The heart of prayer
`I'M going to pray about this.'' ``I prayed about that.'' Statements like these are heard so often, particularly in religious circles, that the real meaning of prayer could seem, at times, to lose its significance. Some may well wonder what a person is doing when he's praying. And don't we all hope for our prayers to be more effective? Christ Jesus gave an example of effective prayer in a parable. Two men, a publican and a Pharisee, went into the temple to pray.1 The Pharisee ``stood and prayed thus with himself.'' And then we're told that he thanked God he was doing so well in life, that he was better than so many other people. It isn't difficult to imagine why that prayer wasn't effective.
The publican, on the other hand, was humble, ``would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven.'' And he was repentant: ``God be merciful to me a sinner.'' This man went home ``justified.''
Recently a friend who belonged to another religion said that prayer, for him, meant going to the Scriptures and finding out what God's will was, and then praying that His will be done. This really started me thinking. As a Christian Scientist I had been praying about things since childhood, but I wasn't quite sure how to respond to my friend. I wasn't certain how I would define prayer. I needed to consider more deeply how I prayed. I did know that many times my prayers had ``worked'' -- I had been healed, protected, and guided in very practical ways. I thought of the parable mentioned earlier, and I also turned to the chapter on prayer in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.2 I noticed that the word desire is often used in this chapter. And I realized that that word best explained what prayer was for me.
``Thoughts unspoken are not unknown to the divine Mind,'' Science and Health tells us. ``Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exaltedbefore they take form in words and in deeds.''3 As I've learned over the years more about God's love for His children and His infinite goodness, I've gained the confidence to trust Him with the innermost yearnings in my heart. I've seen that I can leave my desires with Him, and if they are right, He will fulfill them.
Referring to Jesus' parable, Mrs. Eddy writes, ``When the Publican's wail went out to the great heart of Love, it won his humble desire.''4 Of course, the obvious challenge is being sure that our desires are humble, that they are pure and sincere. In all honesty most of us have to admit that they aren't always that way. The human scene is often rife with bad intentions and selfish motives. It's not unusual to wonder if we deserve to have our prayers answered.
For this reason, seeing something of our true, spiritual selfhood is an essential concomitant of prayer. Christ Jesus taught us that God is our Father and that His will for us is good. And his healing works brought to light the fact that our true identity, as the offspring of God, is sinless and pure, perfect in every detail. This lifts us to see that we are worthy. But it also impels the regeneration needed to prove that fact and to find our prayers answered. It leads us to the repentance shown in the publican's plea. The desire to be better is justified, is ``moulded and exalted,'' and blessed by God.
My friend's comment also prompted me to look at the Lord's Prayer5 more closely. For the first time I saw that the Master's prayer actually includes a series of the very purest desires: that God be honored; that His kingdom be present; that His will be done; that He meet our needs each day; that we may be forgiven; that we be saved from evil.
Jesus also gave us the Beatitudes.6 They point to the desires that underlie effective prayer -- for example, the yearning for meekness, mercifulness, purity of heart. Such pure desires are answered in healing ways, as the Beatitudes show.
If I could have that conversation with my friend again, I'd say that, for me, praying is turning to God with what I feel in my heart; it is trusting Him with my desires. At its best, this kind of prayer also contains the gratitude that expects a blessing, and includes an understanding that God's child deserves to be -- and is -- blessed.
When I've reached the humility and sincerity of the publican, my prayers have been answered, and I've been able to rejoice in the last line of the Lord's Prayer: ``For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.''
1See Luke 18:10-14. 2The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 3Science and Health, p. 1. 4Ibid., p. 448. 5See Matthew 6:9-13. 6See Matthew 5:1-12. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: The Lord...will fulfil the desire of them that fear him. Psalms 145:18,19