"Pray for London." "Pray for Madrid." "Pray for Paris." It seems "Pray for such-and-such a place" is increasingly becoming the catchphrase in modern times, especially following acts of terror or natural disasters. We rally around these catchphrases and calls for prayer and even use them as our profile pictures in our social media pages. It's the "in thing." But do we really believe in what we're calling for? And why do we often only want to pray when we're in trouble?
Does prayer work? I mean really work?
You bet it does!
But saying that does not mean that prayers are the spiritual equivalent of coins which we place in a Divine vending machine and that if we put the right ones in, in the proper sequence, we will automatically be granted whatever it is we ask for, especially in tough times. That would be magic or manipulation, not prayer.
Atheists are often very aggressive when it comes to attacking Christianity, and one of the topics they often criticize is prayer. Since they believe (deny, lack belief, etc.,) that there is no God, therefore prayer cannot work – no matter what is said. The problem is that atheists who attack Christianity regarding prayer have three major problems. First, they need to deal with their own false assumptions that constrain their objectivity. Second, how would they judge if prayer works. Third, they don't understand how prayer works.
In the first case, atheists can only assume that God does not exist. They cannot know for sure that God does not exist because it is not possible to know all arguments and evidences for and against God's existence – which means there could be arguments and evidences they have not yet heard. So, ultimately, his position is held by faith–even if he wants to say it is an informed "faith."
Once his belief is in place, all evidence and arguments for God must be filtered through that paradigm. Prayer, then, could not possibly work because it would mean that God existed.
Second, how would atheists judge whether or not prayer works? Do they want repeatable experiments and regular quantifiable data so that the efficacy of prayer can be tested and measured? That would be a problem. If prayer "A" resulted in effect "B," then we would see a correspondence of prayer and result – something the atheist could see and verify. But if this were the case, such a phenomena would not be a demonstration that God exists. Instead, it would be a demonstration that uttering certain words in certain patterns brings certain results. This would imply that a new property of the universe has been discovered, and that by saying certain words certain results occur. This would not demonstrate that God exists. Besides, we call this phenomena sorcery.
Third, prayer doesn't work the way the atheists imply it should. Biblically speaking, prayer is offered to a Living Being who, according to Christianity, works all things after the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and not ours. God, like any rational being, may or may not answer a request from someone. Think about this: if my child asks me for ice cream and I don't want to give it to her, does it mean I don't exist, or that her asking me for things doesn't work? Of course not.
That doesn't stop the atheist from citing "studies" where the efficacy of prayer is measured and found to be useless – according to them. But that is what you'd expect if God, in his infinite wisdom, refused to be quantified by those who deny him and want him, essentially, to perform parlor tricks by responding to prayers in such a regular and man-centered manner so that his "performance" (and prayer's efficacy) can be measured. In other words, atheists, who deny God, want God to do what they want him to do, so they can be convinced. But God doesn't submit to his creation – especially to those who deny him.
But still, does prayer work? Yes it does. I've experienced profound answers many times. But, of course, if I were to offer my experiences and answered prayers, the atheist would say it's too subjective and not quantifiable. Therefore, they would reject it. So we are at an impasse. The atheist requirement of observation, testability, etc., can't affirm or deny prayer's efficacy. So, it isn't possible to win with the atheist when he sets up a criteria that is impossible to satisfy and especially when all answers have to be filtered through his atheistic worldview which requires that prayer will not work.
The atheist, in my opinion, has arrogantly challenged God by viewing non-answered prayer as evidence that He does not exist. The Bible says that God hides himself from the proud (James 4:6). So according to Scripture, atheists cannot and will not see that prayer works, and they will continue to deny God and elevate their own sense of truth and reality.
I believe in a personal God – one who listens to my prayers, especially when those I love are suffering, when I am at a loss, or when things seem so dark in the world that there is no other response that makes any sense. I pray to that God and hope that I do get what I want, but we all know that’s not exactly how it works. I wish it were that easy.
