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The Atheists who pray and the Christian who tried to ditch God

September 19, 2012

Praying Atheists (Click to read article from Baptisttimes.co.uk)

This Article talks about a fascinating experiment in which a group of atheists have signed up to pray for a few minutes everyday for God to be revealed to them. We should note at the beginning that this is an individual pursuit event.

The researcher makes the disclaimer that this is not an exercise to ‘prove the existence of God’ (phew!) but leaves open the possibility that the participants my themselves find some evidence (one way or the other).

Reading about this reminded me of a season of my life, a few years back, when for about 3 months I prayed each day telling God that the deal was off, and that by the end of the day, I would no longer be a follower of Jesus. It was a very serious season of prayer.

Having been sensorily alive to God all my life, and a follower of Jesus since I was nine, I had struck a rough patch of leaving and grieving what I considered at the time to be a terrible failure in ministry. It was a failure, not in terms of opportunities for mission, nor even lack of fruit; this had been a vibrant, creative missional time. But in the end a failure of relationships and understandings that led me to be a quitter. Those who know me will attest to my beligerent, idealistic, optimitstic, glass-ninety-nine-percent-full-if -it-has-a-drop, drivenness. I’m not a quitter by nature.

But there I was, quitting my ministry role, and then…trying each day to pray the quitter’s prayer.

Except…it didn’t work.

Each day I would get up into the blackness of my failure, pray my prayer telling Jesus, that I would not be following him today. And I expected that by the end of the day, that last little scrap of faith I had, just enough for that threadbare prayer, would have completely unravelled. In fact I prayed that it would.

But it didn’t.

Each day, I found myself at the end of the day, still being met, on talking terms, by a God I was sure must be ready to discard me, but wasn’t; by a God I was sure had better things to do with his time, like find all of those parking spaces, than attend to my broken spirit, but there he was. If the Black Dog was always sniffing around my door in those days, God was like the stray cat that kept turning up even when I told him to scat, and turned the garden hose on him.

What I discovered in those days, was after having been told all my life how precarious our faith was, that it needed feeding, exercising, and protecting, that we needed to draw near to God so that he would draw to us, that we needed to remove everything that would block connection with God, what I discovered in those months was that God has grasped me and was not going to let go.

Apparently God was more resilient that I was. God wasn’t a drama queen, who stormed off in a hissy fit when I was less than appreciative of his gifts. God wasn’t squeamish either. He could look square on at the bloody mess without flinching. I guess I had heard a lot of times how ‘God can’t stand to look on our sin, so he looks at us through Jesus’. I knew this line was bogus, but I think it had eaten away at my sense of just what a tough mudder God really was.

I guess for all my ‘it’s over between us’ prayers, God knew that when I had said I wanted to follow him the rest of my days, that when I had said I thought my purpose was to love God and serve the world with a whole heart, that these were the prayers that reflected who I was made to be. So even when I stopped wanting that, or stopped being able to see how that was even possible, the prayers were still valid currency.

I spend a lot of time these days reading that volatile cocktail of faith and fury, Paul. He seems to tell the same story.

‘Not that I’ve obtained this, have any claims of reaching perfection…but Christ! he’s taken hold of me by the short and curlys – what else can I do? but get dragged along as Jesus goes about gathering together those on the road to salvation, ready for the time when he brings it  all together.” (How Phil 3:12-16 sounds in my head)

These days, I don’t know that I can claim my faith is ‘stronger’. But I live and pray with greater sense that it’s not all up to me, in fact, it’s not even about me. I discovered the thing that, if I had known how to put it in a prayer I would have liked to pray it all my life. I still don’t quite know how to say it, though when Paul says ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘Christ is all in all’ I think he’s hitting close.

And as for the praying atheists – I heartily wish them  more success with their prayers for revelation than I had with prayer trying to ditch Jesus.

8 comments

  1. Lovely, I have had this exact experience, although with less eloquence and more (very), bad language.
    I try not to recommend it but I can’t help sounding like I do when I tell the story. It took my relationship from fearful servant to secure son….in time.
    Nice read, thanks for penning it.
    PS: I’m a friend of Ben’s, he linked this on FB.


  2. Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your story too. Note that this is the ‘suitable for publication’ version – I didn’t quote much of the things I actually said to God, which at the time, were not so eloquent or squeaky clean.
    I wouldn’t recommend it as an experience either – you wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but having been there, you can’t help but be grateful.
    grace & peace, brother.


  3. Thanks Beth. I don’t know why we think we have to do all the work and God sits on the sidelnes but so often we do. That’s a great story.


  4. Loved you article, Beth. I, too, went through a period where my life felt like a 20,000 piece jigsaw puzzle which was about to disintegrate. I discovered that God was the glue which held me together and that no torrent of tears I might have shed could ever dissolve it.
    Sue taylor.


    • Beautifully put, Sue…no torrent of tears, indeed. Thanks for your input.


  5. As someone who is parting with organised church for an indeterminate season, for the first time in his 50 years, and who can’t help but wonder if God exists outside the church, or if he could ever re-connect in the future, your words about ‘precarious’ faith are very comforting.

    This is about me and God. Just me and God. No leaders. No authorities, save for Christ. To reclaim ‘independence’ – the word and the attitude – that leaders have told me is so heinous. What bullshit.

    Let’s do this bungy jump!

    Catch me God!


  6. Take that bungy leap of faith, brother.

    Job says ‘these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him and who can comprehend the thunder of his power?’

    the bits of God we can describe or speak of in western middle class church are but the tiniest corners.

    let the Cosmos be your Cathedral, let joy and pain be your preacher and teacher, let the embrace of the lives of those who love you be your baptism, let the call to justice write your creed, let the cries of those oppressed in every way be your prayers.


  7. Actually if not really in every way we must believe,now believe in what? We can believe there’s no God,we can believe there’s God imean the almighty God and we can believe in aseen God e.g bulls,stones,trees and believe in them.what do you believe in? What you believe matters alot.
    Think about yourself,the design of your body,its perfection then you will believe some great designer it.Who’s this designer?



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