Study Guide: Scorpions, Eggs and Prayer, Part 2

Sunday February 10, 2008 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Why does it seem like some prayers work while others don’t give us the results we want? If our prayers don’t seem to work, who is to blame? God? Ourselves? Others? To begin to understand prayer, we must break free from a simplistic and commonly held “magical view” of prayer. There are many variables that affect prayer and faith and how they work together.

Extended Summary:

A magical view of prayer will lead people to blame God, themselves or others for prayers that look like they have failed. In order to deconstruct this common way of praying, one needs to see some of the variables that affect prayer.

  1. God’s Will. First of all, God wants us to pray according to His will. God is not a cosmic Santa Claus to whom we send up our lists of wants.
  2. The Laws of Nature. God created the universe to operate according to predictable laws. God’s goal in creation is for people to learn how to love and make morally responsible choices. If we lived in a magical world where God adjust laws every time we wanted him to, nothing would be predictable and relating would be impossible. We could never learn how to love or become morally responsible.
  3. Faith of the Person Praying. According to Heb. 11:1-2, “Faith is the substance (hupostasis) of things hoped for, the conviction (elegkos) of things unseen. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Faith is embracing a mental picture of something you hope for, like a substantial reality (hupostasis) and therefore having a conviction (elegkos) that it will be so. We concretely envisioning something about the future we believe is God’s will and moving towards it. But it’s NOT psychological certainty.
  4. People are Free Agents. You can pray with faith (vision and conviction) about something, but that doesn’t take away the free will of others that are related to the prayer.
  5. The Strength and Number of the Opposition. Since we live in a spiritual war zone, we’re up against forces of evil when we pray. The strength and number of those forces affects the outcome.
  6. The Strength and Number of Support. There is power in numbers.

This is the situation we find ourselves in. We don’t know how strong or how many we’re up against. We don’t know how strong or how many angels are fighting on our side. We don’t know how the irrevocable effects of angelic and human decisions made throughout history are impacting this situation. We usually don’t know how many people are praying or how persistent they’ve been or how much faith they have. We don’t know the level of faith of people we’re praying for. We don’t know how the necessary stability of the world plays into our prayer. We can know God’s ideal will for a situation, but can’t see the big picture that God sees and how this affects what is and is not possible in our particular situation.

And this is why we can’t ordinarily know why in response to prayer Suzie gets an egg and Johnny seems to get a scorpion, which is why we can’t say the scorpion was God’s fault or Johnny’s fault.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your biggest question about unanswered prayer?
  2. Are you more likely to blame God, blame yourself or blame others for failed prayers?
  3. Read Hebrews 11:1. How can having faith be turned into a misleading magic formula for prayer?
  4. If faith is about having a conviction and not having certainty, what role does faith have in prayer?
  5. Is there a situation in your life where you need a new vision and conviction? Will you share this with the group for prayer?