The one or ones to whom any of us pray, and for the purposes of my question it makes no difference who that one or ones is or what name they are called, is not a vending machine which is manipulated by the user in order to obtain goodies – even very serious and totally appropriate ones. And if one can only appreciate the efficacy of prayer in those terms, then I take back my initial assertion about prayer working.
For example, and contrary to what some people believe, there is no reliable evidence to support the notion that prayers offered on behalf of sick people make them any healthier than those for whom nobody has prayed. In fact, the studies which purported to prove that kind of efficacy for prayer, have all been debunked. But that does NOT mean that prayer doesn’t work. I'm only presenting this from purported "scientific" studies. We need not assume that prayer is working only when it gets us the end result we seek. Observations and studies aside, the Bible commands believers to pray for the sick and promises them that such prayers will result in the sick being healed. To be fair, Jesus in fact commands to HEAL the sick, not PRAY FOR the sick. Maybe that's why most sick people have stayed sick even after prayer! They didn't require prayer but healing. But that's a subject for another day.
But if I, or any other believer, know that our prayers won’t get us what we want, at least not in any direct way, why bother? Because, and I mean this quite seriously, as the Rollings Stones sang, "you can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just may find, you get what you need." Well, maybe not in the ultimate sense — that’s up to God, the individual, or some combination of the two, depending on your belief system, to confirm or deny. But we can find more than we often imagine of that which we need to get through the tough stuff, and prayer is a wonderful way of doing so. For that there IS evidence.
Prayer works amazingly well at providing some of the most important things we need especially at life’s most difficult moments – it takes us beyond ourselves, it connects us, battles loneliness, focuses attention on that for which we hope, and so much more. I think that’s why the impulse to pray transcends pretty much any religious and theological categories that exist and over which people battle. People can argue about the existence of God, which religion(s) are true and which are false, etc. but the desire to prayer is bigger and deeper than all of that. It's why, I think, according to the Bible, spontaneous prayer is with us from the very beginning of the human story, though formal liturgies take millennia to emerge.
Having been sick myself and having shared sickness and so many other difficult moments with countless others, having prayed for others and having asked others to pray for me and those I love, I know two things: first, that there is no way to prove that prayer directly effects or creates the outcomes we may seek and second, that prayer is a profound source of strength and clarity which enable us to achieve those outcomes or to deal with the fact that we may fail to achieve them.
The first premise is from a non-faith, philosophical perspective. It's based on scientific deduction. The second premise is from a faith perspective. And that's my main interest area. The prayer of faith works, manifestly so. There are millions of people the world over so can attest to its efficacy. There are people who have miraculously recovered from terminal and incurable illnesses after prayer.
In my experience, prayer works not as a manipulation of God, but as an opportunity to connect more deeply with ourselves and to experience the reality that we are not alone, no matter how much we may feel that we are at any given moment. And there is plenty of evidence for the material benefit of overcoming loneliness and alienation, restoring a sense of hope, and reminding ourselves that there are sources of strength upon which can always draw – whether they are located within us, within those who care about us, or within the God in whom we believe. So yes, prayer works.
I've seen it work. It's working for me daily. In fact, where I currently am in life and the man that I am today is owing to prayer, my own prayers and countless people who have prayed and are praying for me. While I respect the man who doesn't believe in the power of prayer, I pity such a man. He is the poorer for it. Prayer works.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan
Corruption is a heavy price to pay. The clean ones pay and suffer at the mercy of people who cannot have enough. They always want to eat and eat so selfishly like a bunch of ugly masked shrews. I hope God forgives me for ridiculing his creatures, but that mammal is so greedy. But corruption is not the new kid on the block, because it has always been everywhere.
This of course begs the question, why that is so? The common answer was and still is – abuse and misuse of power by those in power and weak institutions, disempowered to control the leaders. In 1996, the then President of The World Bank, James D. Wolfensohn named the ‘C-Word’ for the first time during an annual meeting of the Bretton Woods Institutions. A global fight against corruption started. Transparency International began its work. Internal and external audits mushroomed; commissions of inquiry followed and ever convoluted public tender procedures have become a bureaucratic nightmare to the private sector, trying to fight red tape.
