Ten Provocative Propositions on Prayer

by Kim on January 10, 2006

1. There is no more outrageous and presumptuous idea than that we ought to be able to pray. Prayer is an impossible possibility. Prayer is miracle, prayer is resurrection from the dead.

2. Prayer is a completely useless activity, a total waste of time (Herbert McCabe). To ask if prayer “works” is to reduce it to a kind of magic. Prayer is not in the least bit necessary; it is more than necessary.

3. We never begin to pray, we always enter into prayer that has already begun before us and without us, the prayer of the church. We may pray alone, but we are never alone when we pray. “Our Father . . .”

4. Prayer is a dangerous activity. In prayer we do not enter the kitty’s basket but the lion’s den. Prayer is a transformative activity. In prayer we are changed - and change hurts.

5. Prayer is not a private activity; indeed prayer is the most political activity in which a Christian can engage. “To fold your hands in prayer is to begin an uprising against the world” (Karl Barth).

6. It is nonsense to suggest that prayers of thanksgiving trump prayers of petition. We are children of God. What would you think of your own child if she always went about thanking, never asking, pestering? You would think, “What an obnoxious little goody two-shoes!”

7. Yet prayer does not begin with the mouth, prayer begins with the eyes. Prayer begins with simple attentiveness.

8. It is also a nonsense to ask whether or not God answers prayer. The Father is the object of prayer, the Spirit is the subject of prayer, the Son is the predicate of prayer. How then can God not answer his own prayers? If God seems silent, it is only because he is listening - and thinking about his answer. And as for those answers, William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen.”

9. Do you have arid times of prayer? What else! Wherever did we get the idiotic and disabling idea that prayer must be a richly rewarding experience?

10. Ultimately, the question of prayer is the question of God: What kind of God do I believe in?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }


Turbulent Cleric 01.10.06 at 3:38 pm

Kim, I would love to use that in our buildup to Pray Without Ceasing. It raise such important questions.


Kim 01.10.06 at 3:49 pm

Use away, TC!

I am always pleasantly surprised when people even listen to anything I say (even if often they have no choice!); if they, in turn, want to say it to someone else, well, I’m chuffed.



blonde 01.10.06 at 7:38 pm

You shouldn’t be surprised. It’s always an experience, and often an inspiring one, listening to you. I miss campus tuesdays.


Ben Myers 01.11.06 at 12:51 am

What a superb list! I love especially 1, 2, 5 and 10. And I love the Jüngel-inspired statement “Prayer is not in the least bit necessary; it is more than necessary”.


Kim 01.11.06 at 5:22 am

Ben Myers would pick up on the Jüngel reference, now wouldn’t he!

The original context - to come clean! - is Jüngel’s doctrine of God, in particular his exploration of the divine freedom. Jüngel relates necessity to contingency and therefore sees it as an affront to God’s aseity. So he writes of the “non-necessity” of God. Very German, very brilliant. But I thought, what better locus for (implicitly) human freedom than the context of prayer.

By the way, there is no such thing as an original thought. An original thought is just a derivative thought that we’ve either forgotten or never known where it comes from!


Ben Myers 01.11.06 at 5:45 am

Well, how could I help noticing the Jüngel reference? In my opinion there are far too few Jüngel references in the world, so I’m always glad when I spot one!

I think the idea of non-necessity fits perfectly in the context of prayer, since, as you say, prayer is an exercise of sheer freedom. As Karl Barth always loved to say: we do not pray because we must, but because we may. We pray because we are free to pray, because God allows us to petition him. And that’s why prayer should never be a burdensome “devotional duty” (the spiritual counterpart of brushing one’s teeth before bed), but a joyful expression of freedom.


Neale Adams 01.26.06 at 5:06 pm

I would like to use the 10 provocative propositions on prayer, but I am confused as who to ask. The header on the blog is credited to Richard Hall, but Kim answers comments. Could you enlighten. If this is obvious to the experienced blogger, I apologize - I am not terribly experienced.
Neale Adams
Vancouver, Canada


Richard 01.26.06 at 5:19 pm

It’s Kim’s post, but I can very confidently say I’m sure he won’t mind you using it.
I’m going to alter my template so that the authorship of single posts is clearer. But just to clarify - Richard (ie me, myself) owns the blog. But there are are a number of other strange characters who also post here more or less frequently. And there is none stranger than Kim. ;)


Kim 01.26.06 at 7:07 pm

Glad you liked my post on prayer, Neale. Gladder still that you want to use it on your own blog!

(And I’ll take that as a compliment, Richard!)


Maggie 04.19.06 at 3:48 pm

hello. I ran across this list a few weeks ago and find it such an excellent collection of ideas that I have told others about it. so it is time to say *thank you* and also I posted the list here


david 10.22.06 at 10:14 pm

I’ve begun a reflection on these ten propositions — but have been crediting the site I originally found them. I’ll need to make corrections on this.

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