Is it Better to Pray or To Study the Faith?

By Paul Dion, STL

This week's "Burning Question" is a challenge that you are going to have to churn out of the depths of your hearts and souls.

"Is it more effective to pray than to study the tenets of a religion when seeking a spiritual home community?"

Take a look at this and at yourself and throw your convictions out on the table.

God bless you all with health, peace and happiness.


  1. Anonymous10:15 AM

    Hi Wally, my comment is this...I was away from the church for about 15 years, but my prayer life never really ceased. When I felt God finally becoming more of a reality for me. I started searching for the truth I looked into Protestant denominations but was not satisfied at all , and soon I was faced with Catholicsm once again and I realized that Catholics have the fullness of the truth and it was eye opener for me this is where God is. I must admit that I like to study our faith more rather than be in prayer but by learning more every day this helps me appreciate our God and Church so much more and when I do pray it is much more meaningful to me now.

  2. Anonymous12:04 PM

    "Is it more effective to pray than to study the tenets of a religion when seeking a spiritual home community?"

    I believe personally that there has to be a balance between our faith in prayer and our knowledge of facts. As Christians, our knowledge of God and his love ultimately sources from his word, the bible.

    In my opinion and from my own experience, our communication with God does not solely lie and depend on our prayers. Which is why i personally believe that by studying the word, and facts of religion/christianity, we may even better our relationship and communication with our creator. God definitely communicates to us through the words we read from the bible and through the facts we learn from it.

  3. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Hey, here is my two cents.
    In order to grow in the love of Jesus, one has to study the bible and that is done along with prayer. Like the Ethiopian eunuch that Phillip ran into after being ordered by an angel to go onto a certain road. He had heard the Word of God, but needed someone to explain the passages to him. Study and prayer. They have to go hand in hand.
    - Lucia

  4. Anonymous5:17 PM

    I believe a mixture of both is important, leaning more toward the side of prayer

  5. Anonymous5:22 PM

    If a totally un-churched, illiterate were to stand in a field and cry out for God's mercy and for direction. To a community wherein said person might find a spiritual home, success would follow because God awaits even the vaguest suggestion that His Love will be accepted. Once "home" however study becomes mandatory because, "we ought to be able to give a reason for the Faith that is in us." In another context Charles Chamberlain (the father of the actor) said, "you cannot think yourself into right living but you
    can live yourself into right thinking." Love is a gift, faith is a gift. Both are feely given to all who seek them (Matt. 7:7) the quality and quantity of the joy attendant upon that love and faith depend upon how one receives and uses those gifts for the glory of God and for the encouragement
    of one's brothers and sisters. God wants us to be happy, joyous and free and he has arranged the universe to allow for that outcome. I was just reading about countries claiming "God is on our side!" The writer thought that the claim was patently false. About countries I don't know, some scripture seems to allow the possibility; but about people I'm positive, God is on our side even when we are not. To claim the state God wants for us we must realize that: God's will makes us happy, God's love makes us joyous, and God's service is perfect freedom. To the extent that we seek God's will and the grace to accomplish it, we are happy. To the extent that we accept God's love and share it as best we can we are joyous. To the extent that we engage in the first two activities we are in God's service and experiencing the perfect freedom of
    doing that which is optimal. Sorry I ran on so long but I needed reminding.

  6. Anonymous5:23 PM

    To me, this is easy. Prayer is personal, from the heart, from the soul. Actually practicing what is
    preached. God hears you and answers you....I could study the religion of Buddha, but I need to practice
    it daily to be a Buddhist.

  7. Anonymous5:30 PM

    Paul Dion's theological recap of the Burning Question:

    The Catholic Church “position”

    Please not the parenthesis. What follows is not a doctrinal position, but the opinion of the best minds
    and hearts on the Christian world on the topic. The Catholic Church has a saying, an almost axiom, “the
    way of prayer is the way of faith” (Lex orandi, lex credendi). It is the experience of the Church that when people came to Jesus to ask for favors, they came because they
    had already opened their hearts to Him. They had experienced some level of spiritual relationship with the Godhead.

    This relationship taught them that if they approached Jesus, they would experience something beyond what they had already accepted as spiritual truth. Thus when seemingly “dark hearted pagans” approached Jesus to speak out a request for favor, either physical, emotional or spiritual, He would say to them, “your faith has saved you.”

    Many of His people who fancied themselves “believers” did not acquire the enlightened knowledge
    that would have driven them to testify to His divinity by requesting a favor or simply by testifying to His goodness in a display of respect and love.

    Those who approached Him with their eyes opened through prayer, got what they wanted and then more. They got
    to listen to Him and receive His teachings at levels that others failed to absorb.

