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Praying 4 Sergio: The Inanity and Ineffectuality of Prayer

October 7, 2009

Normally, I don’t pay attention to the fliers and slips that go around on campus. However, today, I received three different slips of paper inviting me to “Pray 4 Sergio” — but only if I wanted. This invitation featured a website…but I wasn’t about to go to the website. After all, I was just going to throw each of these three slips of paper into the trash.

But instead, I got to thinking. There have been so many invitations all over my campus to pray for Sergio. This guy obviously has some serious supporters…why is that? What’s wrong with poor Sergio?

I assumed that the reason why so many people would want others too pray for Sergio was because he must be terminally ill. What was his condition? I wondered. What was he at risk of losing? I asked. How much time did he have to live?

But I was more worried. Because with all these invitations for prayer, my biggest question was: what are Sergio’s supporters doing?

After all, it’s one thing to pray. It’s another thing to act. I should hope that even believers know that action has more efficacy in saving lives than wishes and prayers.

I decided, out of concern for Sergio (and curiosity for whatever could possibly ail him so), to check out the website. Little did I know that it would inspire me to write this scathing criticism.

If you go to the website (I linked it above), you will find that there is nothing wrong with Sergio. He has no illness…he has no loss. Rather, what people think is wrong with Sergio…and what people are praying for…is Sergio’s nonbelief. His denial of Christ.

There are just so many things wrong here.

OK. OK. So, I’ll be charitable. Let’s say that Brandon’s goal is an admirable one. Let’s concede that it is a worthwhile goal to try to get Sergio to profess Christ is Lord. For the sake of the topic, I will grant Brandon this much.

…well, Brandon…then prayer still is ineffectual and inane. Are you really going to pray the belief into someone?

(By the way, I’m not even sure if this is a real site. It could just be a bracelet advocacy pyramid scheme or just a Poe…on the testimony page, it alternates between saying Sergio once was a best friend and saying Sergio is Brandon’s father…Now, I know it isn’t unheard of for sons to consider their fathers “best friends”…but….it’s iffy.)

Let’s look at WHY Sergio “persecutes” Christians and denies Christ.

Sergio is not a Christian and constantly denies Christ while calling all Christians simply “Biblist.” He gets this term because he believes that’s Christians don’t follow Christ but what a bunch of “idiots” wrote.

OK, so let’s grant that this is a true reason…this becomes a veritable goldmine for possible actions. If Brandon wants Sergio to believe (or at least stop “persecuting” Christians)…then instead of praying, what if — novel idea approaching — he inspired more Christians to stop being “Biblist” and following “what a bunch of “idiots” [have written]”? And instead…he tried to get Christians to be good people?

What a novel idea, right? Obviously, there are plenty of people who are turned off by Christianity because Christianity doesn’t apparently improve the well-beings, moral fibers, ethical integrities, or livelihoods of its practitioners. In fact, Christianity doesn’t even do a good job of inspiring people to understand what Christianity entails, must less live by what it entails. And so, Sergio can call Christians “Biblists” and know that that means something terrible…because the Bible doesn’t specifically not seem terrible. It’s all up to the interpretation of the reader, and the scary part is that in many parts of the world, conservative traditionalists have the “legitimacy” to interpret the Bible in all kinds of backwards, unaccepting ways.

Wouldn’t this novel idea be great? Instead of hoping that Sergio somehow looks past all of the nonsense and gains faith…what if Christians evaluated themselves…because they can change themselves. And then, at the very least, people could see the difference in these Christians’ lives and MAYBE, just MAYBE, they might wonder if Christianity was the difference.

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10 Comments
  1. FireTag permalink

    Excellent point.

  2. Geoff permalink

    I appreciate your point, but don’t you think prayer and action are going hand in hand? Obviously Brandon is spending money on something that he believes God can do. It was very common for Christ to leave all of His friends and disciples and retreat to a secluded place to pray to the Father. He knew that only God could move hearts and minds. Christians believe that prayer and action are one in the same. Is Brandon not acting by getting people to pray for his father that he has been trying to reach for a very long time? Obviously Brandon is walking away from things that do not align with his faith, but his father still chooses to do them. Is this not action? Maybe the things that his father is doing don’t line up with his beleifs and their relationship is suffering for it, because Sergio doesn’t understand. Maybe he is drinking excessively, being promiscuous, and falling in to things that Brandon doesn’t want to fall into. Jesus said “people will hate you because of Me.” and He didn’t mean people will hate you because you are hypocritical, He meant people will hate you because you are walking in a Truth you believe is the only way to heaven. It seems self righteous, but it is an absolute truth of a belief. Just like if you were to say all religions are the same or all relgions lead you to heaven or even there is no God. These statements are in and of themselves self proclaimed absolute truths that completely contradict the argument against Christianity being self righteous. These statements are themselves just as self righteous.
    Any way you spin it, one thing has to be true. And there is nothing wrong with believing in something and hoping others might. Especially those you care about.

