Alan Keyes
Is America ill-disposed to pray?
By Alan Keyes
September 12, 2017

"From the beginning of our nation, Americans have joined together in prayer during times of great need, to ask for God's blessings and guidance. As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture's promise that 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.'" (President Trump's National Day of Prayer Proclamation)

"And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven.... But we have forgotten God...." (Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day)

"I charge you, in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, who is to judge the living and the dead, by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Why do bad things happen to good people? There are at least two possible answers: a) Because they are not so good as they think they are; or b) Because they are called, like Christ, to be instrumental in God's will to atone for all transgressions. In light of Christ's example, there is good reason to believe that the first alternative is very likely. After all, when a young man in search of wisdom addressed him, saying, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Christ immediately answered the question with a question, saying, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:17-18).

Given that answer, we can never be as good as we think we are, because God alone is completely good. So, if we think to proclaim ourselves good, the thought itself proves that we are not. This may be why the Apostle, on account of his true conversion to Christ, is moved to say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God...." Those who let Christ's mind be their own, and act accordingly, may have some right to call themselves good, though not simply on their own account.

But people truly mindful of Christ and God therefore live constantly in the presence of a standard of perfection they can never fully attain, on their own.

They are constantly reminded of their own shortcomings. They take note of the impulses of thought and will that goad them to depart from Christ's way. Thank God, they are also mindful of His presence within. Therefore, inspired by Christ, they surrender to God's good will. As they do, they understand why Christ recommended the publican's prayer ("Lord have mercy on me, a sinner"). They are moved to imitate him. For they realize that, without the presence of Christ and God to correct their aim, they would carelessly let fly their arrows of longing, and miss the mark (i.e., sin).

Now, as a child, I was taught that praying requires an appropriate disposition. We must be mindful of the one to whom we pray. To pray to God we must remember God. We must remember His infinite goodness, so perfect that the very thought of it puts us to shame. We feel overwhelmed by a sense of being in the presence of all that reveals the small, petty, unsavory quality of our self-willed existence.

So, if we pray without humility, we do not truly pray. We move our lips, but like the Pharisee, we are disposed to worship (give worth to) ourselves alone. But in the presence of God, what mainly impresses us is our unworthiness. The light of God's incomparable worth overwhelms our sight, so that we dwindle, in our own apprehension, almost to nothing. If we have no sense of this, it is because we remain too preoccupied with ourselves to remember Him.

To remember God is to remember that we are constantly dangling above the abyss that yawns in every way but the way of being His perfect will marks out for us. With minds informed by Christ within, we can walk in His way. Yet still we sway, this way and that, on account of the delusion that mistakes our freedom to depart from God's way with the power of God that makes it possible for us to do so. But if we choose to depart from God's will, we discard the provisions He makes for our existence. This inevitably produces an existential crisis.

We may cry out, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me...?" (Psalm 22:1). That outcry shows that, in distress, we remember that He is God, the very God whose will to preserve us we have, by choice, forsaken. But does that remembrance mean that we are disposed to see and acknowledge the truth our self-willed choice discarded? Does it mean we realize that the measures we defied and cast away were God's way of pre-serving us? Before we know what to ask, He has provided the means to our salvation. All we have to do is turn, or return, to the way of being He has already prepared for us. Then, all will be well.

But what if we move our lips, demanding help, but will not make ready our heart, mind, and will to receive what is already freely given? Then, our deeds belie our supplications. So now we take heart from the aid we give to those in peril, yet imperil the innocent offspring God naturally entrusts into our care. We profess to rescue humanity from offending Nature, yet approve abandoning the laws of our own nature, by which God prepares humanity for the future. Thus, what God freely fore-gives, we freely cast away, and again, and again.

The Scripture informs us of the dire consequence of our unwillingness to rely on God's gift of sight. In what the blind man said: "For we know that God does not hear sinners, but whoever is God-fearing and does His will, He hears" (John 9:31). And, in the same way, we know what God said to reprobates: "... when you stretch forth your hands, I will turn my eyes away, from you, and when you multiply prayer, I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, be clear, take away the evil of your devices from my eyes, cease to do perversely" (Isaiah 1:15).

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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