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Prayer: Relevant in Bible times and today

From the February 8, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Is prayer really enough? Especially for the “big things”? The Bible is not only full of assurances, but proofs, that prayer based on spiritual understanding is enough. There are hundreds of accounts of individuals who overcame seemingly hopeless challenges through prayer alone. These examples of the efficacy of prayer are timeless, alive, relevant today. They help us face our difficulties.

Perhaps it’s easy to think that people and things were different back then—that “those people in the Bible” were so spiritually minded, and things weren’t nearly so complicated! The argument is sneaky that insists that today we’re such a technological, psychological, pharmaceutical, sophisticated, secular society that prayer alone is old-fashioned, impractical, or simply not enough.

Yet, a careful reading of Bible accounts shows “those people in the Bible” had the same thoughts people today have—of inadequacy, unworthiness, fear, doubt. Same problems—depression, stress, poverty, homelessness, illness. Same crying needs, too—for a sense of meaningfulness, direction, health, and feeling loved.

It’s not true that fear didn’t argue to them. It did. But I’ve noticed in studying their experiences that it was their prayer and spiritual-mindedness that kept their thoughts so close to God that no matter how real or formidable fear seemed, God’s great love was so much greater to them. It was their prayer that enabled them to hear, trust, hug close, and prove God’s promises, such as: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10) and “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Joshua 1:5).

Healings in the Bible speak to us directly, specifically, where and when we’re challenged. For example, take the account of a young mother suddenly widowed—no “marketable skills,” huge debts, with one pot of oil, and about to lose her sons—who came to the prophet Elisha for help (see II Kings 4:1–7). Through Elisha’s deep awareness of God’s power, and the woman’s fidelity and obedience, the oil multiplied. She was able to keep her sons, pay the debts, and live off the rest of the oil. 

When I was a new student of Christian Science and young mother of two little ones, the healing experiences of “those people in the Bible” repeatedly spoke to me.

That example spoke volumes to a woman I know when she found herself suddenly alone with two little boys. Her husband had cleaned out their bank account, maxed out their credit cards, skipped town, and left her with a big mortgage. She had no marketable skills—not even a high school diploma. Yet, like that woman in the Bible, she prayed. In that prayer she, too, “shut the door upon her and upon her sons”—shut out all clamoring arguments of self-pity, injustice, poverty, fear, unworthiness, etc; and asked herself, “What do I have in the house?” Not a pot of oil, but a basement. She was inspired to turn it into her art studio, where she taught children’s painting lessons and prepared her own paintings which she sold at art fairs. She was able to keep her house, make mortgage payments, and pay for college costs later for her sons.

When I was a new student of Christian Science and young mother of two little ones, the healing experiences of “those people in the Bible” repeatedly spoke to me (and kept me afloat) when fear would rush in. More than once came the suggestion “This problem is too big for me; I’m not experienced enough for this.” That’s when the Bible account of David and Goliath really came to life for me (see I Samuel 17). Here’s a teenaged shepherd boy (not an experienced warrior) who is unafraid of a fully armed giant! I read it over and over. What helped me was David’s childlike—yet sound and solid—trust in God’s omnipotence. “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand” (verse 46), he said, and ran to meet Goliath, confident that the same God that had saved him from “the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear” (verse 37) in his shepherding would save him right then, too. To me, this was a clear glimpse of God as Principle—constant, consistent, invariable Love. I clung to this same truth. It reassured me that it’s not how much you intellectually know of God, but it’s the truth you do know of Him—and sticking to it—that brings healing. 

Over the years, there were many healings in our family—of our daughter’s broken leg, my husband’s glider accident injury, our son’s crippling disease which was diagnosed as incurable (Judy Olson, “Impressed by disease? Don’t be.” April 30, 2014, audio podcast), and my symptoms of pneumonia, along with many proofs of Love’s leading for each of us. Speaking of my own healing, right where fear seemed to have taken over and I felt I had to make healing happen (as if God were dependent on me), Jeremiah’s prayer came to me: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; … for thou art my praise” (Jeremiah 17:14). So simple and yet profound, and I kept pondering it.

It’s not how much you intellectually know of God, but it’s the truth you do know of Him—and sticking to it—that brings healing. 

The first part of that is a petition, and there’s nothing wrong with a prayer of petition, but I saw it was much different from mere begging or a blind faith. This prayer was also a prayer of conviction, of expectancy, of recognizing our inseparability from God, of certainty, of confidence in God’s goodness and His willingness and ability to heal. And the important part to me was those last five words—“for thou art my praise.” That, I saw, was the how and why Jeremiah was confident of healing. A few verses later, he prays, “Thou art my hope” and “Let not me be confounded” (verses 17, 18). When I looked up hope in the dictionary, it was defined as “the highest degree of well-grounded expectation of good,” and is described as “based on God’s gracious promises.” That turned my thought totally to what I did know of God, and I stayed there until God’s goodness, His everywhereness, His almightiness, and His unceasing, unstoppable love filled my consciousness. Keeping my thought filled with God’s goodness, as Jeremiah had shown me, soon I felt Love, God, filling the room, filling all space. That’s all that was there! I fell asleep. In the morning, my fever was gone, breathing was far better, and I got up and made breakfast for my family. Within two days I was entirely free.

It was prayer that enabled Moses to lead more than half a million people out of slavery, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And it was Christ Jesus’ prayer in the tomb that conquered death and the grave. Don’t their examples assure us that we too have the same almighty God? And that God is just as present here as He was there, just as mighty now as He was then?

The Bible has shown me this: Everyone is capable of praying, and praying effectively. Prayer deepens our understanding of God’s omnipotence and omnipresence, and proves His goodness and grace in every detail of our lives.

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