prayer bubbles

bursting prayer bubbles cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

From my earliest memory I always wondered why prayers weren’t answered. I mean the important ones. The life and death ones. The ones that matter. I always held rationalizations suspect, such as:

Thank God for unanswered prayer!


God does answer prayer, just in his own way.


Only the prayers of the righteous are heard and answered.


You need to pray with more faith… as if it is already answered.


Are you begging, or are you submitting your request?


There is no god to answer that prayer.

Etc., etc., etc…. All simplistic rationalizations.

One of the toughest lessons to learn in our spiritual walk is that we really have no idea what is happening in prayer.

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26 Responses

  1. Brian Morse says:

    I often pray using a method of creative visualization. I know that some call it new age. I just call it creative prayer. Thanks for the cartoon. It reminded me of one of my favorite prayer methods!

  2. Raquel Asuncion says:

    Powerful message…thank you for putting prayer in another, intense perspective.

  3. Those all sound familiar.
    These days prayer is not a big part of my life and I find things are working out and/or happening like they did before… sometimes good, sometimes not. But the big difference is, I have a lot more peace because I don’t have guilt about how well I did or did not pray.

  4. Mark Cameron says:

    I know what happens when I pray…God hears and cares. After that I have no idea what happens but I have learned to be content with the first part regardless of the outcome. Most of the time, more of the time as I age. But I’m good with the fact that God listened and that he cares even when I don’t understand the results or what appears to be a lack of results. I am becoming more and more aware that I am incapable of understanding God and realizing that he wouldn’t be much of a god if I did. So I continue to pray and trust him with the results.

  5. Carol says:

    Of course, we are engaging a Mystery in the deepest sense when we seek a direct encounter with God and existentialism has its serious limitations as do all human attempts at understanding; but I am drawn to Kierkegaard’s insight into prayer:

    The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.–Soren Kierkegaard

    His “take” on prayer complements his insight into love:

    Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper, so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer he can, as it were, creep into God. –Soren Kierkegaard

    “Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself.” –Soren Kierkegaard

    So then we are presented with the challenge of the question of how can a God who not only loves but IS love remain essentially unchanged in the metaphysical sense.

    The former Lutheran turned Eastern Orthodox theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan states:

    In Judaism it was possible simultaneously to ascribe change of purpose to God and to declare that God did not change, without resolving the paradox; for the immutability of God was seen as the trustworthiness of covenanted relation to his people in the concrete history of his judgment and mercy, rather than as a primarily ontological category. –Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition—Vol. 1.

    ISTM that many Christian fundamentalists and their more intellectually sophisticated co-believers, the Scholastics, try to turn Scripture into either a moral manual or a metaphysical treatise rather than a love story, a narrative of an often rocky intimate relationship between the people of God and their God.

  6. Sabio Lantz says:

    Yet we know many believers who tell us that God does answer prayers:
    — illness is healed
    — money comes by surprise
    — weather is perfect for an event
    — tragedy is quickly followed by wonderful event
    — depression, anxiety, self-hatred, loneliness are lifted

    Lots of Christians would see some of their bubble continue to rise, reach God’s ears and be answered.

    Weren’t you tempted to interpret events as they have?

    Why are you different?

  7. Heather Ifversen says:

    For me, it is not about how much faith, but how much thought I put into prayer. Not that I think I measure it’s potential success with how much I think about something, but rather an awareness that my thoughts are all heard by God, all of the time. When I began to think of prayer in terms of this awareness, I felt naked. But then I became more mindful of my thoughts & also made space for listening. You’re right. What happens on God’s side is not clear, but I know prayer transformed me, if only through the act of doing it. Thought provoking. Thank you.

  8. Jake says:

    David – This is one of the most powerful illustrations that I have ever seen you do. Amazing how your illustration is both visual and mental. Amazing.

  9. nakedpastor says:

    thanks so much jake. nakedtheology and nakedpastor??? we should be partners 🙂

  10. Jacquie says:

    I am not sure that I pray in the sense that most would (i.e. in a determined way or with fasting & praying as was quite the custom in the circles I moved in).

    I tend to just send thoughts/occurances heavenwards as if they are carried on the wind. I might do this many times as a situation comes into my head or heart or sometimes just the once. I do not agonize in prayer (or have a special position..on my knees for instance..) most times…whereas when I was church-bound that was almost the main kind of prayer…spritiual warfare type.

    That’s just me 🙂

  11. Even when a bubble pops, it continues to have an effect. 🙂 I do believe prayer effects change, but sometimes we cannot perceive the changes, sort of like the butterfly effect in nature. And the changes may not be according to what we ask.

