What Are We Praying For?
WE all have our own sense of prayer, and our concept of prayer certainly depends on our concept of God. If we have a stern sense of God, we may feel anxious about getting our prayer just right. But if we think of God as a loving Father, as Christ Jesus presented Him, we will always feel able to approach Him confidently, whatever words we use. This is not to suggest that God is a kind of super human being who will accede automatically to every demand we make of Him. Rather, God is infinite, divine Love, ever present and all-embracing, always imparting freely to man such spiritual qualities as wisdom and love and perception and strength. Drawing on these qualities is what makes God's goodness apparent in practical ways. This also makes it easier to understand and comply with Paul's injunction ``Pray without ceasing.''1
A young woman proved something of this for herself when her car was wrecked in an accident. She herself escaped quite unscathed and she was very grateful for this. She didn't worry too much about the car, because she was about to go on a three-month retraining course during which she had planned not to use it. And she felt sure that when she needed a car again, one would be forthcoming.
About a month into the course she arrived at her usual bus stop one evening to see her bus pull away. At first she was filled with resentment at having to use public transportation at all. But she realized that this wasn't going to change the situation or help her to wait happily for the next bus. So she did what might be thought an unusual thing. She got out a notebook and began to write down all that traveling on the bus every day was teaching her.
A meaningless exercise? Not at all. She saw it as a form of prayer. Riding the bus was teaching her to love her neighbor actively by seeing the other bus users as embraced in God's love and protection. She was learning to be more grateful -- even for the provision of this service for everyone to use.
The fruits of this work were gratifying. Toward the end of the course a fellow student mentioned he was selling his car, and she was able to buy it. When she collected the keys, he suggested that she might apply for a job he had been offered and had refused. She did so, and she has been delighted with both the car and the employment that followed.
She also had a better sense of the purpose of prayer to help us express more of God's qualities and not simply to get the things we want. And she saw more clearly the impartial nature of God's love, which everyone can come to feel and experience through prayer. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, puts it like this: ``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. It is the open fount which cries, `Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.'''2
Someone once said to me: ``Remember, if you only take a thimble to the open fount, you'll only bring a thimbleful away. But if you take a bucket, you can have a bucketful instead.'' Praying with expectancy and with a desire to express more of the divine nature isn't something to turn to only in emergencies. It's a demand of spiritual progress that goes on enriching our lives by making us more receptive to God's gracious provision for us and everyone else.
1I Thessalonians 5:17. 2Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 12-13.