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Does Prayer Really Work?

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The other day, someone asked me if I believed in the power of prayer. At first, I wanted to say, “No, that’s ridiculous. You think you’re just going to ask for something, and some supreme being is going to give it to you?”

But then I took a second to think about it, and I realized that’s not really how prayer works. Well, perhaps it does for some, but I get the feeling that those people don’t actually expect to get what they ask for.

No, for people who take prayer seriously, it seems they rarely ask for something. Instead, they ask for guidance on how to solve a problem. They focus their prayer on how to achieve things that are important to their lives.

Now someone religious and I would disagree about who’s really being asked, and who’s really supplying any answers but, at the end of the day, what a prayer does is focus the mind on an important desire.

And I do believe in the power of desire. When you want something bad enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it—even pray!

And if prayer is a way for someone to focus themselves on things they really want, and that works for them, then by all means, “Hail Mary!”

The “Prayer – Fear = Delusional Success” Equation

At the end of the line, fear is what stops you from taking action on something important to you. And I think fear really comes from a misguided attempt to predict the future.

When you fear something, you worry about how it will affect your life. And what is worry? Worry is experiencing failure before you’ve even had the opportunity to fail. And the more you focus on it, the worse it gets—the uglier the future becomes.

Warning: Do not substitute fear for reality!

What prayer allows you to do is to use yourself as a conduit for something greater than you.

If before you were afraid and unsure, a healthy dose of prayer strengthens your confidence and pushes you in the direction you always wanted to go in the first place by giving you the illusion that someone or something else is watching out for you.

In my not-so-humble opinion, he/she/it isn’t, but that hardly matters anymore. Once the fear is gone, you start to act in a way that’s far more likely to get you what you want.

You don’t hesitate or second-guess yourself. You don’t flinch. Instead, you start making the best decisions you can with the information you have.

Nothing factual changed—all the pieces of the puzzle are the same as they were before. The only difference is the mindset you have when you look at them.

Yesterday, I booked a flight to Australia. But I almost didn’t. I almost waited too long and talked myself out of it.

The plan is to go run a marathon and climb a mountain on the way back. The details aren’t in place, so I got a little scared about booking a ticket that I may not be able to use the way I hope to.

I took a deep breath, and had a little chat with myself:

“Tyler, you know how important this is to you. The path isn’t clear, but if you don’t do this now, it probably won’t happen for a long time. Do you really want to sit and wait for something this important to you? Please, just let yourself do this!”

And that little pep talk changed my whole approach. I made the decision to press the big red button before the fear could talk me out of it.

Luckily, I’ve recovered from enough of my own self-made blunders now that I have the confidence to make these kinds of decisions knowing that “I’ll figure it out” one way or another.

And there I was with a plane ticket to Australia and no idea how I was going to use it.

Funny enough, booking the ticket created the instant motivation to sort out the rest of the details. 24 hours later, the trip is almost completely planned out.

If I hadn’t just pulled the trigger, would I have gotten around to the details yet? I doubt it.

And what’s the difference, really, between a prayer and a pep-talk you give yourself? In the end, aren’t you just asking permission (from yourself or someone/thing else) to do what’s best for you?

Does Prayer Actually Work?

Prayer is such a funny thing. I don’t believe in God—at least not in the way that most people do. Yet, I can’t help but notice how many people attribute their greatest successes to some form of God and to the power of prayer.

Are they delusional? Stupid? Completely misguided? I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe I am!

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I think, deep down, we probably believe the same thing:

When you want something bad enough—when you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it—your mindset shifts in a way that allows you to see opportunities instead of problems. You start to see the path and not the forest in front of you.

Most of all, you start.

And how anyone gets to that point is mostly irrelevant.

So, as I sat in this coffee shop and thought about my answer to that question—”Do you believe in prayer?”—I held my reaction a moment, and when I finally spoke, my answer was, simply:

“Yes.”

Image by: nimble photography

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. Interesting, although there is a whole aspect of prayer you didn’t comment on. Like prayer when your in the shit, you in a life threatening situation and for some of us prayer helps calm the mind. Fear can be real or neurotic. Fear of potential harm can save your life. For example if you live in the jungle and fear tigers, that’s going to help you. If you live in the city, and fear tigers , well that’s just neurotic recently I was sailing across a gulf in extreme conditions. I have never prayed so much in my life. But what did I pray for? For strength, courage, for clarity to not let my fear of huge seas cripple me. Someone told me, God promises to be with us, he doesn’t promise to keep us alive. For me praying is a comfort and helps keep my human emotion of fear in check. I made it through that trip, but I still have the fear of doing it again. Is that real, you bet, and that’s one fear I will don’t take lightly.

