best lives.

The Rev. Sarah Halverson
Fairview Community Church
Costa Mesa

I think this week’s question is really two separate areas; unanswered prayer and style of ministry.
My style of ministry is to be open and candid about all the aspects of my spiritual life in order to model and encourage others to be equally self revealing. Having doubts and questions and failures is part of the spiritual life, and to avoid such is to make faith too sanitized to be helpful. Having a “G rated” faith isn’t helpful in a “R rated” world.
As for unanswered prayer, I think every believer has had their prayers not answered. Some of our prayers should never be answered. Some should never be put into words in the first place. Sometimes our prayers are so self focused they are harmful to us. Sometimes our prayers are spiteful, hateful, or totally self serving. Thank God that he doesn’t answer all our prayers.
I also think some of our prayers are unanswered because we are looking for the wrong answers. We assume the prayer will be answered in a certain way or in a certain time frame — usually immediately. But God is not bound either by our timeline nor by our assumptions. So God’s response is never understood as an answer.

Pastor Mark Wiley
Mesa Verde United Methodist Church
Costa Mesa

I have had a number of instances where there was a direct answer to my pleas with my Father in Heaven. Prayers can be answered, sometimes in the negative, and often postponed. The efficacy of prayer cannot be proved nor disproved by any human test or experience. One person’s answered prayer is another’s happy coincidence. Prayer to me is an opportunity to express gratitude for the blessings that have been showered on me and my family. Many times, when I feel I need counsel, my discussions with God force me to assess the need, analyze the alternatives and listen for answers. God, the consummate counselor, often allows me to “talk it out” and find the answer for myself.
To a large extent, prayer deeply involves faith. We never know whether our lost keys were discovered as an answer to prayer, or whether our prayer allowed our subconscious to remember where we put them. God is not a “celestial butler”, acting on our every whim. Prayer should never be a substitute for human agency, initiative, and action in pursuit of the desired objectives. Someone said, “I should pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on me”.

Tom Thorkelson
Director of Interfaith Relations, Orange County Council
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

God answers every prayer in exactly the manner in which it is prayed. The answer is already in the prayer. For instance, if you’re praying for more abundance, your prayer is answered in exact accordance with what you believe about abundance. This is why each person must speak his or her word with complete faith. A faith that is so convinced of the idea it holds that any contradiction is unthinkable and impossible. It also demands that you believe something new and more expansive. You should never expect an answer that you do not believe is possible. If you want to learn an effective way to pray, visit our website at and click on “How to Pray.” And remember, if you don’t pray, you haven’t got a prayer!
Dr. Jim Turrell
Pastor, Center for Spiritual Living

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