As a Virginia resident, I've been inspired by the prayerful reactions across the state – and across the United States – to the recent violence on the Virginia Tech campus. Prayer vigils and special church services are all contributing to ongoing healing in Blacksburg. This has led me to think about prayer as a positive and restorative force in our lives and in our communities.
That this first Thursday in May has been, since 1988, designated as the National Day of Prayer underlines the relevance of prayer in today's world. There will be many activities sponsored by churches and private organizations throughout the nation in the spirit of this Congressional legislation.
I also thought of the great prayer that unites all Christians, the wonderful gift that Jesus gave the world when he said, "After this manner therefore pray ye," and then delivered what has since been called the Lord's Prayer.
It's a perfect model for prayer, and one version can be found in Matthew, chapter 6, verses 9-13. While Bible scholars aren't convinced that the final verse was part of the original text and that it may have been added by later copyists, that verse forms an important function in leading our thinking back to God's forever-established power and glory.
A year or so ago I felt impelled to look at this prayer more carefully, and as I studied it, I saw it in a new light.
I found that the first four statements declare God's all-power, His sacredness, and they ask to see more of God's kingdom and His will.
These affirmational statements always help me get my priorities right. They start me with the allness of God, which puts my prayer on a solid, spiritual foundation, establishing that God is already all-power and that I am ready to understand more of His perfect nature. It's not a pleading that God might hear about my personal needs.
The next three statements are general requests to satisfy the needs of mankind – for our daily bread, for our forgiveness as we forgive, and for deliverance from temptation and evil.
To me, these petitions increase in importance, from our humble request for God to supply our daily needs to acknowledging our fitness for forgiveness up to seeing our deliverance from all evil, all the claims of sin, sickness, and even death.
This structure indicates to me that effective prayers in Jesus' way would be heavy with the affirmation of God's greatness and all-power and lighter on the petition side.
Giving the affirmation primary importance reveals God as our perfect Father, our source. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, described this prayer as one that "covers all human needs" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 16). In her commentary on the spiritual sense of this prayer, she amplified "Thy kingdom come," to "Thy kingdom is come; Thou art ever-present."
Acknowledging God's all-power brings the solutions to our specific needs; the details tend to fall into place naturally, since we've begun at the right starting point.
As a teenager, I experienced the sudden disappearance of a migraine headache through praying this prayer. I wasn't praying to have the migraine lifted, but to see God better. I was healed, and that encouraged me to depend on God's all-power for my physical well-being.
There have been many instances since then in which accepting that God, the Father of all humanity, is established in heaven and that His will must be done has resolved issues of ugly interpersonal relations or even knotty technical problems at work.
On this National Day of Prayer, and always, it's good to remember Jesus' model and that it's as effective now as it was on the hillsides of Galilee.