  2. Tyler,

    I believe you have it absolutely right in respect of FEAR being what stops us, as well as how to really listen to our inner voice that shows us where we need to go. IMO that is following our intuition, which to me is God/the Universe/Source/Collective Consciousness (whatever you wish to call it). My guess would be that you are actually very much in touch with your spiritual team, it’s just that you don’t view it through that lens – but no matter, because it works for you and you are living our your dreams, which is the point of it all.

  3. *Love* this post. Honest, reflective and sincerely thought through. Your point abt whether through prayer or not shifting your mindset to one that sees opportunities not problems is HUGE. Thanks for sharing, it was super encouraging.

  4. Tyler,
    I find this a wonderful affirmation, thank you :)

    When we focus our energy, we can label it whatever we would like, but our vision becomes our reality, because we are focused and moving toward it. The result is limited or expanded according to our belief in the possibility and our willingness to move toward it.

    May you enjoy your trip to Australia:)

    • oh my goodness you’ve summed it all in simple way..i like this.Rem what Taylor has said..

      “When you want something bad enough—when you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it—your mindset shifts in a way that allows you to see opportunities instead of problems. You start to see the path and not the forest in front of you.”

      thank you.

  5. Hey Tyler,

    Interesting question. As a proud atheist I presume I have a unique view. I would ask “does the act of prayer work?” or “is there a mythological power that answers prayers?”

    In my opinion there are two things with prayer. One is the purely psychological aspect of it. In the world of therapy, it’s also called “self talk” and in a sense you are reassuring yourself. It’s also psychological to hand over issues and problems and feel better about it….mostly because you think some supernatural myth will be listening.

    On the other hand, sure, if you really want something to happen, then just make it happen with your actions. You don’t need to hand it over and to have something “answered”.

    I’d also say that it’s therapeutic in the sense that meditation is therapeutic. Physiological tests have shown that when we enter a meditative state such as prayer, our brains react in a positive way…not because there is some supernatural thing listening…but we are doing this to ourselves.

    As I’ve always said, we humans create everything in our own mind….and the mind is more powerful than anyone can imagine.

  6. Nice post. Nice comments. Yet there are times when I received answers (words in my mind) that comprised instruction regarding something that I could not possibly have known about and did not know until minutes later.

    There is a God but as you say, not as many believe – much, much wiser and willing for us to choose for ourselves so we may learn for ourselves. Why? Because He knows that we will be happier when we recognize that we live by wisdom instead of merely by an arbitrary set of rules.

    So live on and learn. And thank you for it. You are a blessing to many, including to me. May the Lord continue to lovingly guide you even as you believe He does not. He won’t hate you for not knowing Him. He’ll love you just the same.

  7. While you can certainly talk to yourself or talk yourself in or out of something, I’ve never heard of praying to oneself, probably because it’s the antithesis of what prayer is. But…whatever floats your boat…

  8. Loaded explanation for a simple “yes”! But YES, prayer does work. Whether you believe in a “God” is irrelevant. There is a logical explanation for how prayer works as there is a spiritual/woo woo one. There is physics and metaphysics.. I always think its funny when people thank God for whatever is happening in their life. But then I realized I’m not so far behind when I thank the “Universe”. I don’t believe in God in the way that most do either but I believe in Something (which is Nothing) or Nothing which is Something.. Ha. It’s that emptiness and nothingness of Zen. You must empty your cup to fill it.

    The same works for affirmations. Words are powerful. So prayer/words/thought/intention direct the framework that then make up your actions and life. When I say “I am full of wealth and abundance” I start to believe it and then act accordingly and go from literally $0 to $2k in freelancing! Which is amazing. But its just focused intention. Thought. Prayer.. call it what you wish. :)

  9. I like this post a lot, Tyler. It gave me food for thought and helped me understand why prayer never “worked” for me growing up (in a ultra-religious home) when I saw it “work” for others. If you lack all faith (in yourself or a supreme Helper) and confidence, you’re not going to see opportunity or take action. The particular faith I was raised in does encourage passivity, and total reliance on an unreliable deity, but you seem to have hit on the old Aesop truism: the gods help those who help themselves.

