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The effectiveness of prayer

From the September 5, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Christ Jesus, the founder of Christianity, prayed effectively and with an understanding of God’s authority over illness and inharmony; and he taught his followers the wide application of prayer.

In his Sermon on the Mount, for instance, he gave a clear and authoritative statement about the value of petition in prayer. He said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7, 8).

What makes a prayer of petition effective is when one learns what to ask for. Did the Master teach that we should petition God for things such as money, material goods, a humanly outlined solution to a distressing situation? Or did he teach that we ask God for an understanding that reveals His goodness, ever-presence, infinite love, and supreme wisdom? An understanding of His care for every single one of His spiritual children—every one of us?

God is the only power, the only reality of being.

Instead of merely asking God for things to eat and drink, Jesus preached that one should seek the kingdom of God, and showed that God will meet our needs (see Luke 12:29–31). Such yearning enables us to awaken to God’s spiritual care for His creation and to the inspiration that brings help and healing. In the Christian Science textbook, Mary Baker Eddy 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.

“God is not moved by the breath of praise to do more than He has already done, nor can the infinite do less than bestow all good, since He is unchanging wisdom and Love. We can do more for ourselves by humble fervent petitions, but the All-loving does not grant them simply on the ground of lip-service, for He already knows all” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 2).

Another form of prayer is what might be called the prayer of affirmation. To declare—not with willpower but with heartfelt conviction—that God is the only power, the only reality of being, and the only Truth, encompassing all that exists; and that as God’s own spiritual image, man is His perfect expression and manifestation. Striving to understand these truths opens our thought to divine Truth, whose infinite power frees us from illness and inharmony. Jesus promised, simply and clearly, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32).

One day I found myself immobilized by what seemed to be the flu. As I lay on the couch well into the night, I began to pray by affirming with conviction an idea from Science and Health: “All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all” (p. 468).

This kind of prayer leads us to something higher than blind faith.

As I prayed with this truth, however, a number of questions about why I might be sick also came to my thought. But I knew the suggestion that I could ever be vulnerable to illness was a false material belief, as God being All, there could be in reality nothing but health and harmony for His spiritual creation. Each time I was tempted to think the illness had a real cause, I quickly and confidently affirmed the spiritual truth about “infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation,” also seeking to understand it more fully.

All of a sudden my thought was very calm and at peace. It was as if all those aggressive suggestions had been put down and disappeared. One more time I affirmed, with a conscious sense of victory, that God is All and we reflect His goodness. I was filled with a sense of confidence in this fact and realized I was completely healed of all the evidence of the flu. I bounced off the couch totally free, feeling 100 percent restored to health. I took a quick shower and, as it was the middle of the night, went back to my own bed. I woke up that morning at my usual time, refreshed and ready to go to the office.

Prayer that humbly petitions God for spiritual understanding opens thought to the possibility of seeing more clearly His infinite goodness, ever-present love, and unconditional care. Prayer that affirms His goodness and power nurtures our receptivity to the Christ, God’s message of harmony, which conveys His love, transforms thought, and brings healing.

This kind of prayer leads us to something higher than blind faith or just hoping that things will work out harmoniously. This effective prayer leads us to tangible demonstration, to experiencing and proving the power and goodness of divine Love, which can be seen and felt in daily experience. Mrs. Eddy writes: “The highest prayer is not one of faith merely; it is demonstration. Such prayer heals sickness, and must destroy sin and death” (Science and Health, p. 16).

Spiritually based prayer, as our Master taught and proved, can give each of us a fuller sense of God’s power over evil—an understanding that enables us to experience the harmony, freedom, and dominion Jesus promised to his followers.

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