    God is not all-powerful. Some things God cannot do. God surely cannot do the impossible. And God gave humans free will, so with the gift given, how can God be all-powerful? Humans do as they will.

    I believe God loves us and hears all our prayers and responds in love. I’ve seen what seem to me dramatic answers to prayers, but these events are unusual. Most often the effects of prayer are gradual, some so gradual that we may not see the results in our lifetime.

    If we are in a relationship with God, then God changes us, but we change God, too, or how can the relationship be real? As we relate to God and others, change constantly takes place, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Letting go of the concept of God as immutable was helpful to me, even as I trust that God is unchanging in love and faithfulness to us.

  12. Beth says:

    I’ve always been told that God’s answers to prayer are ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘not yet’. Watching both of my parents die painful deaths from cancer was a turning point in my ideas about prayer. I couldn’t, and still can’t, understand why a loving God’s answers would be ‘no’ to my prayers for healing and/or to decrease their suffering. I just can’t wrap my head and heart around that.

    Grandmere, your idea of letting go of the idea of God as immutable is interesting and I will be dwelling on that for awhile.

  13. Tana says:

    My prayer life flourished the day I stopped anthropomorphizing God. Of course doing that lead me down the scary road of “What is God, then?” I would say I pray similarly to Brian (first commenter) and that for me, what goes out is hope and an already/not yet experience. When I pray I imagine the Universe saying in various ways, “How are you going to handle that, God Child?” I know that to some that is blasphemous, but I can’t let go of the very real fact that at the end of the day, everything that happens has a root causation pointing to us and the cycles of the earth.

    Therefore, truly, what am I and we going to do about it? We are not inept after all. Collectively we are very powerful and can inflict great harm, damage and pain. I just don’t think we’ve figured out how we can also gather into community to inflict great healing and joy. One day…

  14. shelly says:

    God is not all-powerful. Some things God cannot do. God surely cannot do the impossible. And God gave humans free will, so with the gift given, how can God be all-powerful? Humans do as they will.

    I disagree with this to a point.

    God didn’t give humans “free will”. Just will. All our decisions are influenced by something. Only God has “free will”.

    At least, Grandmere, you’re acknowledging that, within the doctrine “free will”, humans are more powerful than God. Which is wrong. If humans are more powerful than God, why make him the subject of our praise, worship, and devotion? Personally, I don’t want anything to do with a God who is weak. IMO, it’s ridiculous.

    In Isaiah 45, God states via the prophet that “I created good and I created evil. I, the Lord, did all these things”. This is corroborated in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians when he writes “All is of God”.

    In Exodus, God tells Moses he is going to harden Pharoah’s heart in order to reveal himself via the various plagues. In Romans, Paul writes that God reveals himself to whom he wills, and hardens the hearts of those he wills, along with likening God to a potter and all of humanity to clay, “making one vessel of honour and one of dishonour”.

    I’m not saying we have to like all this, particularly the idea that God is responsible for everything, just that it’s true.

  15. “…humans are more powerful than God.”

    shelly, that does not necessarily follow from what I said. God freely yielded power to us humans to exercise our free gift under the authority of God, our creator. It’s not all up to God. I believe God expects us to help build the Kingdom right here and right now.

    Was God weak when Jesus was killed? In the very act of the incarnation, when God became human, just like us, born a babe, God yielded power.

  16. Carol says:

    I think that we sometimes confuse vulnerability with weakness. Love makes one vulnerable. Only a strong person can risk becoming vulnerable.

  17. VanPastorMan says:

    Beth, I feel for you. If cancer was a man I’d punch him in the mouth. May God hold you close. I lost my mother 5 yrs ago to congestive heart failure. She basically drowned in the hospital bed. She is allright now because she put her faith in Jesus.
    Prayer is one of those hard concepts. Sometimes we pray and we don’t affect God’s Will. Other Times we do. All we can know is this. 1 John 5:14 says This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
    If we all knew God’s Will then we would be ok. The problem is sometimes God calls people home even though we don’t want them to go. I bet Enoch’s family wasn’t happy when the Lord took him to Heaven without dying. The same goes with Elijah.

  18. Beth says:

    Thanks VPM. I appreciate your kind words. I am sorry for the loss of your mom too. Losing my mom has been particularly hard. (no offense to all the dads).

    The deaths of my parents was tough, but the more confusing part was that God would continue to allow the suffering. Why was that necessary? (rhetorical question, of course).

    But then it was all the platitudes from the well meaning folks…she’s in a better place, God needed her in heaven….and on, and on. The best thing anyone said was, ‘I’m sorry, that sucks’.

