Alternatives to intercessory prayer


I wonder if people sometimes conceive of unanswered intercessory prayers as a case of God being an unhelpful concierge, as illustrated above in today's Pearls Before Swine comic strip.

Anne Lamott, who has just published her third book on faith, was interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day. She was asked, "I read somewhere that you say two prayers: 'Help me' and 'Thank you.' Which one do you say more often?" She answered,

I say them both equally. I also say a third prayer ... I go, "Whoa!" — in the most California way possible. Sometimes I say it when I step outside or when I look up — like I'm sitting in this hotel, and, I mean, it's like the Sistine Chapel here but in a Southern, Deep South kind of way. I was looking up before you called, and I thought, "Whoa!"
I suppose "Help me" could be used as an intercessory prayer, although I don't think that this is what she meant by it, because later in the interview, she said,
I remember something that really affected me years ago, when Arthur Ashe died. I saw a quote of his that said, "I'm not praying to be healed. I never once prayed to win a tennis match, and I'm not going to tell God what to do now." But, you know, he was just praying for the willingness to trust and surrender — "Thy will be done," and all that. And that really affected me. That is so beautiful, so "money where your mouth is." You don't pray to win tennis matches. You don't pray for them to get your room ready sooner, just because you have a sore throat and possibly tuberculosis.
I think that "Help me", "Thank you", and "Whoa!" all sound like good prayers to me. They are simple, they are honest, and they are to the point.


WES ELLIS said...

Anne Lamott is just awesome!
Once again, great cartoon!

I noticed you have "United Church of Christ" on your links. That's cool, I go to a United Church of Christ-- First Congregational Church of Ramona.

Chris said...

I love Pearls Before Swine.

What you're leaving unsaid here is why you dislike intercessory prayer.

Mystical Seeker said...


I guess my objection is to the idea that God will intercede on our behalf and cure our diseases or give us that job we asked for if we ask nicely enough or if we have enough allies who will pray for us (pity the poor people who have no Christian friends to argue their case prayerfully before God!)

As I mentioned, I'm not against the idea of people unloading their concerns and aspirations before God, or of just being in God's presence when we have issues that concern us, and if "intercessory" prayer is defined in that way then I'm okay with it.

Brian said...

My big concern about personal prayer is the self-centeredness of so much of it. The praying for good weather, for a close car park, for a good day... Granted, these are more petitionary than intercessory.

Chris said...


Couldn't God coax the universe in a certain direction in response to our prayers? Or am I misunderstanding how this whole process thing works?

Mystical Seeker said...


You have a point, but of course the coaxing might not work. According to process theology, God can only coax, not make things happen.

But I have an additional problem with the idea that God would only try to influence events if we prayed for it. Suppose some poor soul who is sick has no God-believing friends to pray for them, while another sick person has lots of praying Christian friends. Are we to believe that God favors the latter simply because he/she had the good fortune to choose friends who prayed? To me, it makes no sense that God's decisions to lure the universe in a particular direction are influenced by human pleadings. Doesn't God already know the best thing to work for in the universe, regardless of what we ask for?