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Prayer: A lottery?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

January 27, 2005



In my old neighborhood, the lottery was a big deal. It didn't matter how tough things were that month financially; nothing got in the way of people buying those tickets. If they couldn't swing the cost that week, there was the man by the public phone on the corner who would sell to them on credit.

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You or I might find it hard to understand how anyone having trouble paying the rent could find the money to buy those tickets. But many people pin their life's hope on them. Their chance may be one in millions, but it's that chance that keeps them buying tickets.

It disturbs me that the lottery lures money from millions so that one or a handful of people can benefit. But what I feel even more strongly about is the notion that this is how the world works - that life itself is a kind of lottery.

For example, I was talking with a friend the other day, and the subject turned to prayer. To him prayer just didn't make sense; it was too much like a lottery. Millions, perhaps billions, of people pray every day. Many have the gravest needs, are hurting in the most awful ways. But prayer, to him, seemed like a game of chance. Only a few prayers were ever answered. There were a few lucky "winners" that kept everyone else praying. But it was irrational. Nothing certain about it at all.

It's a harsh indictment, but I think it's shared by many people who wouldn't necessarily say this out loud.

It helps explain the great hungering in the world today to find the nature of effective prayer. Many people instinctively feel that God doesn't, couldn't, run the world or their lives as a lottery. If God is indeed to be known as divine Love as the Bible states, then neither God nor the operation of His will could be so callous or uncaring. In a chapter called "Prayer" in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy made this reassuring point: "In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as 'a very present help in trouble.' Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals" (pages 12-13).

Here is the opposite of the view of prayer as a lottery: God doesn't play favorites. Everyone can turn to God, everyone is worthy of God's love, everyone is embraced by God's love. Experience shows that when we think about the fact that God is Love, our prayers are more effective. God as Love expresses Love universally, just as the sun radiates light.

For example, let's say someone hangs his laundry out to dry on the line. Someone else uses a solar panel to run a pump. A third person has a garden, whose plants rely on photosynthesis to grow. Someone else is on the beach to get a tan. The sun doesn't need to know of these various needs and desires. It just radiates its energy. If we stand in the sunlight, we get its benefits.

We turn to God in prayer for any number of reasons. When we recognize that God is Love, that we are in the universe of this Love, that we are governed, blessed, supported, supplied by this Love, we begin to benefit from being consciously under this divine influence. God loves. When we realize this, we are in the sunlight of that love.

This leads to another important point. Some forms of prayer suggest that one is trying to wake God up, but prayer that heals consistently is prayer that wakes us up and helps us move into the light, into the sphere of the activity of divine Love. God's love is already at work, already pouring out goodness and health. So if our prayer is honest, just, unselfish, confident in God's goodness and love, that very prayer will wake us to see that Love is shining on us now.

It's hard to get a tan while lying in a dark cave; we have to move out into the sun. It's hard to see the answer to prayer if we believe that it's just a lottery, or irrational chance. We need to waken to the presence of divine Love, realize it is here, that it is active, that it is the power governing our lives now. As we do this, our prayers are answered more and more consistently. We learn that God is Love - a great, dependable, ever-present Love.

The effectual fervent prayer
of a righteous man
availeth much.

James 5:16

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