  19. Syl says:

    Even back during my most fundamentalist/evangelical/pentecostal years I felt that, rather than being for the purpose of entreating God to intervene in circumstances or change others, prayer was a way to draw strength, comfort, courage, and wisdom for dealing with those circumstances. Rather than a means of removing suffering, prayer (and today I would add, meditation) seems to me to be a practice which can assist in navigating the inevitable challenges and sorrows of our lives, and act as a vehicle for thoughtfully reflecting on the joys and goodness we experience in an attitude of thankfulness.

    I now believe it does a tremendous disservice to honorable people who are faithful believers to place on them the additional burden of guilt, shame and magnified suffering that comes from the kind of doctrine that promotes (sells) prayer as a magic talisman which will somehow change God’s mind, alter physical circumstance, and fix intractable problems – if only the one praying has enough faith or asks in the right way or lives a holy enough life or professes Jesus enough or waits patiently or never gives up or any of a hundred different gotchas that can be called upon to justify the lack of an affirmative answer. And that doesn’t begin to touch on the notion of God allowing (or causing) bad things to happen or refusing to intervene in horrific circumstances for some mysterious higher purpose.

    I believe that both we and God (if he exists) are better than that. Rather than offering simplistic, shallow answers, it seems to me that “I don’t know” is both more honest and meaningful. That shit happens is not a judgement or something to be pasted over with platitudes – it’s life and we’re in it together.

    I’m also well aware that this is a somewhat unorthodox view, but it’s honest – and I have no interest in or intention of trying to climb back into the box of theological orthodoxy.

  20. Beth says:

    Excellent points Syl.

  21. Carol says:

    It is not the suffering that destroys the human spirit so much as it is the seeming lack of meaning in it.

    The Cross does not give us many answers for our heads; but it does give give us comfort for our hearts.

    We know from Job as well as Jesus that suffering is not necessarily the result of personal sin. Few of us have suffered as Jesus suffered on the Cross. I find when life becomes painfully challenging that contemplating the Cross of Christ rather than dwelling on my own suffering tends to put things back into perspective. Why me? “A servant is not above his/her Master. If Jesus suffered so, why not me?

    There there are the lives of the martyrs and the confessors of the faith. Hebrews makes it very certain that some of the faithful were temporally delivered and some were put to death. The universal promise is an Eternal deliverance. Temporal deliverance is a sometimes thing.

    When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.–Mother Teresa of Calcutta

    “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.” – Simone Weil

    “It is an awful truth that suffering can deepen us, give a greater luster to our colors, a higher resonance to our wounds. That is if it doesn’t destroy us, if it doesn’t burn away the optimism and the spirit, the capacity for visions, and the respect for simple yet indispensable things.”–Anne Rice

    To suffer is to have anything—great or small—otherwise than as you wish or will or want it to be. If your self-will is powerful and untamed, you will “suffer” horribly when you miss a train or run out of cigarettes: if your self-will is wholly conformed to the will of God, as manifested in the circumstances of the moment, you can undergo extremes of physical pain without “suffering” at all. Hence the joy of the martyrs: hence the serenity of an agonizing but saintly death-bed.–Christopher Derrick, That Strange Divine Sea

  22. Jacquie says:

    Syl…I embrace fully your wonderful comment. You have thought about this deeply and I did feel my heart swell as I read the comment.

    It has actually been great to read all the comments on this artwork…it has enlarged my thinking quite a lot and for that I would say David (NP) has achieved what he has set out to do. So thanks to David too.

  23. VanPastorMan says:

    Beth, I believe Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 would be more on the, “this sucks” kind of thinking. He uses the word grieve. Is grieving easy or pleasant? No, but Paul’s point is that the Christian who loses a fellow believer grieves (this sucks) but doesn’t grieve like those who have no hope. Beth, I think that most people when they say all the platitude stuff are just trying to be nice without thinking about the damage they do to thinking people.

  24. Beth says:

    Again, thanks VPM. I appreciate you taking your time to think about this and respond to me. You are right that people are just trying to be nice…I think we all feel like we HAVE to say something in tough situations, so we may end up saying something unhelpful/hurtful. Having gone through this now myself, I have learned it is way better to say nothing than to say something trite. (A friend of mine who was grieving terribly after the death of her son actually had cards printed that said, “That wasn’t helpful, try again.” I’m not certain that she gave many/any out, but it just felt good to her to have them available).

  25. Justin H says:

    Why do I have a craving for bubble tea now? =:-D

    Hmmm… prayer bubble tea… how would it taste? There’s something for discussion.