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The power of prayer

Prayer, deeply and honestly felt and offered with humility and gratitude, can solve many a trouble. And such prayer need not be lengthy or phrased in ecclesiastical terms, or actually phrased at all.

I discovered this potent truth one morning while driving on an elevated expressway over a bustling southern city. I was driving in the slowest of three crowded lanes. Just ahead of me was a flatbed truck loaded with mattresses. Suddenly a mattress rose from the truck and flopped down onto the highway. To hit it meant disaster. I glanced to the left. No hope of entering that lane. I had time only to breathe the word ''Father,'' but it was a beseeching and heartfelt prayer. I looked to the left again, and there was a space big enough for my car. I slid into it with deep gratitude.

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Then I thought of the cars that had been behind me. Would they, too, escape accident? I repeated my prayer, but now it was two words, ''Our Father.''

Every car merged into the adjacent lane. There was no accident. This simplest of prayers had been answered.

Thinking about this incident, I realized that my one-word prayer actually was an affirmation of faith in God's protecting power and a denial that there could be any other power. The very word ''Father'' implied perfect Love. The spontaneous and deeply felt nature of the prayer ensured its being answered.

We do well to consider the motive for prayer. Of course, prayers carefully prepared and offered in public can be sincere and heartfelt; but if these tend to impress others rather than praise God, can they be truly effective?

Christ Jesus gave this instruction and promise: ''When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.'' n1

n1 Matthew 6:6.

Mary Baker Eddy, the New England woman who discovered and founded Christian Science, devoted the first chapter of the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, to the subject of prayer. She points out that prayer can be as simple as thought or desire. She stresses what Jesus taught: God already knows what we need and constantly is supplying it. She writes: ''Are we benefited by praying? Yes, the desire which goes forth hungering after righteousness is blessed of our Father, and it does not return unto us void.'' n2 She also tells us, ''What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.'' n3

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n2 Science and Health, p. 2.

n3 Ibid., p. 4.

How many of us pray for the ''fervent desire for growth in grace'' rather than for things, for financial advancement in our work or other material benefits? How many of us, like Solomon, ask for wisdom and understanding? Yet we need to understand what God is, and what man's relationship to Him is, if our prayers are to be powerful. Prayer is effective when it springs from an understanding that God is Love, and that man, no matter how he seems to the material senses, is actually made in the image of Love.

Gratitude often is the key that unlocks many treasures of prayer, and time is well spent in being grateful, truly and deeply grateful, for the good God has given, and always is giving, to us.

The riches of the kingdom of heaven are ours for the taking. Yet how often we confuse these with material riches or personal success! God is always protecting His spiritual creation, supplying man with infinite blessings, and although this is expressed in the tangible meeting of our human needs, all genuine good is spiritual, not worldly.

Prayer that humbly acknowledges God as the loving Father, and man as made in the image of Love, always perfect, always protected, can be a powerful help, bringing to light His provision and forwarding our salvation. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath they eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, thosethat remember thee in thy ways . . . . O Lord, thous art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:4, 5, 8

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