A meme circulating across social media every once in a while begins with a question of what we get from prayer.
A friend of mine posted a familiar internet meme on his Facebook page the other day. It focused on the benefit of prayer.
You’ve probably seen versions of it before. None ever seem to attribute the sentiment to anyone in particular, though.
This particular version read:
Once a man was asked, “What did you gain by regularly praying to God?” The man replied, “Nothing…but let me tell you what I lost: Anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death.” Sometimes, the answer to our prayers is not gaining but losing; which ultimately is the gain.
Prayer affects people who actually use it in different ways. For many of us, we do lose many of those things.
I’ll admit that I still have some degree of fear surrounding death, despite being confident that I have a place to go when I do die. Depression is a tough thing to lose, even to prayer, for certain levels of depression; there’s a big difference, after all, between simply feeling “down” and being clinically depressed.
Even so, that’s not to say prayer can’t help even the clinically depressed.
I think a lot of people who struggle with prayer expect an audible answer immediately. But I don’t know anyone who’s ever claimed to have received one.
My mom has described hearing a voice — well, not so much hearing it in the sense that someone is in the room speaking as much as just experiencing the perception of what the voice is saying at that moment — that seems to suddenly give her a piece of insight. She once told me that during a major career decision, she heard that voice give her a brief but very clear message. She followed that advice and things worked out very well.
She said the voice sounded like that of her late mother. It might have been her own subconscious playing a trick to justify a decision she’d already made.
But it might have been the result of prayer that provided insight.
When I’ve prayed, I’ve experienced similar things before. Maybe it’s not a celestial voice so much as a clearer understanding that taking a step back and acknowledging God and seeking His guidance unlocks for us.
Maybe, just maybe, taking that moment to shut down long enough to pray provides a “soft reboot” to the brain so that we think more clearly. Or maybe God allows us to see things more clearly by coming to Him. (I know which of those two I believe, but as for you, you must decide on your own.)
There have been times when I’ve been angry with people or — more often — situations. I’ve prayed about that and usually get over anger with people fairly quickly. Situations take longer.
The biggest thing I think prayer does is correct a misconception that, in many ways, is the root of so many of our problems in the world today:
Prayer reminds us that everything isn’t just about us.
Prayer reminds those of us who believe that there is an order to things that some people either don’t or won’t see. But for those of us to believe, even when there’s a little fear in such a thought, there’s still comfort to be found there.
It helps us shake off ego because it reminds those of us who believe that we are called to follow someone else rather than demand that everyone else do everything our way (which is a losing battle, anyway).
What do we gain by prayer?
A lot, I’d say.