  10. This article focuses on “asking,” but this is only one aspect of prayer. Just as or more important to many people is exercising prayer as vehicle to express gratitude.

    Whether or not God or gods exist, having an attitude of thankfulness tends to provide a greater measure of fulfillment and peace in life. For me, it helps rid myself of a “victim” mentality, take responsibility, and be thankful for the good things that I am experiencing, and that enables me to push through tough circumstances and achieve my goals.

    That being said, I do believe in God, but not in the typical, American-protestant sense of a higher power functioning as a means to make our desires come true. That seems vast oversimplification to me.

  11. Trevor….Prayer is such a rich, complex subject. Sages throughout history have focused on the importance of it….and it has been with us since the beginning of human kind…in all cultures throughout the world.

    After spending two years in seminary and becoming an Ordained Interfaith Minister, I have and continue to be exposed to the role prayer plays in hundreds of individuals’ lives.

    Although a lot of people use prayer for ‘asking for help’ or ‘inner guidance’, there are millions…including me…. who use it to give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives.

    Every morning, I have a ritual of doing some spiritual reading and then praying….some might call it a meditation. The label is inconsequential to me. The point is that it is a time where I surrender to the deepest part of my soul…and let the wisdom of it be heard. When I feel I am lost in the woods with no clearing ahead, I use the phrase: ‘Please show me the way so even I can’t miss it’. The interpretation of those words depends on who is using them.

    I was in Philly last week for my Dad’s 88th birthday. He told me a phrase that the rabbi who taught him Talmud said to him when he didn’t do his work: ‘So much not to know’. It left a strong impression on me.

    Tyler, I’m grateful to you for stimulating what is sure to be some interesting and personal comments. Fran

  12. What an amazing and empowering way to view prayer! You’re not asking for something, you’re asking how to get there. I was raised Catholic my whole life and only now do I feel I understand the purpose of prayer.

    Great Article!

  13. When I saw the title of the post I thought “oh no, another blog I will have to unsubscribe from”. Luckily, it turns out to have been a very well thought out post which pleasantly obliterated my initial skepticism. Holding one’s initial reaction tends to be useful more often than not :D

    Happy running and writing!

  14. I so appreciate your candor on this topic. I DO think most Christians/religious people place too much emphasis on prayer as a way for things to happen. They sit around and pray and ask for wisdom on what they should do or how it should be done. And then wait and wait and … Screw that! Just get up and do something already. Yes prayer works and it is a great way to meditate and calm down at times, but I think most people aren’t “using it properly.”

  15. Trevor…Although I had another post ready to go up yesterday, your post prompted me to write a post on ’48 Ways To Pray To Transform An Ordinary Day Into One of Abundance’.

    It represents a piece of how I feel prayer can play out in our lives….moment to moment in all that we do…

    I have never left a link when I comment on someone else’s site. But because it was in response to your post, I felt comfortable doing it. http://www.awakecreate.com/45-ways-to-pray/

    Am loving everyone else’s responses. Fran

  16. Being a born-again Christian, I am a definite believer in the power of prayer, and have many concrete examples of how my prayers have been answered.

    “Worry about nothing; pray about everything” has really helped. When I find myself worrying, I turn it into prayer and it helps me let go of the issue, or do something more constructive with it.

    Also important: Many of my prayers start with “Thank you.” I do this every night before I go to sleep, thinking of what went on that day, and thanking God for the good things. I think gratitude is one of the most important prayers on earth!

    I’m glad you have the faith to believe in prayer. I hope you find the faith to believe that Someone loves you enough to answer.

  17. Not convinced at all. To me, someone says they’re going to pray when they don’t actually have something useful to to do. “I’ll pray for his recovery” means “I’m powerless and have no resources so I’ll pretend I can do something useful.”

    You can think things through and confront your fears and be grateful and all of that stuff without all the loopy religious trappings of prayer. The way you describe how prayer “works” is pretty much like descriptions of placebos work. And just like placebos, you can get the beneficial effects without the pointless trappings.

    I remember a conversation with a nurse once. She described how all the nurses on her station prayed for the recovery of one of their extremely ill patients, because none of the nurses knew how to treat her condition. Might have been more useful to spend the time doing research or phoning specialists, no? But instead they chose to waste their time with religious twaddle.

  18. Hahahaha… oh man. The net needed this.

    You rock, Tyler.

