There is one thing that all religions share and that is prayer which is expressed in myriads of ways. We have rosaries, prayer wheels, liturgies, silent prayer, loud prayer, supplications, intercession, positive thoughts, etc. All of these are expressions that come from an intrinsic desire at the heart of everyone to reach out to a Higher Power. Many people who don't profess faith in any specific religion still pray in times of need for it is natural to pray.' Why?' Because we are created in God's image and so that Presence within leads us to want to make contact with the very center of our being, our Creator God, in whom "we live, move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Paul here was quoting from Greek wisdom, not from an Old Testament prophet.
I remember well as a child, long before I had any religious instruction or attended any church, I would get down on my knees and pray often, especially when things were really troubled in our home which was a good share of the time. I would find strength, help, and courage to keep going in my life by doing that. It was simply the most natural thing in the world to pray without anyone telling me that I should. I remember praying when mom had serious surgery and was close to death. I prayed when she went to town to see a lawyer about possibly divorcing my dad. Many others could give a similar testimony about praying in times of need. When we were children we were more susceptible to the voice of the Holy Spirit than when we got older and more sophisticated and lost that childlike trust and simplicity. No wonder Jesus in speaking of children said "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14). We need to return to that childlike simplicity.
I will share with you some of the things about prayer that make the most sense to me. We are commanded to pray over and over again in our Christian Bible as well as the sacred texts of other religions so let's pray whether we understand all the reasons why or not for this is God's will for us. However, there are deeper dimensions of prayer that will be revealed to us as we grow in our spiritual understanding and we will learn to pray with more joy and enthusiasm knowing for sure that we are indeed making a big difference in our world whether we see the visible results or not.
In my apartment I have a TV and I have electrical power. But if I don't plug the TV into the source of power nothing will happen. I will see no images and hear no sounds. When I connect with the power source something happens. So it is with the power of God and our lives. Through prayer we connect with the power of Almighty God and things begin to change whether the change is sudden and very visible or slow and imperceptible. When we connect with God Who is our Source of power things cannot remain the same. We may be sure of that without even the shadow of a doubt. There is an old saying, "Seven days without prayer make one weak." How true! If we want spiritual power in our life we must connect with the Source of power.
Expressions such as "an atmosphere of grace" and "an energy field of love" have been used to describe that which we cannot perceive with our five physical senses but yet is real. I can't see radio or TV waves but I can see the results when the radio and TV are turned on. I haven't the slightest idea of how the process works when I go into the Internet, send an email half way around the world and it is received and sometimes responded to in minutes. So I believe that there is literally "an energy field of love" that surrounds us that we cannot see with the naked eye but that we can sense in our spirits. We could call this "spiritual understanding" and it reveals to us that which is eternal is "God based" and not of any human devising (See 2 Corinthians 4:18). When we pray, regardless of the form of prayer that we follow, we are connecting with and contributing to that "universal energy field of love" that affects not only our immediate area but the whole world. Every prayer makes a difference. Once we grasp that concept we will pray more than ever and with a lot more motivation. If we know we are really making a difference there is more reason for praying. The scientific research done on prayer over the past years substantiates this. Prayer is more than a "feel good" sort of thing.
For some prayer is an effort to "get something" for self or others. God is seen as sort of a benevolent Santa Claus somewhere "up there" and if we beg long enough, hard enough, and behave ourselves properly we'll "bring down" His blessings and get whatever we want. Most people start out at this level for, after all, we must start somewhere. I can remember as a child when TV first started to come out that I prayed and asked God for a TV but I didn't get one. However, I didn't give up on God because I didn't get what I wanted at the time. Intuitively I somehow knew there was more to the story about God and prayer.
As we progress in our understanding of God and partake more of His presence we move past the "Santa Claus" concept and our supplications become more prayers of dedication and communion instead of requests for specific things. In a war both sides are praying to win since each side is convinced of the righteousness of its cause. Whose prayers should be answered? Only one side can win.' I've heard of sports fans praying for their team to win.' No doubt fans of the other side are also praying with equal sincerity for their team to win. Is one team more righteous in God's sight than the other? Should He favor one side more than the other? Farmers might be praying for rain to water their crops and others for a sunny day to have a nice family outing in the park. As we grow in consciousness from self-centeredness to unselfishness our prayers shift more into the arena of willingness to be a servant of the Lord and a channel for His perfect will instead of trying to specify specifically what should be done. After all, doesn't God know far better than we do what is actually the best for us or others at any given moment? Since God is omnipresent (everywhere), omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) He knows already what our needs are, where we need to be going in our lives, what tools we need to get there, and how it can all work out for His honor and glory and for the healing of the world. Prayer is not for the purpose of providing God with information or telling Him what to do, although I've heard many prayers along those lines over the years.
As we grow in our appreciation for the character of God our prayers begin to shift from supplication to surrender. I think the key concepts for effective prayer are humility, surrender and devotion. Everything else will take place just as it should if we work with those principles. We will pray to be a vehicle of divine love and be empowered to share that love with others. We ask for direction and guidance and surrender our will to His will through devotion (See Matthew 6:10; 26:42; Luke 11:2). We dedicate our lives to His service. Above all else we seek peace and love. We commit ourselves without any desire for personal gain to the goal of unconditional, nonjudgmental love and compassion for all expressions of life in our world, including our environment.
The form of prayer which has meant the most to me for the past many years is "the prayer of silence" where I wait upon God and just absorb His Presence (See Psalm 37:7; 123:2; Isaiah 30:15; 40:31). I let go of the normal flow of thoughts which are often like chattering monkeys in a tree. I don't ask for anything. I have one goal and that is to experience the Presence. Sometimes people's names come to me that I should be remembering and I pray for God's good in their lives but in these times of silence my primary focus is simply to be with God and to love Him. I feel refreshed and empowered by these times of waiting upon the Lord. I highly recommend this practice to all. The "silence" is an experience known to those in all spiritual paths from ancient times up to the present. It leads to knowing God instead of just knowing about God. If we would meet together in silence and focus on God's Presence and Love what a blessing we could be to one another and what an atmosphere of grace and healing we could send to a world in desperate need.
I would like to close with this wonderful quotation:
THE GIFT OF SILENCE
The gift of silence puts us in touch with an inner place where we are truly alive. While cultural messages teach us that fulfillment comes by accumulating more--and then still more--silence teaches us the paradox that to be emptied is to be filled, to let go is to possess. When we sit alone in the quiet, letting go of our struggles, concerns, compulsions, and insistence upon having things go "our way," we are filled with the One for whom we deeply hunger. Silence wakes us up to the One who is Life and Love. This is prayer.
Janice K. Stanton, The Gift of Silence, Alive Now (September/October 1998): 19 [Quoted on p. 42 of Exploring the Way, An Introduction to the Spiritual Journey, an Upper Room Publication]
[This article was written on October 29, 2005 and is part of an ongoing series. My purpose is to encourage people to grow spiritually and to experience more of God's presence in their lives. I welcome responses from readers. Let me know if you want to be on my email list.