The Single-Minded Prayer
Susan Garret’s article entitled “Disciples on Trial” states that all things are possible when we come to God in prayer. But the prayer that would yeild positive results would, of course, have to be qualified—that those who pray must not doubt in their hearts. Garret based her claims from the Gospel of St. Mark wherein Jesus foretells the tests that must be endured by his followers but that he has left us with a weapon to triumph over those tests. That weapon is called the prayer of the single-minded.
Garret (1998) states that “Mark viewed his readers as disciples on trial. Like Jesus, the readers of Mark are tested and tempted in many ways. But whereas Jesus had to face such tests alone, his followers are empowered by Christ to endure.” According to her, Mark depicted the disciples of Jesus as much a hindrance to him as a help. “Jesus rebukes them for their inability to see and comprehend and for their hardness of heart.” They failed to “understand the message that he and they must suffer” because “their minds have first been blinded by sin.” In that same article, it was stipulated that Mark deliberately portrays the disciples as “flawed, but not complete failures,” since such a portrayal would have been “encouraging to Mark’s readers, who could identify with the disciples”. “Readers would be prompted to immitate the achievements of the disciples and avoid their failures.” The message was that “God had opened the eyes of the disciples, and had transformed them from one who misunderstood and tested Jesus into worthy servants, even fearless leaders.”
In Mark, Jesus also proclaims the coming of the “birth of pains,” he tells his disciples that they must be on guard, and speaks about the trials that are ahead of them. Garret (1998) claims that Mark insists that all who follow Jesus will be put to the test but that they need not fear. The first disciples failed their tests “because of their habit of thinking the things of humans rather than the things of God.” She further explains that: “Thinking the things of human doesn’t mean that one has no idea what God desires; all too often, one knows God’s will but refuses to give up one’s own vision of the future, if giving it up means that one must suffer or deprive oneself.” This is what they call double-mindedness. The solution lies in one’s full devotion to God. Jesus promises that when we devote ourselves fully to God, we can trust God to support us in times of trial. Jesus said: “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Garret (1998) believes that when we deny the self, “we commit ourselves to following God’s will, wherever it may lead.” Jesus told his followers: “have faith in God… I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24). To have “faith in God” means a genuine devotion to God’s will, however the painful or great might be the sacrifice required. This is what the single-minded faith is, and in return Jesus promises that prayers will be answered.
Jesus himself has displayed full devotion to God and a plea to take away the test that he would have to face. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). One might immediately see the consequences to such devotion—what if God’s will is not to “take this cup from me,” which what had actually happened in the story? Consequently, one would loose hope to the “hope” that they were given. What Mark is trying to imply, according to Garret, is that although there are no limits to what God can do and to what believers can request, believers would also have to anticipate that God would not “take the cup” from them for God may answer the prayer not by removing the trial, but by giving the strength to endure it.
The article is the author’s interpretation of the Gospel of Mark. Although there has been none recorded to have moved mountains, there are substantial evidence on the power of prayer. In general, studies of the power of prayer, particularly in its role in healing people suggested that people who are religious seem to heal faster or cope with illnesses more effectively than the nondevout. A study published in 1999 states that: “prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care” (Rauch 2000). The said study involves nearly 1,000 newly admitted heart patients at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City who were randomly assigned in two groups. Half received daily prayer in for four weeks from five volunteers who believed in God and in the healing power of prayer, while the other half did not receive a prayer in conjunction with the study. The volunteers, who were all Christians, were given only the first names of the patients and never visited the hospital, and were instructed to pray for the “speedy recovery with no complications.” The patients were not informed they were in the study. The study shows that the group receiving prayers fared 11 percent better than the group that did not—a number considered statistically significant. However, a more recent study shows that prayers offered by strangers had no effect on recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery (Carey 2006).
Regardless of what the real power of prayer might be, praying is a devotion of the faithful. Although it is useles to believe in impossibilities, with enough faith, prayer can make a difference. Miracles do happen, but it starts within ourselves. It would also be futile to hope in prayer, if we, ourselves are not able to help ourselves—that is, we refuse to take the right course of action. Just as I believe in the power of prayer, I also believe that God only helps those who help themselves. According to James (2:16-17): “if one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Carey, Benedict. 2006. Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html (accessed May 11, 2008)
Garret, Susan. 1998. Disciples on Trial. The Christian Century: 396-399.
Rauch, Catherine. 2000. Probing the Power of Prayer. http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/alternative/01/18/prayer.power.wmd/ (accessed May 11, 2008).
The Holy Bible. 1984. New International Version
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