Dear Non-Believer: Prayer Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

I love the movie the Princess Bride and I tend to quote it often. Lately, amidst the tragedies that have befallen on our nation, I’ve seen a slew of atheists take to the internet highway attempting to brow-beat believers into realizing that prayer is nonsense.

“It’s useless.”

“Wishful thinking that does no good.”

“Pointless talk to a sky-fairy that can’t hear you.”

“Stop praying and actually DO something!”

“You aren’t helping anything with your stupid prayers.”

I’ve noticed myself quoting the Princess Bride in my head lately by saying, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” I even say it with a Spanish accent like Inigo Montoya in the movie.

In fact, I know it doesn’t mean what they think it means.

I know, I know, there are some Christians that pray for a baseball win or a sports car, so that must mean automatically that all Christians do that, right?

Well, not exactly. It’s a little more complicated than that. There are a number of things, we Christians DO when we pray.

  1. Share our feelings with God.
  2. Mediate on Him and His Word, teachings, and existence.
  3. Invite Him into our daily happenings and ask Him to be present with us.
  4. Pray for souls that have passed on.
  5. Pray for those here on earth that are in need of our petitions.
  6. Thank God for His blessings.
  7. Talk to Him about a problem and seek guidance.
  8. Just open our minds to Him and allow Him to speak to our souls.
  9. Ask for forgiveness.
  10. Ask for help with difficult situations in our lives.
  11. Just talk to Him about our day and connect with Him because we love Him.
  12. Seek comfort.
  13. Seek answers.
  14. Seek wisdom.
  15. Ponder His creation.
  16. Sing songs (Singing is praying twice)
  17. Offer up our worship.
  18. Ask for His mercy for ourselves and others.
  19. Discuss with Him what His Will is for our lives.
  20. Be united with Him in the silence of our hearts.
  21. To receive graces to help us carry out what we need to do.
  22. It unites us to other believers.
  23. It reminds us of our frailty and that we are not God.

Praying is a verb, so it is doing something. It may not be the kind of action some atheists want, but it still is action. It’s also interesting to note that when we pray, it doesn’t have to be the only action we take. I pray in the mornings, but I still have the ability to do many other things throughout the day. There are even times when I’m praying while doing something else. Sometimes, I drive and pray at the same time. Sometimes, I clean my house and pray to God as I go about my day. Here’s a crazy one for you. I do pray pretty frequently while in the shower and I still manage to take the action of cleaning myself. Crazy, I know, but it’s true! So, while many believers offer their prayers, they, also, do other things to help. Prayer doesn’t zap us of all energy, rendering us incapable of doing anything else.

The reality is, is that our prayers very often lead us to other forms of action. It leads to us give to charity, to travel hundreds of miles to help victims of natural disasters, to go down to the Las Vegas Strip and do whatever is needed to help those that are devastated. Prayer awakens us to the fact that God is calling us to be an instrument of His love. Prayer gives us the strength and courage to face difficult situations that must be faced. Our prayers are often the only thing we can offer and give. There is not much that the average, everyday Joe or Jane can do during the aftermath of tragedies.

For an atheist the worst thing on earth is death, because they believe that that’s the end. Game over. They might also say that to suffer is the worst thing. But, for Christians, we have faith in the revelation from God that there is life after this one. So, for us, the worst thing is Hell. It’s important that we pray for those that have died and ask God for His mercy on those departed. We pray that they find rest with Him. When we pray for victims or anyone that has died, we ARE doing something. We are petitioning God to be just and merciful. The soul is eternal, the body is not, so it’s really, really important that we pray for their souls. This may not make sense to a non-believer, but it does make sense to us.

Something that is also interesting, is that non-believers will often shout that our prayers are not answered. To know the outcome of every prayer ever prayed is a phenomenal ability–almost God-like, you might say. I don’t know the outcome of every prayer said throughout the world, so it’s interesting that a non-believer does. In my own life, I’ve thought a prayer wasn’t answered, only to find out that it was in a different way than for what I prayed. Ask a believer and they most likely will say, “Some of my prayers have been answered, some were answered in a way different than I thought, and some just weren’t answered, but I trust that God has a reason.”

It’s important to understand that the majority of Christians don’t view God as a genie. We don’t just demand something and then He is supposed to deliver. It doesn’t work that way. There are some Christians that maybe view prayer in this manner, which leaves a bad taste in an atheist’s mouth. Rightfully so. Our conversation with God is not meant to be viewed in this way. What always strikes me is that atheists look to those who do prayer wrong and make wide sweeping claims that this is representative of all Christians. They never look to the people–the saints–who do it right. The stories of the saints’ prayer lives are astounding, truly inspirational, and…their prayers have changed history in so many ways.

By telling believers to stop praying, atheists are, in effect, telling us to stop trying to unite to those for whom we pray. Part of our prayers are a way of telling those who are hurting that we are standing with them and are in solidarity with them. People feel great comfort knowing that others are praying for them. Just because an atheist finds no value in it, doesn’t mean there is no value. An atheist doesn’t get to decide if our prayers are meaningful or efficacious.

St. Paul told us to “pray without ceasing.” Jesus prayed all the time showing us that it is meaningful and purposeful. I don’t take my orders from atheists and no Christian should. Their demands to “shut up and knock off the praying” should be dissolved into the wall of our prayers and left dispersed into nothing. Pray on, drowning out their shouts with the unity of our prayers.


“Prayer is as necessary as the air, as the blood in our bodies, as

anything to keep us alive–to keep us alive to the grace of God.

–St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta



    • Amy Thomas says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you felt it was approachable because I felt it wasn’t enough, but I didn’t know how to change it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Anni Harry says:

    I actually submitted a post to another site I (occasionally) write for, along these lines. I’m hoping they’ll pick the piece up. But, right on – you and I are very much on the same wave length with this issue!

    Prayer *does* do something – often times, uniting us *in action*. So, thank you for this!

    • Amy Thomas says:

      I hope your story gets picked up, because these messages need to make their way out there. It’s crazy how our brains are in sync more often than not! ๐Ÿ™‚

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