When many people all over the world are suffering, economies are stumbling, and nations have warring factions, many people are turning to prayer for themselves and to help others. How can we pray more effectively?
I’m hardly an expert, but I’ve prayed enough that I’m starting to get some insights as to the keys to prayer. My ultimate model is found in the record left by Christ Jesus. He obviously prayed, and great things happened as a result. The sick, lame, and blind were healed. The unjust, greedy, and self-absorbed turned their lives around. Thousands were fed from a few loaves of bread and a few fish.
Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray. His response began this way: “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2).
From this and from what more I’ve discovered in the Bible, I sense that Jesus’ prayers were an effort to deeply acknowledge God at work, and so to feel and experience His presence. And this insight has taken my prayers in wonderful directions different from the one I followed as a kid, when I would ask God for things or ask Him to do certain things.
Thinking back on how I used to pray, I realize I was suggesting to the Almighty what He should be doing. But it’s understandable. The world is in need of change, and the change seems awfully slow in coming. I’m realizing, though, that what’s really needed is the discovery of, or an awakening to, God’s reality. In fact, my shift in prayer from asking for things, and coming to the point of more humbly trying to understand God’s present infinite goodness, has improved immeasurably the results of my effort. I’m seeing around me health restored and lives redeemed.
The shift that I’ve experienced with prayer can be a struggle for people – a chasm that’s hard to cross. Experiences can leave us entirely doubting the possibilities of prayer because praying to change things doesn’t seem to work, and making the leap to praying for the purposes of awakening to an unseen reality defies human reasoning.
But so much of Jesus’ teachings also defies conventional reasoning. It’s all a shift from the temporary perspectives provided by the material senses to something eternal that is based on our spiritual connection to an infinite, loving Creator. Prayer can then result in wonderful things for our lives.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science and founded the Monitor, was healed through prayer and taught others how to pray. Her major book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” begins with a remarkable chapter on prayer. In it she offered this summary: “Prayer cannot change the unalterable Truth, nor can prayer alone give us an understanding of Truth; but prayer, coupled with a fervent habitual desire to know and do the will of God, will bring us into all Truth” (p. 11).
Let’s make the leap. We certainly don’t need to settle for a troubled world. And we don’t need to keep asking God to step in. As we pray to consider the ways that good is already evident in our lives, we’ll find the prayer that helps us appreciate the universal and infinite nature of this good. The result will be blessings for everyone.
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