    This describes that search for religion that we all have. By the time an individual comes to the office and expresses a desire to “look into” the possibility of embracing the Roman Catholic Religion, that person has begun
    a prayerful relationship with God.

    Those of you who are reading this who have come to the Church as adults know what I am talking about. When you first talked to the Church Official who first heard your plea, it was Jesus to whom you were talking. It was a relationship with Jesus that caused you to approach the Church and express your faith.
    No one comes to the Church without that faith and that budding relationship with God.

    There are those who approach a little too early. They look into the process, experience it a little bit and back off. They may or may not come back to the Catholic Church. They may or may not approach a community of a different Christian religious tradition. But
    be assured of this, God is after them, and one way or the other, He usually wins.

    People of all religions are convinced that to know more about God and His relationship with us humans, prayer and “classroom” study go hand in hand. This is traditional. God’s Chosen People knew this very well. The worship plan always included prayer, meditation, reading of the Law and teachings by the Rabbi (“teacher”).

    My personal experience with the prayer vs. theology phenomenon is interesting. When I returned from getting my advanced degree in Theology from one of the Papal certified universities, one of my colleagues who had not gone to Rome to study and did not have a degree, asked me in a semi-leering tone of voice, “Well, what did you learn in Rome?”

    I did not make it up, I did not plan it, I didn’t even think. I answered in a flash, “That Faith is Theology and Theology is Faith.”

    The silence in the room was deafening. Everyone, including me, took an extra long sip of our drink and most went back to discussing
    the lack of success that the Red Sox were having again that year.

    Friends, that was not my answer, that was the Holy Spirit telling us all that without “conversion there is no catechesis.”

    This from the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States. It simply means that when I speak to you, you must remember, “It is not an intellectual exercise” purely
    and simply. We are not meant to learn about God, we are meant to know HIM, love HIM and serve HIM and follow HIM as HIS disciples and spend all eternity in the happiness of HIS presence in heaven.

    Thanks for your participation.

  8. Anonymous5:32 PM

    I believe personally that there has to be a balance between our faith in prayer and our knowledge of facts. As Christians, our knowledge of God and his love ultimately sources from his word, the bible.

    In my opinion and from my own experience, our communication with God does not solely lie and depend on our prayers. Which is why i personally believe that by studying the word, and facts of religion/christianity, we may even better our relationship and communication with our creator. God definitely communicates to us through the words we read from the bible and through the facts we learn from it.

  9. Anonymous2:54 PM

    I strongly believe in keepping a good balance between the two. Although in our daily lives, and when obstacles seem countless, we tend to be more prayfull, be it by holding our Bibles, at the foot our home altars, or beside our beds. I personally feel, and thru my experiences, that to be able to COMMUNICATE with GOD, one needs only to let his heart speak out to HIM. That alone is a very strong practice of one's learned faith.

