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Can prayer determine the will of God?
Results of surveys and experience.
The importance of assessing God's will.
Americans' prayer life:
Most adults in the U.S. and Canada say that they pray to their deity or deities. In 1999-MAY, the Gallup
Organization at Princeton NJ reported the results of a number of public
opinion polls taken between 1991 and 1995. They concluded that for American
|9 out of 10 say that the do pray. Among them, about:
||75% pray daily.
||15% pray at least weekly
||6% pray infrequently.
Most say that they pray to a Supreme Being; only 1% pray to other options supplied by the polling agency: "a transcendent or
cosmic force, to the 'inner self,' or to the 'god within.' " 1
Beliefs about the effectiveness of prayer:
There are countless anecdotal stories of individuals who are totally
convinced that prayer works. According to the Gallup report cited above, most of those
"... report experiencing a deep sense of peace and the strong
presence of God through prayer."
They often say that they:
received an answer to specific prayer requests. Still others say they have
gained a deeper insight into some biblical truth, and that they have been
inspired or led by God to perform some specific action." 1
majority of those who pray:
"... seek guidance [from God] for decisions" 1
that are before them. Teleministers frequently
mention that God has spoken directly to them in prayer; so do many
individual believers. Clergy often recommend that their members pray to God
to find out his will on all significant matters.
On the other hand, some liberal theologians believe that prayer is useless
when a person is trying to assess the will of God. Garry Williams
reported in the Dallas Morning News that Rowan Williams, the new
archbishop of Canterbury and the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion:
how people who hold different views of Jesus should understand their
differences. He argues that they do not have the voice of God to tell them which
beliefs are right. They have their own differing visions of Christ, but Christ
himself is silent." 2
If prayer is effective and reliable, then many conflicts that arise in life would be easily settled. A
few examples are:
|Over the almost 23 years of this web site's existence, we have have received many dozens of Emails from Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christian couples, whose marriages are headed for "the rocks."
Both prayed separately to determine whether God
wished that they:
||Stay together and try harder to make their marriage work, or
Separate and perhaps divorce in the future. They often believe that they received opposite responses.
|Within Christianity, there are countless disputes over theology. For
Conservative Christians often view the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints as a heretical "cult" --
feel that the LDS church is not even Christian.
generally regard their faith group as the only accurate reconstruction of the
early Christian movement. Many Mormons regard other contemporary Christian
denominations as having deviated from primitive Christianity and
from the teachings of Jesus. Obviously, either one or neither of these
two groups could be correct.
|Even within a single wing of Christianity, there are many
conflicts about religious belief. The Zondervan Publishing House has produced a Counterpoints series of books. Each book considers a single topic, and allows
three to five leading Evangelical Christians to discuss their opposing
beliefs about that topic. Some of the topics discussed are:
|Similar disagreements can
be seen within debates over the role of women:|
The Council on
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is composed of sincere, thoughtful,
intelligent, devout, knowledgeable, born-again Evangelical believers. They
promote very separate roles for men and women -- roles that they feel are
God-given and fixed. They consider women and men as being of equal value and
importance, but advocate that women not be in any position of authority
over any man or have a position of equal power to their husband in the family.
They are able to support this position with numerous quotations from
the Bible. 3
||The Council on Biblical Equality is also composed of many sincere, thoughtful, intelligent, devout, and knowledgeable
Evangelicals. They promote an equal status for men and women, with no
reserved roles for either gender. They also support their beliefs with
numerous biblical quotations. 4
Each group sincerely,
devoutly, prayerfully believes that they are representing the true
Biblical message on the roles of men and women. From their literature, it is obvious that
both feel that God is on their side. Yet only one, at most, can be
holding the correct view.
|Back in 2003, the membership of the Presbyterian Church
(USA) was almost evenly divided on the question of ordination of
sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships:|
||Conservatives in the denomination generally believed that the
Bible condemns all homosexual activity as sinful, even if it occurs
within a devoted, committed, loving, and permanent relationship. The
concept of lowering ordination standards to allow ministers who
engage in such sinful behavior was repugnant to them.
||Liberals in the church generally believed that homosexuality is a
normal, natural, fixed, and morally neutral orientation for a
minority of humans. They accept committed same-sex civil unions and
relationships as equivalent to marriage. They supported ordination of sexually-active homosexuals, and regard it to be a human rights issue.
