The Efficacy of Prayer

Brian Worley

The National Prayer Breakfast was held February 6th in Washington, DC. No, I didn’t go (I figure someone might ask since I live in DC). I would consider going if I were to receive an invitation in the future.

What? One might surmise that an ex-minister that doesn’t attend church would be a sarcastic prayer cynic, or that I might poke some fun at one of the participants. Well, you know what they say about assumptions…don’t you?

The Holy Books demand that people of faith pray: but what about the rest of us? This writer, who is a Deist as well as a Humanist, doesn’t have a divine mandate to pray. The question then becomes, “Should I, or should I not pray?”

Personally, I have been exploring/wrestling with this very question the past few years. What I am going to state is going to be unlike anything you have ever heard or would expect from a skeptical ex-minister.

There is a lot about prayer that I like. To start with, there has to be some humility within the person who prays. Pride and prayer are incompatible; they express two opposite attitudes about self-sufficiency. The person that prays admits that, no, they don’t have all the answers to life’s questions. On a personal level, who likes a know-it-all anyway? 

Self-sufficiency is a wonderful state for an individual, family, nation to dwell in. Problem is that we live in Darwin/Spencer’s world of survival of the fittest that is consistently demanding! I find the super human expectations for mankind to be Super Man a bit dehumanizing; how often do we find ourselves struggling to keep up? The pressure of meeting that measure reminds us of our humanity.

I’m a humanist (using the term secular to contrast my views from religious humanists) that basically believes that mankind should work on problems rather than turn to or expect a deity to solve our problems. This is where my inner struggles with exploring or wrestling with prayer are exploited.

I have a daughter that has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. If you have cerebral palsy, you will have it for life. There is no cure for cerebral palsy.

One day, my wife calls me telling me our daughter cannot walk. She could walk before, but now she cannot. At the time, they were in Latvia and I am in the US. Imagine hearing your stressed out wife approaching her wits end with the sudden news. I was not around to be of much help.

What does one do? What could I do? 

I tell you, I felt helpless. If there were something I could do…I would do it. This was put to the test because there was something I could do. The severity of the problem pushed my mind into overdrive. Suddenly my skepticism of prayer and its efficacy were in doubt. At the time, I questioned if there were a God, and if there is a God, what is “his” nature? Is God a personable God? Would God have vengeance due to my skeptical questioning? Did God “wind up a clock” as some deist think and then step back and watch without intervention? 

The philosophical elements (questions) took a back seat to the urgency of my needs. It also pressed upon me something that I find to be an undesirable trait that is common within skeptics (paralysis by analysis). By now, you can guess that I dropped to my knees and revisited what it was like to pray once again, this time as a deist.

Five hours later my wife calls me back to tell me that our daughter had regained the ability to walk again! But wait, this story gets better.

Several years after the initial diagnosis of cerebral palsy another scan resulted with confounded neurologists that concluded that our daughter doesn’t have CP at all!

Please recall that CP is irreversible and that there is no cure for CP. No one in history has ever been cured of CP. When you get CP you will have it for life until you die…yet our daughter that had a CP diagnosis has doctors that cannot find CP several years later.

With this news, all the questions that come naturally for a skeptic came to the forefront.  The neurologists that had reviewed the earlier scan discs at no time ever expressed disagreement with the original diagnosis to us. Yes, I’m aware that the initial doctors diagnosis could actually have been a misdiagnosis of her condition.

Was it all a misdiagnosis to begin with? Naturally, we were curious as to what had changed. It became apparent to me that my endless quest for certainty to know wasn’t about to confess a non-subjective answer. I could probably over analyze this one and yet never reach an objective conclusion. One thing we do know is that our daughter has made tremendous progress over the spans of time. For this we are grateful! 

To whom am I grateful? Well I did pray out of curiosity and despair without any faith as a “flier” to see if the utterance of my plea might fetch some sort of return. As a skeptic that is known internationally, I cannot come with certainty that there is or isn’t a God. Yes, I am inclined to believe that there is a God but cannot offer you any proof. God is a mystery. The God question is unanswerable. Subjectively, the efficacy of prayer has been answered to my satisfaction and thus I have learned to pray.

In regards to prayer, I’d equate my thoughts to a line that Mick Jagger made famous…”You can’t always get what you want…but you can get what you need”.

I find it ironic to think of all the people upon this globe that it is a skeptic that has received such vile hateful treatment from nominal Christians would be the recipient of a significant answered prayer.


Brian Worley     March 3, 2014     All rights reserved!


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