  10. The power of hope
    I define hope as "the happy anticipation of good things." Are you aggressively hoping for something good to happen to you? Do you wake up in the morning excited and expectant about life? You can do that by learning how to celebrate and enjoy this journey called life.
    Everything in life is a process in motion. Without movement, advancement, and progression, there is no life. Once a thing has ceased to progress, it is dead. In other words, as long as we live, you and I are always going to be heading somewhere, and we should be enjoying ourselves on the way. God created us to be goal-oriented visionaries. Without a vision, we become bored and hopeless. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, according to Proverbs 13:12, but when the desire is fulfilled, it is a tree of life.
    There's something about hope that makes people lighthearted and happy. You're not going to be happy if you don't have hope. The more hope you have in God, the happier you become. Biblical hope is a close relative to faith. I don't see how you can have faith without hope because hope is the foundation on which faith stands. Hope believes everything is going to turn out all right-hope is positive! To enjoy life, you must maintain a good, positive attitude. God is positive, and He wants positive things to happen to each of us, but that isn't likely to happen if we're not filled with hope and faith.
    Some people are afraid to hope because they have experienced so much hurt and disappointment that they don't think they can face any more pain. They refuse to hope so they won't be disappointed. Disappointment is painful! Rather than being hurt again, they simply refuse to hope that anything good will ever happen to them. This type of behavior sets up a negative lifestyle. Everything becomes negative because their thoughts are negative. Proverbs 23:7 says, For as he (a person) thinks in his heart, so is he....
    Many years ago, I was extremely negative because of the devastating abuse that had taken place in my past. The result was that I expected people to hurt me, and they did. I expected people to be dishonest, and they were. I was afraid to believe that anything good might happen. I thought I was protecting myself from being hurt by not expecting anything good to happen. When I really began to study the Word and trust God to restore me, I began to realize that all of my negativism had to go. In Matthew 8:13, Jesus says that it will be done for us as we have believed. I believed everything was negative, so naturally many negative things happened to me.
    I needed to let go of the past and move into the future with hope, faith, and trust in God. I had to get rid of the heaviness of despair, depression, and discouragement. And I did, once I dug into the truth of God's Word! I found out that God is ...a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3). I began to turn my negative thoughts and words into positive ones! Now, I am not saying that you and I can get whatever we want by just thinking about it. God has a perfect plan for each of us, and we can't control Him with our thoughts and words. But we can think and speak in agreement with His will and plan for us. We can practice being positive in every situation that arises. Even if what is taking place in your life at the moment seems negative, expect God to bring good out of it, as He has promised in His Word. You must understand that before your life can change, your attitude must change.
    Hope is a powerful spiritual force that is activated through our positive attitude. Then, we are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose (Romans 8:28). What Satan means for harm, God intends for good. All things work together for good for those who love God. Satan wants to hurt you and have you spend your life distrusting everyone because somebody hurt you when you were a child, while you were in school, in your marriage, on your job-the list of who, what, where, and how you can be hurt is endless. You have to say, "No! That is subject to change! I am a child of the living God! Something good is going to happen to me!"
    [After all] the kingdom of God is not a matter of [getting the] food and drink [one likes], but instead it is righteousness (that state which makes a person acceptable to God) and [heart] peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). What this means is that after all the painful things that have happened in your past have come and gone, God still wants you to enjoy every single day of your life. This won't happen, however, until you make up your mind to take hold of the abundant life that Jesus' death and resurrection purchased for you. Until then, the devil will always try to take it away. Jesus said, The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows) [John 10:10].
    You are a new creation. You don't have to allow the old things that happened to you to keep on affecting your new life in Christ. As a new creature in Christ Jesus, you can have your mind renewed according to the Word of God: And be constantly renewed in the spirit of your mind [having a fresh mental and spiritual attitude], and put on the new nature (the regenerate self) created in God's image, [Godlike] in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:23,24). Things will change for the better when you keep your thoughts filled with hope.
    The Bible is full of hope-filled promises for you and me. Through Him also we have [our] access (entrance, introduction) by faith into this grace (state of God's favor) in which we [firmly and safely] stand. And let us rejoice and exult in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God (Romans 5:2). Good things begin to happen to you when you rejoice in the hope of experiencing God's favor on a regular basis. Luke 2:52 tells us that ...Jesus increased in ...favor with God and man. You and I are introduced to the favor of God by faith. All of God's promises are activated by faith. We shortchange ourselves when we believe in Jesus but don't believe in His blessings. Believe that you walk in holiness and righteousness (see Ephesians 4:24), believe that you are anointed (see 2 Corinthians 1:21), and believe that you are blessed with every spiritual blessing as promised in Ephesians 1:3. Believe Romans 8:37 when it says you are more than a conqueror!
    Everything that is promised in the Bible is for us to rejoice in now. Be glad! Raise your expectancy level. Rejoice in the hope of experiencing God's glory right now. My husband and I believe for many things, but beyond them all, we believe in Someone-that Someone is Jesus. We don't always know what is going to happen. We just know that it will always work out for our good! The more positive and hopeful we are, the more we will be in the flow of God. In Ephesians 1:17,18, the apostle Paul prayed, [For I always pray to] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, that He may grant you a spirit of wisdom and revelation [of insight into mysteries and secrets] in the [deep and intimate] knowledge of Him, by having the eyes of your heart flooded with light, so that you can know and understand the hope to which He has called you, and how rich is His glorious inheritance in the saints (His set-apart ones).
    This glorious inheritance is for you and me! Second Peter 1:3 tells us, For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue).
    If there is anything in this world that you can be sure of it is change. Something is always changing. Why is it, then, that we find ourselves thinking, "Nothing will ever change... I'm always going to be like this... my situation will never change... he'll never change... she'll never change... I'm never going to be as good as so-and-so?" The only thing that will never change is God. For I am the Lord, I do not change... (Malachi 3:6). Everything else can change. If you have no hope of seeing change in your situation, change probably isn't going to come. We endure so many things emotionally that we really wouldn't have to suffer if we put our hope in God and stopped looking at all of the circumstances we can't control. We will never enjoy life unless we decide to! In order to live as God intends for us to live, we must truly believe that it is God's will for us to experience continual joy. Then we must decide to enter into that joy, which is essential to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
    Proverbs 17:22 says, A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. Hope makes joy available, just as a lack of hope produces misery. We can choose to enjoy righteousness and peace or to stay in the midst of condemnation and turmoil. There are blessings or curses available, and that is why Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us to choose life and blessings. What do you do while you wait for change? You pray, believe, and expect to receive. Maintain a positive attitude, knowing that God is working on bringing your change and that you will see it. Throughout your waiting time, the devil will scream, "It's not going to change, it's going to get worse!" Don't listen to this and become discouraged. Instead, wake up in the morning and say out loud, "This is the day that the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad! Something good is going to happen to me today! Everything in my life that is not right is subject to change! The One Who never changes is changing my situation. And while He's doing it, I'm going to enjoy my life!" Put your confidence in God and stop wearing yourself out trying to make things happen. The decision to have a good attitude while your change is coming can change you! Now is the time to decide to enter into the full and abundant life that God wants you to have.
    Most of us have a hard time believing that God is working on our behalf until we see something happening with our natural eyes. This usually isn't the way God works. He works behind the scenes much of the time. Right now He is changing hearts and drawing sinners unto Him. Right now He is working in our government. Right now God has a plan for your promotion-He may be speaking to your boss about giving you a raise. God is busy working in your life as long as you believe. Hebrews 11:1 says, Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
    This scripture begins with the word now. Although the Greek word from which it is translated actually means but, and, etc., rather than at this point in time, I still believe the term can be used to describe faith and hope. Faith and hope operate right now! Without them, life isn't enjoyable. Every time I lay aside faith and hope, I stop believing and I lose my peace and as soon as I lose my peace, my joy goes with it. Make a decision to be a now person. God has a good plan for your life right now. Trust Him today. Believing God brings you into His rest and puts an end to the torment caused by impatience and anxiety while you're waiting. No matter how hopeless your situation seems to be or how long it has been that way, I know you can change because I did. It took time and heaping helpings of the Holy Spirit, but it was worth it. It will be worth it to you, too. Whatever happens, trust in the Lord and trust in the power of hope! My hope is in God who never changes. Nothing is impossible with Him. He is a big God, and I'm believing Him for big things. How about you?

