Treating Prayer Like Magic

I recently received an email requesting prayer for a woman with cancer. So I paused, turned my attention to God, and prayed to Him on her behalf. I prayed God would heal her, but if not, that He would comfort her family and glorify His name through this person’s experience.

But something in the email troubled me, sparking a desire to write to you today. It specifically requested that I join with all the other recipients to pray in unison on a specific day, at a specific time. The implicit reason for this seemed to be that the writer believed that if more people prayed at the same time, then our prayers would be more likely to be answered in the manner desired, in this case, complete healing of the woman’s cancer.


This troubled me because it treats prayer like magic and, worse still, treats God as if He is indifferent, or even antagonistic, to our individual needs and sorrows. It’s as if we have to gang up on Him to get His attention. Call it the “coordinated prayer-attack” on God. If more people pray – better yet, if they pray at the same time, and pray more passionately, with more sincerity, with more energy, for longer, while fasting, with tears – then, God is more likely to hear and answer.

This, reader, is a magical, pagan view of God and prayer. But, I’ve been guilty of it. And if you’re as average as me, you probably have, too. It’s so easy to begin thinking false thoughts about God, treating Him like a magical force when something we want, or fear, badly enough seems to be hanging in the balance.

Dear God, I want this job. I want this person to love me. I want this opportunity. I want my kids to be healthy. I want ______.

Dear God, I don’t want cancer. I really don’t want to lose my job. I really don’t want to lose my wife, or my kids, or my house, or my legs, or my safety, or my ______.


Have you ever seen a little kid with a toy sailboat? What’s he doing? He’s blowing as hard as he can at that sail to move the boat the way he wants it to go. Sometimes, I treat God as if He is that sailboat – powerful, but unmoved by my plight unless I blow the winds of prayer really, really hard in the direction I want Him to move. What if Jesus prayed that way in the garden? “Father, I really, really, really don’t want to go to the cross. Aren’t you there? Aren’t you listening? Don’t you care?”

But maybe, just maybe, God is there. Maybe He is listening and He does care. Maybe God is active, not passive like a toy sailboat. Maybe He has us in the palm of His hands bringing all sorts of pleasant and unpleasant things into our lives for an eternally good and loving, though temporarily painful, purpose. If that’s the case, then perhaps the best way to pray is as Jesus did, “Thy will be done.”

So then, prayer is not our attack on God; it’s our surrender to Him.

Crazy talk. I know. But, just maybe…

Have you ever treated prayer like it was magic?

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10 thoughts on “Treating Prayer Like Magic

  1. I don’t know if this is Dawn or Lon, but I just love how you expressed this. I, too, am so sensitive to when believers try to function in superstition and not in faith. I loved your line “So then, prayer is not our attack on God; it’s our surrender to Him.” Blessings.

    • Thanks Dawn. I tried to be sensitive to the fact that we all suffer (or will suffer) through things we just want God to remove. Good theology can get bruised in the scuffle, but so many people have to face tough times without a good foundation of who God is, what He promises, and what He doesn’t. These are the people who question whether God exists, or whether He’s mad, etc, etc. Thanks, Lon

  2. I believe God passionately wants to be with us. I believe He pursues us. His passion is to help us fix our broken-ness. And treating prayer like its a magical fix is not what He wants from us…its all about the relationship.

    • Yes Tina. I would add that it’s important to know what God has and hasn’t promised. He hasn’t promised anyone their “dream life” in “this life”. On the contrary, “If you find your life, you will lose it.” Everyone suffers in this life. Everyone dies in this life of old age, or sickness, or tragedy, or human evil (crime, war, etc). This is broken! He has promised to fix that broken-ness, but not until the next life. This life is no Nirvana, but He promises eternity in perfect relationship with Him and freedom from every harm. Until then, He calls us to recognize the broken-ness of this age, adopt the pilgrim’s attitude in it, and be little conduits of His life in this life while it lasts. Thanks for your comment, Lon

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