Why Prayer Matters… even if God doesn’t

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”  – Søren Kierkegaard

Most people go through life having no clear sense of their true values. Instead, their desires are molded by the culture and the advertisements that bombard them each day from television, radio, magazines, and celebrities. As a result, they find no consistency in life. No unity. Their desires change as fast as the culture and they are quickly swept off their feet by the newest fashion, the most recent technology, or the latest diet fad.

In contrast, a firm conviction of your heart’s values leads to a single life. It is not tossed about by the culture. Instead, it is built on the things that you hold truest to your heart. And no new advertising campaign is able to shake it.

The simple life is found there – in the values you hold dearest. And that is why prayer matters.

Prayer slows our mind, calms our spirit, and centers our heart. It removes our mind from the culture of consumption that surrounds us and centers us on something greater and more important. It calls us to identify our desires and articulate our values.

It offers all the benefits of solitude with one added dimension: “the ask.” In prayer, we ask for the most important things – the most valuable. In prayer, our mind races to our deepest heart values. Consider the fact that rarely, in prayer, do we ask for bigger cars, nicer houses, or a larger wardrobe. Instead, we think of our families, our friends, our health, our significance, and our greatest ambitions.

And that is why prayer matters… even if God doesn’t.

I believe in a God that is cheering for me, helping me, and answering my prayers. For me, prayer is a win-win proposition. It centers my heart and attention on what is most important. It forces my eyes to focus on the invisible rather than the visible. It causes me to remember that true joy is not found in a department store, but is found in relationships with myself, others, and God. And it asks a God who loves answering those requests.

But even for those who do not believe in God, prayer is still a winning proposition. It still centers your heart and attention on what is most important. It still forces your eyes to focus on the invisible rather than the visible. It still causes you to remember that true joy is found in relationships. It still forces “the ask” and focuses your ambition on the most important things.

So find a quiet moment. Find a quiet place. And find a quiet heart. Search it for your greatest desires. And maybe for the first time, make “the ask.” Because it matters… even if God doesn’t.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Good Point. Praying without God is still worthwhile, but I find it much more comforting when he is involved. With “the ask” must come gratitude so even if prayer connects you to thanks, it was worth the time and effort.

    • says

      Great point about generosity, Courtney. I can’t believe I overlooked that important piece! But I’m glad you picked it up in the first comment on this post. Generosity is absolutely fundamental to simplicity and a natural byproduct of prayer.

  2. says

    Your post title had me wondering where you were going, but I see what you’re getting at. There is something about prayer that unites us. I’ve never had someone turn me down if I’ve asked, “Can I pray for you?” even if it’s not a personal practice for them.

    I don’t think I’ve really thought about how it focuses us but that true as well, for me anyway. I’ve found that if I take the time to write out a prayer that I am able to stay more focused on my thoughts (even when two-legged distractions run in and out of my room).

    Thanks for the post and the great reminder.
    – Faith

  3. says

    Very well said Joshua!
    I also believe in God as you do, and it is difficult to reach out to others sometimes who don’t, to help them see the benefits. You did an awesome job of putting in in everyday concrete terms why ‘prayer’ is important. It gives that opportunity for centering, for meditating, for reaching deep within, and stretching further out.

    Hope your speaking engagements went well!
    My recent post touches on this as well- http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/virus-protection-for-the-mind/

  4. says

    Great reminder.

    Prayer is easily something we can forget about – but it should be a priority every day. Centering ourselves, quieting ourselves, giving thanks and then spending time listening as well.

    Good stuff.

  5. says

    Excellent post. Solitude, focus, and self-reflection are deeply underrated and it can be scary to look within and not know whether the answers will come. But it’s so worthwhile to have those conversations, regardless of whether you believe someone is other end.

  6. says

    I really enjoyed and related to this post. But, as a Christian, I have to wonder who or what people would pray to if they do not have belief in a higher entity.

      • says

        There is nothing inherent in meditation that precludes “the ask.” You can ask the universe, or any other vague “entity,” as much as you can ask a god. The purpose you cite is:
        “It still centers your heart and attention on what is most important. It still forces your eyes to focus on the invisible rather than the visible. It still causes you to remember that true joy is found in relationships. It still forces “the ask” and focuses your ambition on the most important things.”
        This is all possible through meditation.

  7. says

    Very well written. I never thought of those who don’t have a relationship with God praying. Nor, have I thought of prayer as a way to focus in on what is important, but that is exactly what it does.

  8. says

    Religion is certainly making an increased appearance on this blog.

    A Google search for “God” on the site becomingminimalist.com yields 15 mentions in 2010 blog posts, where there were none in 2009.

    (There are also some in 2008 when the site was just starting).

    Quite a change…

    • Joy says

      Doesn’t bother me. Adding God seems like an authentic part of the journey of becoming minimalist.

      Minimalism is about keeping the essentials, and eliminating the rest. At some point along that journey, it has to be about more than just getting rid of stuff. Even after eliminating most possessions, life is not empty, but full of beauty and meaning and it is natural for my mind to turn to God and being thankful for life and beauty and love and good food.

