WE'VE seen encouraging changes in the world recently. But the news also tells us of less positive signs -- of drugs, homelessness, crime. So while there's progress in some areas, the challenge in others seems immense. If we want to help, where can we begin? There may be a number of good answers to this question. We shouldn't, however, discount prayer as an effective starting point.
Prayer isn't always given credit for what it is doing. There is a tendency, for instance, to look at society's formidable troubles and feel there's little that prayer can do to help. Or we may not be sure how to pray in an effective way. But the very dimensions of our planet's problems require that the power of God be brought to bear on them. And prayer is the means by which we can do this.
If we believe in God and recognize His will for man to be good, it's natural to expect prayer to have a healing influence on humanity. It's natural to expect prayer to help enlighten individuals and governments, bringing change for the better; to expect it to show us how best to assist others in caring for daily needs. Today, though, in the midst of secular concerns and materialistic viewpoints, a spiritual approach isn't widely supported. Yet who can say to what extent prayer may have impelled the progress made around the globe?
Maybe what we all need is more childlike receptivity to the power of God shown in the Bible, especially in the life and teachings of Christ Jesus. While we may feel that Jesus' works are far beyond what we can hope to emulate, his teachings clearly point to the fact that God's power is available to us all. No one is excluded from the privilege of praying to the Father ``which is in secret.'' And Jesus said, as Matthew records, ``Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.'' Referring to this passage, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, says in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``To enter into the heart of prayer, the door of the erring senses must be closed. Lips must be mute and materialism silent, that man may have audience with Spirit, the divine Principle, Love, which destroys all error.''
Underlying our prayer should be some understanding of what God's nature really is. We learn from the Bible that God is our creator and that He is good. In fact, we're told that God is Love itself. And Jesus taught that God is Spirit.
It's also important to understand something of man's true nature as God's creation. Because God is good, it follows that what He made is good. This means that man's true selfhood is good, not evil. And because God is Spirit, man's real being is spiritual, perfect. This higher sense of man as God's spiritual image can be a practical help in improving people's lives.
If, in relation to a specific trouble, we realize in prayer that man truly is God's likeness, safe in His care, governed by His wisdom, we can help make that fact more apparent in human experience. Such prayer doesn't ignore the tragic evidence of homelessness, addiction, and so forth, but overcomes it through an understanding of God's supreme justice and man's true nature.
We may not always know in exactly what way our prayer forwards progress, but we can be sure that it does if we're really glimpsing something of God's love for man and His unopposable power. The book of James says unequivocally, ``The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.''
Where can we begin to tackle mankind's problems? A good place to begin is with prayer and with a renewed trust in God's power to heal.