    Sergio doesn’t even know about the website!
    Now if someone believes that a belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven and is set upon this belief, wouldn’t that make you want to tell others about it? Especially if Christ commands us to?

    Anyways, that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is, if Brandon were not acting, you would have never known about this website.

    Man I hope you understand what is said here. I don’t mean to be malicious in any way. I just want you to understand. You’re obviously a smart guy.

  3. Geoff:

    Thanks for the comment…I think you are correct on several points. Obviously, this campaign is itself an action. And the time and money and effort that Brandon has put into it (not to mention his many supporters) are actions.

    But are they actions focused for the sake of action? I think that Brandon means for these actions to be a means to an end…the end goal is for people to pray. This confuses the usefulness of the actions he is taking.

    I think that the actions betray his trust in prayer…for if he believes in prayer, then shouldn’t it be as you say? Christ retreated to a secluded place to pray. He left all of his friends to do this. Matthew 6:6 confirms this message…when you pray, you pray in secret.

    So, if Brandon believes fully in the efficacy of prayer, there is no need for a campaign. He should be praying in silent and in secret for Sergio…but he betrays his ends.

    If Sergio hates Brandon for his Christianity, yet Brandon is doing all the things he is supposed to be doing as a Christian, then why should he care? He is doing the things he needs to be doing. If God sees fit, he will reach out to Sergio. If not, then not. If Brandon is truly “walking in a Truth,” then his life should noticeably be better and brighter, and Sergio should be able to see this.

    But if Sergio cannot see improvement in Brandon’s way of life, then what does that say? It either says something about Brandon’s adherence to Christian tenets or to the desirability of Christian tenets in general. So that is why I say it would be more charitable to assume many Christians are hypocritical…because if we do not assume this, then we assume that Christianity itself is unappealing, ineffective, and not worthwhile.

    Let’s look at a line of yours:

    And there is nothing wrong with believing in something and hoping others might. Especially those you care about.

    I have no problem with this line. But I think that there are certain actions that would be more likely to inspire others to believe in what I hope others believe.

    For example, if I wanted Sergio to believe, I would try to show Sergio the benefit of Christianity — in a way that he could see. I would not sidestep and ask a whole bunch of strangers to pray for Sergio.

    If I wanted Sergio to believe, I would hope that I talked with Sergio first before I talked to anyone else. The fact that I have seen the website and Sergio has not is part of what I am decrying.

    No need to apologize for anything (especially not for any malice). I just think that Brandon’s approach either betrays his faith, or is ineffective.

  4. Geoff permalink

    I see what you are saying, but the desired goal here is not for a vast multitude of prayer. The desired end is for a change of heart in his father.
    This doesn’t betray is faith at all. Brandon believes in the power of prayer and obviously believes that the more people who are crying out to God, the more effective the request will be. This is not just a cry for Sergio, but a cry for his family and a cry for those who are going through the same situation.
    Should we not pray for those who are dying in the name of Christ all through out the world? What about the orphans who are living on basic needs that they may or may not get that day? Had I not heard about these things and been asked to pray, I would have never thought to. Prayer by other people is an encouragement. It helps to create a sense of community and love knowing that other people are thinking about you and lifting you up to God. Just as action shows the love of Christ through fellow believers, prayer shows the support, lifting up and encouragement that your friends, brothers and sisters in Christ can give.
    I in no way mean to say that you are ignorant, but I think you may be misunderstanding what prayer is to a believer in Christ. In placing our faith in Him, we are telling Him, we can not help ourselves. We can not gain salvation. We do not have the strength to make it through a certain day. We can not stand in the midst of all that surrounds us. God we need help.
    God will reach out to Sergio if He sees fit, but just as we ask for anything else, there is nothing wrong with petition. There is nothing wrong with a request.
    I think you may see prayer as a lazy cop-out to “getting something done” when prayer to us is a cry for help. It is admitting defeat and asking God desperately for aid.

