I was rereading my post from the other day (“Medicine and chocolate cake“) and I was wondering what the heck was my point. It seemed important at the time, but I couldn’t figure out (1) what I was getting at and (2) why I didn’t explain it better. I was thinking about this all day yesterday and I think I now know what my point was supposed to be:

Prayer is not for getting stuff.

This is of course the whole point of Luke 22:42 where Jesus asks God to give a pass on the whole crucifixion thing. Of course, Jesus famously ends the prayer with “not my will, but yours, be done.”

Why bother praying if you can’t ask for special favors for yourself? Maybe you can ask for special favors for other people? No? Maybe a deceased relative (i.e., a prayer for the dead)? Nope — by the time a person dies, his or her salvation is sealed*.

So what is the point of praying? Let’s do yet another thought experiment: Suppose it’s your birthday, and your friends throw you a little party and give you some cute little gifts. Do you say “thank you” with the idea that if you do, you’ll get even more and better gifts next time? Maybe so, but I hope not.

Hopefully you say “thank you” because you’re genuinely touched that your friends thought enough of you to make your birthday seem special. But, are you going to immediately start wondering if this is the start of a pattern? Does this constitute a precedent? If there is no party next year, will you feel cheated? Again, I hope not. If there is no party next year, it shouldn’t diminish the happiness you felt this year.

There’s a scene in the movie Joe Versus The Volcano (a great movie in my opinion) where Joe thinks he is going to die, and he struggles to his feet to thank God for his life. He then passes out — but he doesn’t die (and thus the plot moves forward). There isn’t any indication in the movie that God saves Joe because he thought enough to thank Him; nothing was changed because Joe expressed his appreciation. There wasn’t any other purpose to the thanks but the thanks itself. That is genuine prayer.

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Joe Versus The Volcano

This is the point behind 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks.”

Thank God that chocolate cake exists, but don’t pray for any 😉.

* There is a whole history to this, which involves (Saint) Augustine and the concept of purgatory. More on that another time.