AN honest petition to God can be a helpful prayer, opening our thought to His power and ability to help. In the long run, though, effective prayer - prayer that truly redeems us and transforms our experience - must go further than pleading with God to protect us from harm, heal a sickness, or send extra provisions. Prayer has to spring from a heartfelt understanding of spiritual truth, as Christ Jesus clearly indicated.
The truth is that God, our Father and Mother, cares for every need of His spiritual creation, down to the tiniest detail; that He pours out to man unconditionally and constantly His abundant resources.
This spiritual fact tends to be hidden from human view because earthly, materialistic thinking sees things in limited, materialistic terms; it doesn't perceive the divine reality of God's presence and care. Even so, spiritual truth can be demonstrated. We can prove the truth of St. Paul's words ''My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.'' n1 Lack of sufficient income, safety, or health might be considered a signal that we lack in some way the consciousness of God's care for us and that we need to pray.
n1 Philippians 4:19.
Because God's care for man is a spiritual fact, our goal might well be to become conscious of this fact, conscious of His present provision, rather than to get more of some material thing. Prayer will be more effective if instead of pleading with God we realize that He is already giving man everything right and good.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, says: ''Asking God to be God is a vain repetition. God is 'the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever;' and He who is immutably right will do right without being reminded of His province.'' n2
n2 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 2-3.
Effective prayer, then, includes an acknowledgment - and further, a realization - of God's constant goodness and care. It's also helpful to specifically deny what circumstances sometimes assert: that God is absent or unconcerned.
Realizing the fact that God, infinite Soul, is the great giver, and denying that He is in any way negligent, can be a powerful help. Such prayer can bring the peaceful consciousness, and evidence, of ever-present good into our lives and eliminate the fretful sense of abandonment.
I had an experience once that proved this. I was accepted at a college that seemed an ideal choice for me in terms of both academic and personal growth. It was an expensive school, however, and since my application for financial aid had been rejected, it seemed impossible for me to attend. I felt disappointed and worried.
Recognizing the need to become more aware of my Father-Mother's provision, I began to pray. I didn't ask God for money; instead I thought about this statement in the Christian Science textbook by Mrs. Eddy: ''Soul has infinite resources with which to bless mankind, and happiness would be more readily attained and would be more secure in our keeping, if sought in Soul.''n3 I acknowledged that God had both the will and the resources to care for me. I denied what circumstances were suggesting: that He had abandoned me to be victimized by finances and human decisions.
n3 Ibid., p. 60.
Praying this way, I didn't get into the business of deciding for God what it was I needed. I understood that if another school or perhaps something completely different was really best for me, that would be provided. I affirmed His wisdom and love and let the answer to my prayer reveal what my true need was.
As a result of this prayer I became very peaceful, and it dawned on me what I needed to do. I phoned the school's financial aid office and gave them information that it had not occurred to me previously to provide, but which had a bearing on the situation. The committee reconsidered my application and granted me more aid than I had asked for.
It's significant that my prayerful recognition of God's already present provision preceded the appearance of the necessary funds. It had to. Not because God heard a human plea and took pity. But because the acknowledgment of God's care in my life removed the obstacles - fear and disappointment - that had kept me from experiencing that care.
Praying with a heartfelt understanding of God's goodness does bring the power of His infinite love and protection to bear on our human condition. This is prayer that heals sickness, delivers from harm, and opens the way for the fulfilling of every need. DAILY BIBLE VERSE All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. Matthew 21:22