Does Praying Do Any Good?
AT ONE time or another, nearly everyone feels the need to pray. In fact, people of almost every religious persuasion pray earnestly. For instance, thousands of times a day, a Buddhist may repeat the prayer “I place my faith in Amida Buddha.”
In view of the problems that persist earth wide, it is reasonable to ask: What do people expect to achieve by praying? Are all these prayers doing any good?
Why Do People Pray?
Many Orientals pray to their ancestors and to the gods of Shinto or Tao. They do so in hopes of passing examinations in school, reaping good crops, or warding off diseases. By their efforts, Buddhists hope to gain enlightenment. Hindus pray devoutly to their favorite gods and goddesses for knowledge, wealth, and protection.
Some Catholics hope to benefit mankind by devoting their lives as monks or nuns in closed monasteries or convents, praying continually. Millions of Catholics seek favors from Mary by saying memorized prayers, perhaps with the aid of rosary beads. In Oriental lands, many people use prayer wheels. Protestants repeat the words of the Lord’s Prayer, though they may also express their feelings to God spontaneously. Many Jews travel great distances to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, hoping for a restoration of the temple and a new age of prosperity and peace.
Though millions exert themselves in prayer, human society is increasingly plagued with problems of poverty, addiction, broken families, crime, and war. Could it be that all these people are not praying in the right way? For that matter, does anyone really hear prayers?
Does Anyone Hear Prayers?
Prayers cannot do any real good unless they are heard. When a person prays, he evidently believes that someone in the invisible spirit realm hears. However, prayers are not transmitted by mere sound waves. Many people believe that someone can even read the thoughts of the one praying. Who might that be?
Just how thoughts originate in the billions of neurons that compose the cerebral cortex of our brain is largely a mystery to researchers. Reasonably, though, the One who designed the brain can read such thoughts. That one is none other than our Creator, Jehovah God. (Psalm 83:18; Revelation 4:11) Prayers should be directed to him. But does Jehovah pay attention to all such prayers?
Are All Prayers Heard?
King David of ancient Israel was a man of prayer. As a divinely inspired psalmist, he sang: “O Hearer of prayer, even to you people of all flesh will come.” (Psalm 65:2) Jehovah is able to understand prayers uttered in any of the thousands of languages spoken by mankind. The fact that no human mind could process so much information does not mean that God cannot pay attention to all who pray to him in an acceptable way.
Yet, Jesus Christ—also a man of prayer—revealed that not all prayers please God. Note what Jesus said about the then popular practice of repeating memorized prayers. According to the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, he stated: “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.” (Matthew 6:7) We cannot expect Jehovah to listen to prayers that do not express our true feelings.
Indicating why some prayers do not please God, a Bible proverb says: “He that is turning his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is something detestable.” (Proverbs 28:9) Another proverb says: “Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.” (Proverbs 15:29) At a time when the leaders of ancient Judah bore heavy guilt, Jehovah declared: “When you spread out your palms, I hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; with bloodshed your very hands have become filled.”—Isaiah 1:1, 15.
The apostle Peter mentioned something else that could make prayers unacceptable to God. Peter wrote: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) The prayers of a man who ignored such counsel might get no farther than the ceiling!
Clearly, certain requirements must be met if prayers are to be heard. However, many who pray show little concern about doing what God requires of us. That is why so much earnestness in prayer has not resulted in a better world.
What, then, does God require for our prayers to be heard? The answer has to do with our very reason for praying. In fact, if we want to know whether prayers do any good, we must understand their purpose. Why has Jehovah made it possible for us to speak to him?
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