Prager on Prayer

Talking About Prayer
by Dennis Prager

An Opening Monologue from an Ultimate Issues Hour

Today's subject is a difficult one for most people and I am among those for whom it is. I admit it at the outset, but it is certainly an ultimate issue and one that I want to discuss with you, and the subject is prayer.

I was approached about a year and a half ago by a major publisher that was doing a series of books to be written by some public figures who they thought had also not just in public — not just that they were public figures — but they had something to say — which is often not the same as you well know. Anyway I was approached and I was flattered, but the subject was they wanted a series of books — short books — which is immediately appealing to me as a reader and a writer — and the subject they wanted any of us who had accepted the invitation to write the book was something that was a real struggle in our life. It's a very good theme. And one prominent figure already wrote one of these books in this series and he wrote it about how difficult he found it to forgive — I don't mean somebody who wronged him on the way to work but terrible evils — and so it gives you an idea. And I immediately thought of, okay you want to know something I struggle with, it's prayer.

I'm a very religious man, deep believer in God, actively religious, wrote two books on my religion which is Judaism, hundreds of articles, I'm immersed in Christian life as well, I try to be and I think I am in some ways a bridge between Jews and Christians, I teach the Bible verse-by-verse, I have students of every background, in fact half Jewish, half Christians, the Christians are from all different denominations, the Jews are from all different denominations, so I'm immersed in religious life, but I have always found prayer difficult.

And I envy those who don't! The last thing I want to do is communicate my difficulties to somebody who has a real easy path to prayer. But it gives me the advantage of being able to talk about it and to relate to those who share difficulties with prayer.

So what I want to do is systematically break down the types of prayer that there are, and to make it more palatable for those of you who like me have some difficulties with at least one aspect of prayer, and I will be honest with you which aspect it is that I have the most difficulty with, and that is petitionary prayer — asking God for something for me. And it's not because of humility — "oh who am I to ask for me," I mean you might as well say who am I to ask for the next guy, which I don't have a problem with.

It's not so much that as this, frankly. It's difficult to say because it could be upsetting to people — emotionally upsetting — but I believe in transparency so here goes — and it's hardly unique to me, hardly unique. That is, when I see, and I am keenly aware, more so than most people who don't concentrate on the amount of suffering in the world as much as I have since I'm [I was] a child, it's not self-praise because I don't even think I can take credit for it — that's the way my nature is. Since I was child I have just been pre-occupied with the amount of unjust suffering in the world. When I think about the notion of all these people — decent people — who have had horrible things happen to them, and I think of how many of them undoubtedly prayed for rescue, and obviously that prayer was not answered. And I'm not blaming God at all here — this has nothing to do with it — it becomes difficult for me to think, "oh I am going to get an answer" whereas hundreds of millions of equally deserving people didn't. Now whatever one can say, that has been my difficulty.

I'll give you an example of the difficulty — one example — that's not the whole thing at all — that I often give as an example of petitionary prayer and my own difficulties. Let us say you are driving home, your house is at the end of the street on the right, you see flames coming up from a home way down the block, this long street block on the right. It is the most natural thing to pray that it's not your house. But what you're of course praying is that it be somebody else's house.

There was a great scene — I'll give you another example on the petitionary prayer problem at least with some petitions — we have excerpts from in the beginning of our show — What is the movie? Yeah, Bruce Almighty. It's a terrific film by the way, it's a terrific film. Very very bright. There is a scene where Bruce is very angry at God for not answering prayer, not running the world the way he wants, and so God says — Morgan Freeman is God — and he says you know what, here, you be God, I'll retire. So he takes over as God and he's at his computer getting all the prayer requests, and he just decides he'll say yes to all the prayer requests — remember that scene? Including all the people who prayed that they would win at the lottery. So he says yes to everybody, and what happens is, everybody gets about a nickel, right? — that's the way it works, if everybody wins the lottery you don't get much money.

So since I was child, I have had that difficulty with petitionary prayer for myself, because always there's a voice in me saying why would God answer me as I want, and not so-and-so or so-and-so or so-and-so. So what I have realized — at least for me — is that there may be other reasons for prayer, and there are. And I would like offer you other reasons for prayer aside from the most obvious which is "God, please give me the following," which by the way I am not opposed to. If you have cancer and you pray for some divine miracle, I can't imagine what's wrong with that. That's not my point, to stop you from doing it, but it just is hard for me. I would on the other hand pray for you.

Listen to the entire hour here.


Dennis Prager