A FRIEND and I were talking about our religious beliefs, and when he found out I was a Christian Scientist, he was very curious to know how Christian Scientists pray. ``If you call your religion a Science,'' he said, ``does that mean you always get what you pray for?'' The quick answer to this question is ``no'' -- in Christian Science, as in any religion, one does not always get what one prays for. There's so much more to prayer than simply asking God for something we need or want. For our prayers to be answered, our hearts must be right, that is, in accord with the nature of the God we pray to. We pray with our spirit more than with our words, and so the innermost, sacred desires of our hearts are our truest prayers.
Yet the fact that prayer is a thing of the heart does not preclude the possibility of approaching God scientifically -- that is, with the comforting knowledge that God, being divine Love, is not arbitrary or whimsical but orders His universe with spiritual laws. Christian Scientists see Mary Baker Eddy's discovery of these spiritual laws, which she designated ``Christian Science,'' as her unique contribution to Christian thought and practice.
In fact, the existence of these spiritual laws is the reason Jesus' promise ``He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also'' is for all time. An absolute, eternal Principle underlies them, that Principle being God Himself. But in order to do the healing works Christ Jesus said his followers would do, one needs to understand these spiritual laws. Yes, faith is needed; but faith needs to develop into a concrete understanding of God's laws that has practical power.
Consider the analogy of an engineer who wants to build a bridge. He may have great faith in the possibilities of his creation. But no matter how brilliant his vision, to design a working bridge, he must have a practical understanding of the physics of bridges. He must know, for example, about the tensile and compressive strength of materials, and how stress and harmonic vibration, as well as geology, can affect structures.
If the designer ignores any of these things, his bridge cannot be built or will be dangerously flawed. In a somewhat analogous way, the Christian Scientist seeks to have his prayer be shaped by an understanding of the spiritual laws and truths that he finds in the Bible and in Mrs. Eddy's spiritual discovery.
For example, the Bible warns against prayer that originates in ``lust'' -- that is, within wrong, selfish desires. We read in the book of James, ``Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.'' Prayer that originates in greed, envy, selfishness, materialism, is never answered by God, simply because such ``prayer'' is totally out of tune with the very nature of God's goodness.
Prayer takes on a whole new dimension when we realize that God isn't a magnified man we plead with, but unlimited Spirit, the divine Mind which knows what we need before we ask. What God gives in answer to prayer is not material things but a more spiritual, limitless sense of life and self. This spiritual sense meets our legitimate human needs by opening our eyes to the presence of what is really already at hand -- what Jesus called the kingdom of God, or heaven. As Mrs. Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science, puts it in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: ``Prayer cannot change the Science of being, but it tends to bring us into harmony with it.''
When prayer is shaped by the Science of being, we begin to realize the presence of unseen realities, overruling our fearful, limited sense of life and self. We begin to see that God truly is infinite good and therefore does not send or create disease or death. We begin to see that man, in order to be God's image, must be like Spirit -- must be spiritual. We begin to understand that if God truly is All, sickness, lack, disease, pain, sorrow, must ultimately be illusory, having no basis in the reality that God knows and maintains.
The result of such enlightened prayer? God's law is brought to bear on the human situation and transforms it. Where humanly there appeared to be sickness, we find the God-bestowed reality of health. When there seemed to be lack, we find our human needs being met, often in unexpected ways. Where there was anger and strife, we find the power of Love brings peace and harmony. Where life seemed limited, lonely, futile, we now feel renewed hope and purpose in the grand adventure of discovering who we really are and what our relationship to God truly is.
Heaven is not some far-off place we go to when we die but the divine reality to be experienced here and now through growing spiritualization of thought and life. Heaven is simply reality as God knows it -- wholly spiritual, good, and unlimited by space, time, or matter. Every glimpse of heaven, every insight into the true nature of God and man, acts as a scientific law of healing and redemption in our lives and in the world.
As we understand the truth of being, discovering what it means to be the children of God, our prayers are imbued with the power of divine law. No wonder Jesus could say, ``What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.'' He wasn't recommending blind faith or a selfish ``give me whatever I desire'' prayer. He knew that God has already given all good to His creation, and that when we understand this spiritual fact, our desires will be those God has already fulfilled.