Prayer as problem solving v. prayer as love

In a recent post, I contrasted two visions of the church: Center for Problem-Solving or Community for God-Following. I want to make a similar contrast with regard to prayer.

In his book Prayer Primer, Catholic writer Thomas Dubay observes, "... a large majority [of typical churchgoers] would describe prayer in terms of seeking divine help in solving problems of one kind or another: illness, employment, fear, guilt feelings, interpersonal conflicts. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. This reason for praying is valid, but by itself it is notably incomplete" (p. 23).

I think Dubay is right on all counts. I agree that this is the way the typical churchgoer views prayer. It is not simply because churchgoers are clueless. Now it must be admitted that many churchgoers do not really want a deeper relationship with God. They just want to have important problems solved. They are in it to get something they value. However, I think this self-centered approach is exacerbated by teaching that frequently comes from pulpits and church classrooms that essentially reduces prayer to problem solving. Christians are called into prayer in order to have their lives or a situation "fixed" by God. But are they called into a love relationship with God? Frequently not.

The difference is between self-centeredness and other-centeredness. It is between manipulation and love.

Dubay, for one, is trying to remind us what prayer is really all about: love. This is the strongest message that comes from the long history of prayer masters in the Catholic church. Dubay draws on that tradition and argues that even the most novice Christian pray-er needs to know what prayer is all about: not manipulation but love. Certainly God wants to attend to our needs and problems, but that cannot be the essence of our prayer lives. Over the long haul, personal love is all that can propel us and keep us soaring Godward.


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