  11. Prayer is the most powerful things we can do, as God will answer our prayers. We may not understand all the answers but He will answer with what we need. If we communicate with God through our heart we will grow spiritually. Of course to pray, requires faith that God is in control and will provide for all our needs.

    God Bless

  12. The gift of Faith is a powerful thing.

    I prayed to God to teach me the truth and whatever He revealed I would believe. Since that time He has put many people, books, websites, articles, forums etc before me.

    I ask and He teaches.

    So my answer is to pray and He will provide the rest!

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  14. Christianity is first and foremost not a series of abstract tenets or formula to be grasped, but is about a direct relationship with God incarnate who is present to us and in our relationships with one another.

    Having said that, BOTH prayer and study are expressions that help deepen that kind of relationship and give expression to it. I suspect that those who have drawn deeply into their spiritual community would see that kind of relationship as well and would perhaps alternate between prayer and study or see the two as intimately linked and nourishing of each other.

    Put plainly, one cannot truly pray without having some notion of WHAT one is praying for, HOW one is praying, or how one OUGHT to pray. Such "technique" or form of practice and habit would require reflection and STUDY of such a process.

    Likewise, studying in its literal sense is also necessary. Since our religion comes to us through a particular place and time and we ourselves inhabit our own particularity, and seek to speak with and share such wisdom with others who inhabit their own unique circumstances, we need to study in order to communicate and understand each other and the message well.
    We have passed down a saying/process about "Faith seeking understanding." To pray, to study...these are some of the ways we seek in our very human calling to be closer to God, to be more alive. I for one, would be starved if I had to choose one over the other.

  15. Craig6:47 PM

    I basically agree with the responses here.... but this quote comes to mind, I think from St. Benedict, "ora et labora"....Work AND prayer.

    Catholicism is always "both and" not "either or".

    I guess when it comes down to it, if we don't have a foundation of prayer, our study/work, etc means nothing. If you have to err torwards one, it would probably be better to lean towards prayer...after all the Bible tells us to pray without ceasing.

  16. The faith teaches us to pray, so by following the faith, one would pray. I find comfort in the logic and consistency of the teachings of the Church as well as the act of prayer, especially praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

  17. Harry9:39 AM

    Kind of a chicken and the egg type question. My 1st thoughts would be that prayer can exist in any genuine heart outside of reilgion. I am not sure what you mean by a spiritual home community though? Are you talking an Order like Franciscan or Jesuit, or you talking a parish, or a Church, or just a community of lay faithful. We need to know the living deposit of faith handed down from the Church Fathers if we are going to pray for an increase in faith. But do we need all the nuances of the Magesterium to pray ... probably not.

  18. In fact, the two could be/should be combined. Study of scripture, religion, the lives of the Saints, and the history of the church can be a 'prayerful activity'. I don't see how they can stand as well independently.

  19. Steve5:04 PM

    Both. There is no one sole path to be taken on one's journey of faith.