MAY 4 has been designated as National Day of Prayer in the United States. It is likely that there will be both individual and community observances. There may also be questions about prayer, such as ''What difference does prayer make?'' In other words, does it work?
Christ Jesus certainly proved prayer's effectiveness during his ministry. His reliance on God, whom he taught us to know as ''our Father,'' enabled him to heal people of disease and other trouble. For Jesus, prayer wasn't just a source of comfort--it actually changed situations for the better.
That prayer was considered a source of healing even after Jesus' life is brought out in the book of James. There we read, ''Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much'' (5:16). Such reliance on prayer was a direct outgrowth of Jesus' efforts to teach his disciples how to heal as he did, and how to pass this spiritual understanding along to others.
This same ''effectual fervent prayer'' can heal you and me also. The basis of such prayer is an understanding that man is spiritual, the offspring of God. This spirituality is not expressed in material terms; it takes form, instead, in goodness, intelligence, patience, love, and other Godlike qualities. Far from being limited by a material body or prospects, man is the full expression of his creator, divine Mind, or God.
Following Christ Jesus' teachings by obeying God and keeping our thoughts focused on good is basic to effective prayer. It enables us to respond with love instead of hate, with intelligence instead of confusion. It also helps us to live our prayers--not just think them.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, brings out the importance of practicing what we pray in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes, ''Simply asking that we may love God will never make us love Him; but the longing to be better and holier, expressed in daily watchfulness and in striving to assimilate more of the divine character, will mould and fashion us anew, until we awake in His likeness'' (p. 4).
Diligently affirming our identity as God's likeness will literally heal us. Here is an example. This past winter I slipped on an ice patch in our driveway and fell with such force that I slid along the ice and into the side of the garage, forcefully banging my chest and shoulder. Even as I was falling, however, I turned to God, divine Love, specifically affirming that He was in control of my life and I could not be separated from Him. This thought flashed through my consciousness far more quickly than I can describe it here.
Following the impact with the garage, I realized that I had a choice: either I could react as if I were a material being and accept the possibility of injury, or I could continue to act from the basis of my understanding of my spiritual nature and my inseparability from God. Having been healed many times through reliance on the laws of God, I chose the latter. My original purpose in going outside had been to go grocery shopping, and I decided to go ahead, letting my thought be guided by God along the way.
At first the pain in my collarbone was severe. I realized that, in reality, man cannot suffer injury, because he is never cut off from divine Love, the source of all being and action. I affirmed that I am the spiritual idea of divine Mind, not a material being subject to accident. I knew that God's law of good is ever present and that nothing could interfere with its harmonious action.
In about twenty minutes, the pain in the collarbone was gone, but I still had to deal with a very sore shoulder and rib cage. Continuing to affirm that God alone governs my life and being, I refused to accept any possibility of injury or accident. Since man's nature is spiritual and good, it cannot be touched by evil. This truth helped me so much that within another forty minutes, all the pain was gone. I was healed. And my shopping was done too!
Was I grateful? Of course! All of us, wherever we are in the world can experience such effective healing prayer. And we can pray in this way for our families, our communities, and our nations as well.