Presbyterians on both sides are thoughtful, sincere, dedicated,
devout, intelligent and committed to their faith and church. Yet they
seemed unable to resolve this issue.
Members of the Episcopal Church, USA, the United Methodist Church and may other denominations have shared this
The importance of accurately assessing the will of God:
When a person prays, believes that they have assessed the will of God on some matter, and acts on the information that they believed that they have received from God, the results can be life changing for a person, a family, or sometimes even for hundreds of thousands of people. One incredibly sad occurrence was discussed by Ewen MacAskill, who -- writing in The Guardian -- said:
"George Bush has claimed he was on a mission from God when he launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. ..."
Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said:
"President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."
Mr Bush went on: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it." 5
Former President George Bush's decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, were largely a response to the earlier attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by a small group of terrorists on 2001-SEP-11. Most of them came from Saudi Arabia. A 2014 study found that the death toll from the Iraqi war reached 500,000. 6 If the invasion had not happened, and dictator Saddam Hussein had continued his dictatorship, the death toll might well have been hundreds of thousands fewer.
A test of the effectiveness of prayer:
If prayer to assess the will of God were truly effective, then all
of the above conflicts could be very easily resolved. One could simply
assemble the thoughtful, devout believers with diverse beliefs, ask
them to pray, and determine the will of God. God's answer would then
the same for all of the believers.
By following this method:
||A couples in a troubled marriage would be able to determine whether
God wished them to separate or to continue in efforts to remain
Believers would be able to determine which, if any, Christian
denomination(s) out of the approximately 30,000 Christian denominations, sects and faith groups in
the world represent the true church.
The other denominations could then change their beliefs or close down.
||Church schisms would never occur. Debates could be settled
before conflicts rose to the point where a denominational split
||There would be
no need for Zondervan, and other publishers, to sell books which explain conflicting
biblically-based beliefs among Evangelical Christian leaders,
because all would hold the same beliefs.
Results of prayer:
When couples pray for God's wishes about their marriage, each
spouse is usually certain that they received a response
from God. However, when they compared notes, they often found that
God's messages conflict. One spouse reports
that God wants them to stay together; the other believes that God
wants them to separate.
In such matters as:
Which is the "true" Christian denomination,
||The role of women in the church and family,
||Theological debates, and
||God's wishes concerning equal rights for the LGBT community, etc.,
it is apparent that Christians on both sides of various issues feel
that they are receiving communications from God; but the messages conflict.
Thus, conflicts in families, within denominations, and between
denominations continue. Disagreements cannot be resolved. One is led
to suspect that devout, thoughtful believers may not be able to assess
the will of God. One has to look for alternative explanations. Two might
||Believers are unable to get a meaningful response from God during
prayer. They are generating answers within their own minds, and deluding
themselves into believing that the messages come from God, or
||Believers obtain conflicting messages during prayer, presumably from
This throws great doubt on the use of prayer as a method of assessing the
will of God.
George Gallup, Jr., "Poll releases: As nation observes National
Day of Prayer, 9 in 10 pray -- 3 in 4 daily," 1999-MAY-6, at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr990506.asp Unfortunately,
the Gallup Organization now restricts public access to its historical
data base. It is now only available to subscribers to the Gallup
Organization's "Tuesday's Briefing."
- Garry Williams, "Garry
Williams: Archbishop's theology not orthodox. Author says differences not
restricted to sexual ethics as frequently reported," Dallas News, at: http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/
- Council on Biblical Manhood
and Womanhood maintains a web site which promotes defined roles for men
and women. See: http://www.cbmw.org
Christians for Biblical Equality has a home page promoting
non-discrimination on the basis of gender . See: http://www.cbeinternational.org
Ewen MacAskill, "George Bush: 'God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq'," The Guardian, 2005-OCT-07, at:
Kerry Sheridan, "Iraq Death Toll Reaches 500,000 Since Start of U.S.-Led Invasion, New Study Says," 2014-JAN-23, at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Copyright © 2000 to 2018, by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2018-MAY-28
Author: B.A. Robinson