Some of my fondest childhood memories are of birthday parties. Birthday parties were always exciting and joyful. A birthday party was an isolated moment in time where, especially for the person whose birthday it was. Everything seemed to go just right. On that one day you could eat all of the foods you ever dreamed of eating, you could play the games you wanted to play, and people would literally personally deliver you gifts. For most of us this is the closest we would ever get to living like royalty. In the middle of all of this impossible-becoming-possible birthday magic, we find one of the most central birthday traditions. At the right moment, all activity built to a suspenseful crescendo, the all-important cake was finally presented to all of the awaiting guests and partygoers.
The ideal birthday cake would incorporate the passions, hobbies and personality of the recipient, carefully represented and etched out in the cake’s decoration. The cake would be a dream come true. It’s no surprise that the core of the birthday cake tradition was intricately connected to dreams coming true.
Before the cutting and after the candle-lighting, the important moment arrived: the moment to make a wish and blow out the magic candles. This was the final step, before the entire party could proceed. There seemed to be a holy, almost spiritual, reverence for this moment. Time stood still and breathing ceased, if only for a brief moment. There was a sense that all those present put some small hope in the chance that a dream might actually come true. It’s easy, given the atmosphere of a birthday party, to almost give into the idea that if so many impossible things could be made possible already, why would it be unreasonable to think that one more thing would press the limits of this magical day?
As children, there is a true hope that blowing out birthday candles will lead to a miracle. As a child this was not joke, fantasy or ritual. As children, up until a certain point, we believed.
As we got older and the “magic” of birthdays and birthday parties was replaced by the somber realization that a birthday merely symbolized aging, the belief in the candles disappeared completely. We began to see that we do not live in a world where dreams are fulfilled, that miracles are not commonplace. Like children losing faith in birthday wishes, as we grow up,our faith in promises beyond reason is likewise dampened.
It is from a similar place that people today, Christian and non-Christian, view prayer. For many, praying is nothing more than making birthday wishes via candles, nothing more than a silly superstition.
In this reflection series we will take a closer look at why many people have equated prayer with birthday wishes. We’ll approach this discussion in two parts: three statements on the nature of doubt regarding prayer and three contrasting statements on the Biblical approach to prayer of trust and belief.
Three reasons why people associate praying to God in the same light as wishing on candles are:
Prayers spoken but not heard
Prayers spoken but not believed
Prayers spoken but not answered.
On the opposing side, three reasons why people believe in the power of praying to God are:
Prayers heard before spoken
Prayers that believe in what is spoken
Prayer answered in ways unspoken.
Join us on Thursdays as we reflect on prayer!