      • Jason says

        “I believe in a God that is cheering for me, helping me, and answering my prayers.”

        Really? Cheering? What is he doing when thousands die in natural disasters? When our family members are murdered? When priests rape children?

        It pains me to see intelligent people talk about God as if they believe it exists. Even worse is when they talk as if it is something positive.

        “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

        Please let go of the childish things… starting with belief in a God.

        “If you look at religious people with nothing but contempt, add a little pity in there for good measure. A lot of these people have been through incredibly effective and time tested methods of brainwashing since birth and, in any other situation, would be diagnosed with a mental illness.” – Anonymous

          • Jennie Towan says

            I am definitely with Jason on this – I am liking all I read on this blog, but we humans need to start taking responsibility for ourselves and give up the childlike need for the father figure. I certainly don’t want to sound as if I’m putting down those who believe, as I have come from that place myself. But I have come to believe that religion has become a downright dangerous practice, and if we don’t give it up – christian, muslim and all – we can do nothing to stop from annihilating ourselves. After all, if you believe in an after life, why would you worry about the end of the world? Bring it on, they say. Not for this little black duck thank you! For all that, I do believe some serious introspective contemplation never hurt anyone – as I used to say ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ – now I just say ‘Be still’. Good on you Joshua for having the sense to know that there is a whole lot more in life than possessions, and thanks for sharing your knowledge.

        • Zach says

          Hey Jason,
          I just want to say that I do not claim to know all about the Bible and of prayer…not even close! This is just what I have to say!
          I am so happy you took that part form the bible… because if you look at it completely… all of chapter 13 in 1 Corinthians is known as the love chapter.
          I selected verses 8-13 just to clarify what you have highlighted…….

          1 Corinthians 13:8-13 The Message

          8 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit.9 We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete.10 But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
          11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
          12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

          13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
          Prayer Language

          Right after it talks about being a child and behaving like a child…it talks about not seeing things clearly yet…
          Believing in God is childish…because we are His children! He loves us so much that he gave us free will! He is our dad and praying to Him is exactly like talking to your father.
          As far as disasters and all the negative things go….that is a result of sin…the sin that WE committed…NOT that God is a bad dude!
          Sin is selfish…we do things because “i” want to… I will always be the center of sin.

          • Jason says

            Hi Zach,

            I appreciate your kind natured response. I’ll try to respond as simply as possible. I grew up in a loving Christian household, I attended private Christian schools where good natured people treated me well and helped me study the Bible daily. I know it well and can tell you that there is absolutely no reason to believe that any gods exist.

            Please don’t waste your life thinking that you (or mankind before you) did something wrong from birth, or that you are guilty, or that you owe something to some angry and jealous fairy tale of a man in the sky.

            I encourage you to continue with your study of all religions. Read their books, attend their churches. If you do this with an open mind and you’ll being to understand why there is no reason to believe that any of their gods exist and why there is no reason to follow any religion. I did and I couldn’t be happier but it is something you have to realize for yourself.

            Good luck!

    • says

      Thanks for the stats. I hadn’t run them. I could have guessed that there were more references to God and Spirituality recently than earlier on, but that is a natural outcome of this blog’s evolution. If you are familiar with the books, the first one focused primarily on the removal of physical clutter while the second one dealt with more of the internal processes. A journey inward will almost always end with some questions of spirituality. And while I still deal with issues of physical clutter, I think it represents only half of the conversation.

      • says

        I definitely agree with this Joshua. As I am I feel that our outward clutter is sometimes an indicator of our spiritual/emotional status. As I am beginning to clear my mind and seek God more and more, I find I am able and eager to purge myself of a lot of the extra stuff I have accumulated. Almost compares to what I have heard of some people who have severe emotional issues keeping extra weight on as a shield or a buffer to keep people away.
        Whether one believes in God or another higher power, I believe that becoming minimal (by each individual’s definition) is by all means a spiritual experience.
        Great discussion as always here!

  9. says

    Joshua, timely post. May I repost this on my site as a guest post from you? I truly believe in the power of prayer. I was drafting a blog post on prayer myself and bam!!! Yours comes out. I may release mine next month (lol) but would be honored if you’d guest post this on my blog. Keep posting though provoking, action inducing insights!

  10. Nicole says

    I believe in simplicity, mimimalism, generosity, kindness and meditation (I have two kids under 8 years I need the meditation!). Hence I love reading this blog :) I don’t pray but I do ask questions and voice my hope in my quieter moments. We all need the quiet moments to bring ourselves back to ourselves – not back to our things, our jobs, our committments. Please everyone, obtain these moments as often as you can – they can change your life – or at least bring the balance we all need.

  11. says

    I find a disconnection when prayer matters even if God doesn’t.

    But I agree wholeheartedly about prayers as a toll to center your heart, and slows down our mind (as in not having racing thoughts right?)

