Prayer and Changing The World

“The trouble with human beings is not really that they love themselves too much: they ought to love themselves more. The trouble is that they don’t love others enough.”

-Mary Midgley

Fortunately and unfortunately, we as human being tend to think of ourselves as the center of the universe. Since we do not live in the worlds of others, we only know how to operate out of our little world. The trouble with this mindset is that it tends to create a level of self-centeredness in which we operate out of our self-interest, and this tends to wreak havoc on the world.

Unfortunately, this has done a tremendous amount of damage to the world where war, exploitation, human trafficking or someone simply just being a narcissistic ass are normal parts of life. Typically, the human response to this evil is to pull up your boot straps and do some work, or, to try and vote someone in they people view as less evil as the other person. (Some people just exist in apathy too.)

However, as great as these things can be, I’m not sure how much we can change the world without prayer. The problem with simply acting like human beings is that our actions will produce the results of human beings. (Which isn’t necessarily working out so great for us.) Karl Barth in his book on prayer wrote that if we believe God answers prayers, we need to give God prayers to answer to. Paradoxically, I think this works well with Kierkegaard’s belief that prayer’s function is to change us into the image of the one we pray to. This dynamic of prayer is to create the ebbs and flows of a relationship where there are listening and responses.

In prayer, there can cause a great humiliation that occurs. Of course, people can pray in a self-centered way in which they only pray for things to bless their lives, or even in a way where we ask for our forgiveness (where we remain the center of the prayer) but I believe one of the core tasks of prayer is to come in awe of God. Jesus teaches us to pray to a hallowed God. Jesus teaches us to pray for someone who is far greater than us. In this way, prayer is a de-centering activity in which we realize that we are not the center of the universe. The paradoxical reality is that in allowing something to be the center of the universe, we allow it to speak to, to change, and to captivate us. I believe this is why people are so drawn to beauty is that they are exposed to something so much greater than them, but this experience holds them in a way that makes it a profoundly personal experience. This type of encounter becomes a prayer for us where we encounter and witness God.

This is what prayer does for us. We should pray because God wants to hear from us. God wants to advocate and act upon our desires. But, we should also pray so that we aren’t the center of our universes. In prayer, God hears us, God holds us, but God also opens up the world to us so that we can encounter God’s beauty. We are revealed to the beauty of God’s creation (and, therefore want to maintain it). We are revealed to the incarnation that shows us God’s image and beauty in human beings (and, therefore want to protect it and love it). And, in the process of doing this, we receive the love of God because it is God, not me, that makes my life possible. God’s creation, God’s people, my life, are not given or sustained by me but are God’s gift of love and grace. Through this, I am better at receiving and love my own life as a gift, as well as others. We are better able to love ourselves and the world when we are not the center of it.


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