    As far as the effectiveness of Brandon’s life, it would be a sore and unwarranted conclusion to assume that for one, Sergio hates Brandon and for another that Sergio actually knows what Brandon’s life and adherances are.
    Sergio grew up in a family that saw the Catholic church as an institution. A place of do’s and don’t’s when all that Christ asks for is placing your faith in Him. Not on the ways of this world.

    I think a book like Romans or The Gospel of John is a great place to see the attitude and mentality of Christ and those who were closely related to Him in friendship and loyalty.
    Has Sergio read either of these books within the Bible lately? I highly doubt it. Maybe even never. To do so would be to see Brandon’s faith. Instead Sergio takes into account the negative actions of man through out the ages instead of the wonderful and selfless acts of Christ and His disciples.
    Has Sergio seen Brandon around his friends? The way he seeks their council, encourages them, prays for them? Not really. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.
    Is this because he doesn’t see the appealing aspects of it? Maybe it is because he hasn’t experiences the joy and love that come from fellowship with a God that loves tremendously. So much that He would lay down His life for so many people.
    To come empty handed to God and to recieve in return an undeserved joy and life eternal is beauty unmatched in this world.
    Has Sergio experienced this? No… obviously not. Is it a bad thing for Brandon to plead with his God and Savior to turn his dad’s heart to Christ? No. Not at all. Is it ok to ask other believers in the very same God to support Brandon in pleading with him in community and support, but only if they are truly serious about doing it? Man, I just don’t see what is wrong with that.

    To assume that Brandon hasn’t talked with his father about this before is a conclusion too quickly drawn. He has for many years. Sergio isn’t looking to be saved. Is the need to be saved a concept produced by man? Not as far as believers are concerned.
    The entire concept of needing a Savior and realizing you are a sinner is a belief brought on by the Spirit of God to Christians. An action produced by God. Thus, the need for prayer.

    Consider this, if you were a believer in Christ and you were standing outside a Jewish synagogue. As the people came out and asked “What is it that you are praying for?” you responded “That you would believe in Christ. The Son of Yaweh. That you would follow the truth of the Bible.”
    How would that person respond? Probably not very well. They would probably not want to talk with you ever again.
    Is that to say that you intentions are wrong? Absolutely not. Jesus tells in Scripture to take care of His people. To love others dearly. Can you spend time with them and show them love? Of course, but are you going to change their minds about what they believe? Possibly. But what can some prayer hurt when you aren’t with them? What can multiple prayers from multiple caring people hurt?

    I just think your statements about praying privately and letting Sergio know are a bit contradicting.
    As for now, if Sergio were to find out about this website, he probably would be offended. Is it meant to offend Sergio? Not at all. It is out of love for Sergio. Not telling him is a conservative play, but one that will keep Sergio and Brandon’s relationship in the very least intact as opposed to completely severed. Their relationship is the only hope for outreach. Will Sergio find out one day? Maybe. If he does you or I can not know how he will react, but it may be better to keep him from knowing until a day when he may understand.

    I don’t expect to change your mind man, but I hope you understand why he is doing this.

  5. If the desire is for a change of heart, then Brandon must do more (or rather, do DIFFERENT) than call for a vast multitude of prayer. This is what I am saying, quite simply.

    If Brandon believes in prayer, he doesn’t need to somehow get “more firepower” — an entire campus (or perhaps many) trying to pray. It shouldn’t matter if it is one person or ten thousand…that is, if he believes in prayer. If he doesn’t truly believe in prayer, then his attempt at getting sheer numbers in prayers is still ineffectual, but it foremost betrays his faith. If he believes in prayer, he should be enough. it does not follow that “the more people who are crying out for God, the more effective the request will be.” This either suggests that God might “overlook” one prayer (so you need to get a bunch of people to continually nag and remind), which is an insult to God. If he doesn’t believe in the efficacy of one man’s prayer, then getting hundreds of fellow prayers shouldn’t help.

    Should you or should you not pray for those who are dying? I don’t know. I think prayer won’t do much, but actually trying to assist these people will. Asking people to put time, money and resources will help…asking people to pray won’t. I don’t think a community who has come together simply to pray is effective. It would be better to bring a community together to serve and act.

    People thinking about me does little for me. People coming to help me does a lot. Do you truly not see the difference?

    I in no way mean to say that you are ignorant, but I think you may be misunderstanding what prayer is to a believer in Christ. In placing our faith in Him, we are telling Him, we can not help ourselves. We can not gain salvation. We do not have the strength to make it through a certain day. We can not stand in the midst of all that surrounds us. God we need help.