    To me, prayer creates a singularity of purpose . Because we usually don’t ask for a lot of things but only things that really matters in our prayers:-)

  12. Femi says

    To me giving ‘thanks’ is even more important. We often ‘ask’ in an effort to control the world around us. Have you ever noticed the tourists who hold out their hands in hopes of getting a pigeon to stop? The only ones who are successful carry seeds in their hands.

  13. jen says

    thank you for this. i have been an on and off “practicer” of meditation and prayer for many years. but i still have trouble explaining it to my husband who grew up with a church and under a very strict definition of faith (i did not) and still has very christian god-centered beliefs even though he no longer attends a church. your post will not necessarily help him understand (it might), but the occasional affirmation does very much help me (and often returns me to a practice). thanks again, jen

  14. eema says

    nice post.
    i heard: in prayer we ask, and in meditation we listen.
    i could always use more of both. i had a hard time with getting on my knees, and my day goes better when i do.

  15. Annabelle says

    This is such an excellent post! It is wonderful to see the growth of the inner soul, like seeds sprouting to life because finally there is room to grow, after we’ve ‘decluttered’ the spaces around/in us. I adore all the comments from your readers. There are wonderful points from all walks of life, and that is so enlightening. Keep up the thought provoking posts!

  16. daniel says

    Joshua, I understand where you are coming from as I was raised in a religious environment but I cannot understand why prayer matters if god doesn’t. If the act of prayer is to ‘ask’ for something based on your deepest heart values to be a reality, it suggests you are asking god for something (or maybe assistance/guidance?). If you don’t believe in the someone (i.e. god) it’s just wishful thinking. Each to their own of course but my preference is to sit quietly and think deeply then act. For me it’s the act that leads me to my deepest heart values.

    • says

      It is because in the request, we further identify our deepest heart desires. Whether or not there is a God who hears, we are bettered by analyzing the thought process that leads to the request. We find value even in formulating the wish. And when we are able to articulate our deepest wishes, we know better how to act.

  17. daniel says

    I would question though whether someone who doesn’t believe in god (or anything else) has the capacity to pray, with absolute conviction (in the formulation or the asking). Personally I think prayer really only holds value to those who believe in something higher. Supposedly prayer is good for your health though :)

  18. says


    Very much enjoyed this post. I grew up in a family that was marginally religious and now mother claims to be an Atheist. I yearn for a spiritual connection with God and yet I have no background in doing that. I started praying recently…it felt weird and almost selfish in a way (how can I only pray for just the people I know and my own trivial problems when there is so much suffering in the world?). But the more I do it, the more it seems like the right thing to do. I don’t have all the answers but I feel like I might find some through this practice.

  19. says

    Beautiful! In India, we’re celebrating “Sankranti” today, a festival dedicated to the Sun God where we thank him for his role in our lives – and we were discussing exactly this – why prayers matter – even if the rituals we are used to don’t. :-) Values matter. Love this post.

  20. Marsha says

    Joshua, shame,shame,shame on you for lying and distracting others from finding the true light that only exsists through an open, loving, and everlasting relationship with Jesus christ! There is no other way to fufill the empty void from our lives than to open up our hearts to our true savior God and to know that because of his son who is Holy and pure aka SINLESS, we as sinners were given an opportunity to have a wonderfu, and beautiful space in Heaven to share with our Lord! PLEASE do not be decieved, the only way to fill that void in your life is to believe that Jesus died for our sins, and follow his 10 commandments, so that when this life has perished we will definently not! God bless you all!

  21. Suzanne says

    I struggle with believing in God and an afterlife, but I do believe that it is good to “act as if” I believe because I think we need to believe in something “good.” You point out the benefits of prayer, which correspond with my reasons for wanting to believe. I suffer from anxiety and depression sometimes. I have been through therapy, and it is great, but being part of spiritual communities has helped me more than anything.

    One thing I want to point out is that your first poster, Courtney, said that “gratitude” is the result of prayer, and you replied in agreement, but you said “generosity.” I think gratitude is key to living a positive life, whether you believe in God or not. Gratitude can be towards “life” and can include being grateful for adversity because it teaches us lessons which, in turn, give us more resiliency in future difficult times. I have a tendency to see myself as a victim, and accessing gratitude for what I am learning, or for what is good in my life, helps me to live a more joyous life in any situation. Prayer can be a way to tap into gratitude.

  22. PastorJack says

    This is very dumb! Why would people who don’t believe in God pray? To whom would they be praying? Prayer by it’s very nature is conversation with God. Unless the One to whom the pray-er is praying is God, then what is happening is something else–I don’t know what, but it’s certainly not prayer.

  23. Ashley says

    I know this is an OLD post, but I would like to say thank you. I am atheist, but I am still a spiritual person. I have started to research perspectives on prayer without a deity involved, and I find this post to be quite insightful. Personally, I find that prayer and meditation hold different roles in my life. I use meditation to expel the stresses of the world. I view prayer as a means to express gratitude and for the act of supplication, or as you say “the ask.” Thank you for posting this.

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