The result is sobering corruption today is worse than it was 25 years ago. There is no denying that strong institutions help, but how does it come that in the annual Transparency International Ranking the same group of countries tend to be on the top while another group of countries, many African among them, tend to be on the bottom? Before one jumps to simple and seductive conclusions let us step back a moment.
Wolfensohn called corruption a cancer that destroys economies like a cancer destroys a body. A cancer is, simplified, good cells in a body gone bad, taking control of more and more good cells until the entire body is contaminated and eventually dies. So, let us look at the good cells of society first: they are family ties, clan and tribe affiliation, group cohesion, loyalty, empathy, reciprocity.
Most ordinary people like the reader of these lines or myself would claim to share such values. Once we ordinary people must make decisions, these good cells kick in: why should I hire a Mrs. Unknown, if I can hire my niece whose strengths and weaknesses I know? If I hire the niece, she will owe me and support my objectives.
Why should I purchase office furniture from that unknown company if I know that my friend’s business has good quality stuff? If I buy from him, he will make an extra effort to deliver his best and provide quality after sales service? So, why go through a convoluted tender process with uncertain outcome? In the unlikely case my friend does not perform as expected, I have many informal means to make him deliver, rather than going through a lengthy legal proceeding?
This sounds like common sense and natural and our private lives do work mostly that way and mostly quite well.
The problem is scale. Scale of power, scale of potential gains, scale of temptations, scale of risk. And who among us could throw the first stone were we in positions of power and claim not to succumb to the temptations of scale? Like in a body, cancer cells start growing out of proportion.
So, before we call out for new leaders – experience shows they are rarely better than the old ones – we need to look at ourselves first. But how easy is that? If I were the niece who gets the job through nepotism, why should I be overly critical? If I got a big furniture contract from a friend, why should I spill the beans? What right do I have to assume that, if I were a president or a minister or a corporate chief procurement officer I would not be tempted?
This is where we need to learn. What is useful, quick, efficient, and effective within a family or within a clan or a small community can become counterproductive and costly and destructive at larger corporate or national scale. Our empathy with small scale reciprocity easily permeates into complacency and complicity with large scale corruption and into an acquiescence with weak institutions to control it.
Our institutions can only be as strong as we wish them to be.
I was probably around ten years old and have always been that keen enthusiastic child that also liked to sing the favourite line of, ‘the world will become a better place.’ I would literally stand in front of a mirror and use my mom’s torch as a mic and sing along Michael Jackson’s hit song, ‘We are the world.’
Despite my horrible voice, I still believed in the message. Few years later, my annoyance towards the world’s corrupt system wonders whether I was just too naïve. Few years later and I am still in doubt so as to whether I should go on blabbing that same old boring line. ‘The world is going to be a better place.’ The question is, when?
The answer is – as always: now.
This is pessimistic if not fatalistic – I challenge Sagan’s outlook with a paraphrased adage of unknown origin: Some people can be bamboozled all of the time, all people can be bamboozled some of the time, but never will all people be bamboozled all of the time.
We, the people are the only ones who can heal society from the cancer of corruption. We need to understand the temptation of scale and address it. We need to stop seeing ourselves just a victim of a disease that sleeps in all of us. We need to give power to the institutions that we have put in place to control corruption: parliaments, separation of power, the press, the ballot box. And sometimes we need to say as a niece – no, I do not want that job as a favour, I want it because I have proven to be better than other contenders.
It is going to be a struggle, because it will mean sacrifices, but sacrifices that we have chosen, not those imposed on us.
Let us start today.
*Bokani Lisa Motsu is a student at University of Botswana
Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.
So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair. When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees. They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.
It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government. To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.
It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.
If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer. It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.
On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.
Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country. Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.
Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country. The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?
Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.
When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised. If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?
Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land. Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.
His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.
The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.
The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.
Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.
Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?
The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.
The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly. So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?
COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.
Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.
Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.
Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.
Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.
Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.
Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!
This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety. Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.
Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.