    However, if Christians believe this, then their actions should change. Brandon doesn’t need to enlist an active following of fellow prayer-givers…because his attempts to enlist imply that he believes he CAN help himself with Sergio…he just needs more people.

    No, if he cannot help himself and we cannot help ourselves…then he shouldn’t ask others to pray for Sergio…because all of those others are similarly useless. The only one Brandon should contact is Jesus…the only one who he believes he can do anything.

    But since Brandon does NOT only contact Jesus, this is why I say he betrays his faith. He believes that people can collectively come together and help. So many prayers, he believes, has more chance of bringing the light to Sergio than one.

    You say there is nothing wrong with the petition, but there is similarly nothing right with it. It is a useless act. Either God will or he won’t…we won’t budge that opinion, no matter how many of us cry out. Brandon clearly believes through his actions of asking many to pray that sheer number can influence God. So, you can tell me if that is betraying his faith or not.

    Let’s focus on another thing you said:

    Has Sergio read either of these books within the Bible lately? I highly doubt it. Maybe even never. To do so would be to see Brandon’s faith. Instead Sergio takes into account the negative actions of man through out the ages instead of the wonderful and selfless acts of Christ and His disciples.

    If you or Brandon or anyone truly believe this will help, then really, what would be more effective than praying would be TRYING TO GET SERGIO TO READ THESE BOOKS OF THE BIBLE. But Brandon does not try to do this. Brandon does not try to get Sergio to see the wonderful and selfless acts of Christ and His disciples.

    Brandon is disinterested in making Sergio interested in seeing the good that has come in his life as a result of Christ. Instead, he wants to pray.

    Perhaps Brandon should be trying to get Sergio to see the joy and love that come with a fellowship in God. Brandon can’t provide this for Sergio, but he can show Sergio constant charity. Brandon can show how his own life has been touched by such joy and love, if Brandon truly has been touched.

    But no, Brandon doesn’t do this. He prays.

    To assume that Brandon hasn’t talked with his father about this before is a conclusion too quickly drawn. He has for many years. Sergio isn’t looking to be saved.

    Then Brandon needs to either show that Sergio should be looking to be saved or shut down. But Brandon isn’t doing this. Instead, he prays.

    The entire concept of needing a Savior and realizing you are a sinner is a belief brought on by the Spirit of God to Christians. An action produced by God. Thus, the need for prayer.

    This is logically fallacious, unless you truly believe that Brandon and his group of fellow prayer-givers will influence the will of God. Either God will reach out or God won’t. Either Sergio will feel he needs a Savior or He won’t. If a prayer will help, then only one prayer (Brandon) is needed. If a prayer won’t help, then no matter how many people Brandon enlists, it won’t matter.

    Consider this, if you were a believer in Christ and you were standing outside a Jewish synagogue. As the people came out and asked “What is it that you are praying for?” you responded “That you would believe in Christ. The Son of Yaweh. That you would follow the truth of the Bible.”

    How would that person respond? Probably not very well. They would probably not want to talk with you ever again.
    Is that to say that you intentions are wrong? Absolutely not. Jesus tells in Scripture to take care of His people. To love others dearly. Can you spend time with them and show them love? Of course, but are you going to change their minds about what they believe? Possibly. But what can some prayer hurt when you aren’t with them? What can multiple prayers from multiple caring people hurt?

    If someone responds poorly, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were…your consequences are completely counteractive to your goals. If you want a Jew to become Christian, you certainly DO NOT want to make him view Christianity in a poor light. Going to the outside of the synagogue and praying NOT ONLY DOES NOTHING GOOD, BUT IT ACTUALLY HURTS YOUR CAUSE.

    So yes, prayer does hurt. Whereas Christlike service and action might make the Jewish person think, “Hmm…that person’s a great guy…I’m interested to know why.” It might not make him a convert, but he’ll sure be more endeared to Christians in the future than in the situation you listed.

    I just don’t understand how you don’t see this. If you, as a Christian, were to act in such a way (at a synagogue) and alienate someone from Christianity, you are to blame! Your actions are inane, ineffectual, and harmful to your cause! How do you not see this?

    I just think your statements about praying privately and letting Sergio know are a bit contradicting.
    As for now, if Sergio were to find out about this website, he probably would be offended. Is it meant to offend Sergio? Not at all. It is out of love for Sergio. Not telling him is a conservative play, but one that will keep Sergio and Brandon’s relationship in the very least intact as opposed to completely severed. Their relationship is the only hope for outreach. Will Sergio find out one day? Maybe. If he does you or I can not know how he will react, but it may be better to keep him from knowing until a day when he may understand.