    I usually sidestep any discussion of prayer or religion and go straight to the real goods, as you did here.

    Study every successful person, and whether they’re talking about “their own hard work” or “the grace of god”, behind all their confused rhetoric and personal stories is the same thing.

    Same thing, Same thing, Same thing.

    Desire.

    Focus.

    Emotions.

    Releasing fear.

    Life’s filled with all different types of people. Some use “wiccan rituals” to focus. Some use “prayer”. Some use “scientific method”.

    It’s allllllll the same. It literally stuns me that people have difficulty seeing this, and spend centuries in perpetual argument about “the right way”, not once realizing all of humanity is just using focus, desire, surrender, & emotion as their primary tools.

    [grin]

    Ah well.

    And even more interestingly, I just did a nearly identical (tho different scale) ‘winging-it’ travel experience!

    Anyway, LOVE this post.

    LOVE it.

    LOVE.

  19. Thank you for this. Completely needed to hear:

    “worry is experiencing failure before you’ve had the opportunity to fail.”

    and

    “Fear comes from a misguided attempt to predict the future.”

    Look very forward to reading what you have to offer. :)

  20. Fabulous Tyler thank you! when are you coming down under? its beautiful here and i hope you enjoy it.

    ….very interesting we all view it differently, but most of us “pray” in some way.

  21. Focused heart energy, acting through fear to the other side of fear – all important points. Collective resonance is another aspect of “prayer” that seems to have nothing to do with religion per se, when a group of folks have a single intention. Interestingly, the person in my circle of connection who is directly responsible for saving more people’s lives than anyone I know is an atheist. I love the YES despite no religion connection.

  22. Very good article and i completely agree. About prayer, there is a social network, built here in spain that is quite weird but also kind of amazing.
    Its mayfeelings.com and its a facebook/twitter but about… praying. It’s not focused on religion. You just say your piece and other people can “pray” for you. You can check it out.

  23. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective for some, faith for others, and a lack of faith for many. Regardless of what anyone believes, prayers, rituals, religion and a belief in God have been here on earth since the first recorded historical events. For me it is impossible to imagine a pile of wood and nails somehow constructing itself over millions of years of time, into an elaborate structure. I don’t care how long the materials are left and how well they’re stacked or stored, no combination of wind, rain, happenstance or acts of nature are going to constuct a single damn building.

    Which is why I’m confident that our much more complex realm of existence got here by design, not by chance. With that said, prayer is to someone that is higher than we are and if one of our many prayers gets answered then it is not in vain.

    Blessings to you and may you find greater faith!

  24. I think it totally depends on your purpose. I believe that praying is healthy form of meditation. By communicating to a supreme being (Which I strongly believe) I am able to transcend my visions and my life in a more profound way.

  25. Dale Carnegie mentions this in his book “How to stop worrying and start living”. He breaks it down to being successful for three reasons:
    1. It changes something from a nebulous wish or concept to concrete words.
    2. It gives us a sense of sharing our burdens/problems, even when we can’t do so with people around us.
    3. It puts into force an active principle of doing, which is the first step towards action.

  26. Recently, I cashed out my 401k, quit my job as a pharmacy technician and invested in my photography arsenal. Fast forward. No money, no job, no fiancé, I was desperate enough to pray last week. Actually, my roommate talked me into it. I thought really hard about what I wanted to ask for. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted Pilot to love me. But really, what I want is to support myself by means that make me happy and provide value to others and to be an awesome member of society. I asked to get the job with WindProductions and got what I asked for today. Even before I got the job today, I had a mental conversation with myself stating that even if I get the job, there is no proof that GOD gave it to me. I am the one conjuring the universe to polarize my request by taking what is mine. Believing in myself magnifies desire. This strength is labeled God because labels help us communicate. The truth is different for all of us and that’s what is hard for us to accept =) Praise the lord god dammit. lol.

  27. Hello !
    Im realy depressed, i dont know where i should start, i reallly need help form anyone who is willing to , my parents were divorced when i was young, i have a younger brother who is 27, but he is a extremely lazy, useless boy, he doesnt have a job, he smokes drugs, he always gives my parents troube by threating them like caring knife,throwing things to them, we alll tried to talked with him million times that he should find a job and depend on himself and grow up, but it is not working, i feel so sorry for my dad, it makes me cry , we dont know what we should do, i really need help, please please, is it possible to make him change, does pray really help? im wondering if pray really works .

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren