(No) Prayers for Rain

A rare view of a rainy Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco

I grew up in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas where praying and fasting for rain was a regular part of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though I have since sought out greener pastures—literally!—on the other side of the world, I still follow with interest and concern the status of the droughts in the American West, particularly in California. And so I was delighted last week when an atmospheric river brought much needed precipitation to California, Nevada and Utah.

I shared my delight with family members living in the affected regions, and much of the conversation went along predictable lines—thanks to Heavenly Father for answering prayers and sending rain and snow. But one response caught me off guard. A relative confessed to having forgotten to pray for moisture. He then concluded—and this is what surprised me—that his prayers didn’t matter since the moisture came anyway.

No doubt many people of faith have been tried and tested when they felt their prayers weren’t answered, but to have one’s faith in prayer rocked by something good happening absent a prayer was a possibility I hadn’t contemplated yet, and the exchange prompted me to reflect on my own assumptions about prayer and the power thereof.

I didn’t come up with anything profound, but upon reflection I have apparently assumed that I am not key to God acting in the world and certainly do not need to be consulted when blessings were on the line, especially when many others are praying for such blessings. I hope I’m right, because the responsibility of being the Lord’s gatekeeper is not one that I want!

Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to ask what our responsibility is when it comes to praying for things that would affect others. Again, I have nothing profound to offer, but prayer strikes me as an easy way to express solidarity, be it with a region inhabited by millions of people, a neighboring family, or a member of the ward. That solidarity may not bring rain, heal the sick or find the keys all by itself, but the moral support of knowing that one is not alone in the face of formidable challenges has—at least in my experience—always been comforting.

From my worm’s eye view I believe that prayers matter, but perhaps not in the ways we expect them do. In this regard, I am reminded of the wisdom contained in a recent post by Laura, Fast and Testimony Meeting:

Prayer may or may not lead us to our keys; prayer leads us to comprehend God’s image in our countenances. Prayer doesn’t focus on our wish fulfillment; prayer forges intimacy with the Divine. After all, the doors we walked through with God never needed the keys we’d prayed for.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about prayer generally or the experiences that have prompted reflection about the role and power of prayer in making divine providence manifest in the world.

And for a perspective that prayers for rain may not always be an unalloyed good, see this track from what I consider is The Cure’s greatest album.

Comments

  1. While the deluge of water is great news for the parched west, with all the fires and deforestation, there is an increased risk of floods and landslides. Everyone (prayerful or not) will be in The Same Deep Water as You indicated

  2. Good point, JLM, and excellent reference. Thank you!

  3. Excellent post. Your relative asked a great question: Does prayer have any effect at all? When we pray for something and it happens, we attribute it to a faithful prayer being answered. When we pray for something and it doesn’t happen, we attribute it to not having enough faith or it not being the right time. So does it matter at all?

  4. The rain falls on the wicked as well as the just.

  5. I struggle with cause and effect in relation to answered prayers, but have decided that it is probably a good thing that I have an ongoing conversation with God.

  6. Indeed, jader3rd, which reminds me of this Smashing Pumpkins track: https://youtu.be/dwp9TuYGa6I

  7. I’m no meteorologist, but it seems that often the same storms that bring relief to the parched west can cause terrific damage to the Midwest. Makes me temper my celebration.

  8. I think prayer only has an impact when it changes/informs us or motivates/inspires us to act (or possibly not to act as the situation warrants). Otherwise it seems a bit like a popularity contest – the person/event with the most prayers wins! I don’t know that praying heals family or friends, but it can prompt us to take an action to offer assistance. I don’t know that praying for rain brings rain, but it highlights the problem and can help us to evaluate how we are using water and be aware of how the lack impacts the people and land around us. Ideally, I think prayer is a conversation with God as we try to become better people. Asking for things and then expecting them based upon our asking or our actions feels a bit like we think God is Santa Claus.

  9. Also a good point, Bro. B. I just read today that flooding in Canada last month as a result of an atmospheric river there has contributed to a potato shortage in Japan (where McDonalds is rationing french fries, for example), which points to problems with viewing God as a wish-granting genie.

  10. Prayer for me is acting in faith that God will help in some way, but often not in the way we expect. The key for me is acting in faith, and humbling myself enough that I am willing to ask God for help, no matter what the answer is.

  11. I have always pondered the efficacy of interventional prayer, yet have times in my life when I do believe specific prayers have been answered. Mostly, though I believe prayer is less about the give and take with God and more about using the experience to align ourselves with God’s will. However, Abraham, Moses and countless prophets used prayer to change God’s mind. So, I remain perplexed about why some prayers are answered and others are not. As for your relative’s deduction that a miracle happened whether or not he prayed – it is an interesting that he did not recognize that maybe others had prayed for rain even if he didn’t. His singular prayer may not have mattered when added to the hundreds of thousands that also prayed. That said, the storms may have nothing to do with specific prayers and are just storms.

  12. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Two things:
    -What did your relative conclude about all the prayers previous, where it did not rain?
    -And I remember a quote from “The Other Side Of Heaven”. The missionary was praying for a west wind to aid their sailing. The wise old local said we should not pray for a west wind because maybe another guy is sailing elsewhere and is praying for an east wind. We should pray for a ‘good’ wind and let God figure it out.

  13. Geoff - Aus says:

    There are many women and men, in poverty praying for their starving children, and they are still in poverty and drought. Who am I to ask for help with my first world problems?

    Unless we are working/voting to mitigate the causes of climate change, we should not be praying to not suffer the consequences of our actions. Especially when we are also condemning others less able to deal with it to hunger, poverty and death.

    Sounds a bit miserable so alternately don’t worry be happy. Or there is a law irrevocably decreed…… upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessing from God it is by obedience to that law. Climate change = extreme weather

  14. We pray for rain but then don’t take action to stem CO2 emissions. And in California in particular, among other places in the West, we are pulling groundwater out at a rate that isn’t being replenished at all, much less the surface water which is needed so badly.

    I’m all for praying, but as they say, God helps those who help themselves and I think we need to be picking up the ball a little bit in this regard.

    My heart is still heavy that the recent conference on climate change in Scotland ended with seemingly so little agreed upon as time runs out to avert severe planetary change.

  15. There is certainly a larger picture we are missing in focusing our prayers on this year’s drought, so to speak.

    On the topic of groundwater, for example, between 1970 and 2010 my parents had to redrill their well twice—they lived in an unincorporated part of the county—after 1) a pistachio orchard was planted less than a mile away and 2) the nearest municipality put in a new well about 1 mile in the other direction. The original well was shallow enough to be powered by a windmill—less than 100 feet deep—while the latest is 350 feet deep.

    At any rate, it won’t do to limit our interactions with the divine to pleading for relief from whatever problem we currently face, especially if there is a relationship between the behavior we consider broadly acceptable and those problems.

  16. Your post recalls to me a family camping holiday in Cornwall (an area of the UK that relies on summer tourism as a part of its economy) as a teenager. We attended the local ward on the Sunday where the local members were praying for rain. My father commented later that it wasn’t a prayer he felt he could say “amen” to. We, after all, wanted good weather for our holiday.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    For prayer I have taken counsel from a Mary Chapin Carpenter tune. “It’s too much to expect, but it’s not too much to ask.” I express my desires to the Heavenly Father through prayer without censoring myself much to only pray for “the right things,” and I trust that he will concede or ignore my prayer as he deems good. I am not God, so I don’t need to try to speak for him when I am speaking to him for myself. This applies a lot more to solitary personal prayer than to praying as voice for a group but has some application there as well. In the latter case the question on my mind is more, “What does this group, as a group, really want to petition the Almighty?”

    To not petition God could even be considered arrogant, as though I am just fine without his blessings, so I am not going to ask for any: He can just do or not do as he will, and I will live my life not wanting anything of him he wasn’t going to do anyway.

  18. I remember when my neighbor’s grandchild was discharged from a NICU stay of about a week.
    The grandmother said, “Thank goodness for prayer.”
    I said, “And for doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists.”
    She asked, “What did they do?”

    Speechless.

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