Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Thesis - Open Access

First Advisor

Joseph T. Kelley


Petitionary prayer can be characterized as many things. On one end of the spectrum, it holds out tremendous hope full of promise and potential, but on the other end, it can also be puzzling and problematic. Bewildered by lingering questions and doubts, at times we experience prayers of petition as precarious and paradoxical, and at other times, powerful and prevailing. Petitionary prayer requires persistence, patience, and persuasiveness. Depending on how some of Jesus’ parables are interpreted, it can even be reduced to pestering an indifferent God until he reluctantly responds and acts on our behalf.

There is a fairly common expression, however, that I take particular issue with throughout this paper. It is the casual statement that “prayer works.” In fact, I suggest that characterizing prayer this way is actually a lazy, misguided caricaturization that does not adequately take into account the many theological and practical implications of what is a profoundly relational, dynamic partnership between God and his people. It is not my intention to cast dispersion on the motive, faith, or sincerity of those who make this assertion. Nor is it to prove them wrong, necessarily. I will argue, however, why I believe it will not, like many other spiritual platitudes and tired clichés, hold up as an unqualified pronouncement when scrutinized by serious thinkers on the subject. Furthermore, I will put forth what I believe to be better representations of petitionary prayer such as honesty, humility, and deference to those for whom prayer did not work.