    You pray in private. If I wish for you to convert, and I know that you are not receptive to the message, I don’t tell you, “I wish you would convert.”

    What I tell you is simple: “I love you (in the Christlike way, not in a sexual or whatever kind of way). I want to serve you. I am always here to serve you.” You show genuine love and charity. You are always there for that person. People must know how much you care before they care what you know.

    I guess you still haven’t really shown me why Brandon is doing this. Really, I’m sorry I couldn’t get to your message in more detail (there was a lot to handle), but I think the synagogue example is very good. It is a perfect example, I think, of what not to do. Of how to make Christians look bad. Of how to hurt the Christian cause. It is an example of not really caring and not really serving and not acting in an appropriate manner…but merely praying in an inane, ineffectual, and counterintuitive manner…I’m sorry I had my thoughts jumbled, but I’d REALLY like to stress this point…because I think if people could realize this message, then harmony would increase and people MIGHT be able to share religion with better results.

  6. Geoff permalink

    with regard to praying outside a synagogue: I do see it as harmful. That was the point I was trying to get across. That is why I used it to illustrate telling that telling Sergio would be ineffective.

    Thank you for listening. All the other things in this letter I will address later, because I don’t think that you’re really understanding what I am trying to say. I have a test tomorrow and I have to study. Hope to talk with you soon.

  7. Geoff permalink

    also, on the reading of the Bible. You again can not make an implication towards Brandon that you don’t know is true. You can’t assume Brandon hasn’t tried this when he probably has. You simply can’t use that in your argument here.

  8. I hope you well on your test…

    Let me just try to summarize some of my thoughts (and you can just think about them if you ever have time after your test or whenever).

    Brandon must live his life in a way that embodies the best Christianity has to offer. Similarly, if he wants to request anything of other Christians, he should encourage them all to live their lives in the way that embodies the best of what Christianity has to offer.

    This is the simplest, purest thing he can do.

    From here, Sergio will see Brandon’s actions (or the actions of others), and he will determine for himself if these actions appeal to him or if they do not. If they do, he might wonder why these people conduct themselves in such a way and how he can have that in his life. If they do not, then he will not want to have that in his life. Things end there.

    Part of the Christianity that Brandon (and other Christians) should be embodying is Christlike service and charity. Are they truly willing to serve Sergio, regardless of his belief? And what does their service entail of?

    What I am saying is that if their service primarily entails praying for Sergio…this is ineffectual. It doesn’t do much.

    But if there service is something more…something that would appeal to Sergio…then they might be able to pique his interest in Christianity. However, so far Sergio has a certain idea of Christians and Christianity in his head (for whatever reason), and Brandon and others aren’t explicitly working to change this idea (before you say, “You can’t assume Brandon hasn’t tried this when he probably has,” let’s look at the salient and available evidence. The fruits of Brandon’s actions that we can most readily judge his actions by are the prayer drive. So, even if Brandon *is* doing other things in addition to praying, what his site and his movement and his supporters are being NOTICED for are for the prayer drive). So, how can Christianity ever become appealing to Sergio?

    Now, you raise that it would require contact with the Holy Spirit. But on this case, this is on God’s time and of his will. Brandon’s petitioning (and inviting others to petition) is a doubt of God’s will and timing, or is an arrogant assumption that God will be swayed by sheer number of prayers.

    Because, imagine if Sergio does have some experience that makes him want to become Christian. What might Brandon think? Brandon might think, “Wow, thanks to all this prayer!”

    No. That is bad faith. If Brandon was helpless, then nothing he did had the deciding impact. So in fact, all this prayer is ineffectual and purposeless.

    This prayer movement, however, isn’t simply ineffectual. It isn’t simply “neutral.” Rather, it is what contributes to the poor image that Christians have, and probably contributes to Sergio’s poor image of Christians. So, prayer, like the prayer at the synagogue, is not only ineffective at reaching goals, but is harmful against these goals. Whereas if someone served the Jews at synagogue as they are, showed care and compassion for their interests and their faith, then this compassion might indirectly inspire these people to become interested. Why do these people have such compassion? Why are they so interested? What in their life gives them that?

  9. Geoff permalink

    I just wrote a response but forgot to fill in the name stuff. I will write you back soon!

  10. Geoff permalink

    because it all was erased.

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