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Who you pray to – a blessing or judging God – dictates how you pray

Paul Graves

If you read this column regularly, you might recall my telling of a former seminary professor who gave me an invaluable nugget of wisdom in a very brief story. He told of a university student who came to him and said simply, “I don’t believe in God.”

The professor’s gracious and thought-provoking response?

“Tell me about the god you don’t believe in. Perhaps I don’t believe in that god either.”

The story is helpful in many ways. Today I want us to think together about the god to which we pray.

I purposely spelled “god” with a little “g” to indicate that the god to which we pray just may not be a god who can deliver all the prayer-goods we are seeking.

What started me reflecting in this direction is a controversial book I recently discovered, “Saving Jesus from The Church: How to Stop Worshipping Christ and Start Following Jesus.”

Robin R. Meyer’s critiques of the church are cleverly said. But it is his thorough biblical scholarship and insights into human behavior that catch my best attention.

In his chapter entitled “Original Blessing, Not Original Sin,” Meyers zeroes in on a human trait that has direct bearing on the typical Christian’s prayer life.

He mentions that most of the dysfunctional things we do as humans try to compensate for something lacking in our lives.

You know the drill. As children, we try to please our parents. In our dating-and-mating rituals, we try to put “our best foot forward,” hoping the other person doesn’t discover the “real me” too quickly.

We struggle to please our boss, our co-workers, even our children.

It comes down, my friends, to our fractured feelings of unworthiness. We relinquish our own innate, human worthiness over to what other persons think of us.

That lack of worth we feel is shown in a wide variety of ways – from insufferable arrogance to obvious self-loathing, and everything in between. Much of our Christian theology and worship liturgy feeds that sense of unworthiness.

“Religion” is from a Latin word that means to “bind us back” to our source. So when we pray, perhaps we should spend more time reflecting on our origins, and less time worrying about our destination.

Genesis 1 reminds us that God created humanity and the Earth, then declared this creation was “very good.”

Our original living state was “blessed.” The doctrine of “original sin” came later in church history, and was based more on Genesis 2, not Genesis 1.

The debate this paragraph stirs up is for another time. But at least there is before you an alternative understanding of God and life than just “original sin.”

This alternative view is found throughout the Bible, but isn’t explored very much because it lives outside of the box constructed by Christianity in recent centuries.

So it matters to which God you pray. The direction of your prayer dictates the content of your prayer.

If yours is honestly a blessing God, a compassionate God, your prayers can be filled with words of gratitude and hope and courage.

If yours is honestly a judging God, your prayers are likely filled with bargaining words, words of compensation, maybe self-denigrating words or flowery words meant to flatter God.

Look at your personal prayers. Look at the prayers used in your church liturgies.

Consider how many of those prayer words pay homage to a God who we think can be bargained with, or a God with whom we don’t really need to bargain, but to whom we can simply say “Thank you.”

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at
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