TODAY Christian women around the world are celebrating World Day of Prayer. In the light of the positive effect many people feel prayer has had on the world's many continuing needs, this setting aside of time for turning thought to God is invaluable. It provides us with an opportunity to ponder the nature of prayer and its meaning in our lives.
Nevertheless, the fear that our prayer may not be effective--or the belief that its main purpose is simply to make us feel better even though nothing really changes or improves--can be a stiff challenge to our efforts to pray. These challenges are illustrated by a perhaps apocryphal anecdote about a prayer meeting called to pray for badly needed rain. Only one person brought an umbrella!
If we look at the lives of some of our contem-poraries who believe in God, however--people like Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Terry Waite, and others--we find lots of umbrellas! These are individuals who, sometimes at the risk of their own lives, have made prayer a part of their daily regimen, people who have expected--and received--results.
Such individuals are endeavoring to follow in the footsteps of the greatest "pray-er of all times, namely Christ Jesus. The Master turned to God in every need--from the smallest detail to the largest--and he was never disappointed. He knew from his own study of the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians know as the Old Testament, that turning to God in prayer is never just an exercise. For him, it was an essential part of his ministry and his healing work.
In his Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, he declared, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. He went on to make clear that this asking couldn't rest on a selfish or materialistic basis. Instead, it needed to come from a deeper understanding of God and of our unbreakable relationship with Him. In essence, Jesus proved this and showed all mankind that God is a loving Father and that we are His children, made in His likeness.
This confidence in God was a fundamental part of Jesus' ministry. Yet he also made clear that each of us has an obligation to live according to God's laws--the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus, for example--if we are to benefit fully from His promises.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, devotes the whole first chapter of her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to this topic of prayer. And she brings out very clearly the impact that prayer must have on us if it is to make a difference in our world. She writes: "The test of all prayer lies in the answer to these questions: Do we love our neighbor better because of this asking? Do we pursue the old selfishness, satisfied with having prayed for something better , though we give no evidence of the sincerity of our requests by living consistently with our prayer?
These questions articulate the requirement that prayer puts on us if it is to be effective. They also apply to the theme of this year's day of prayer, which is "Living Wisely With Creation. Certainly each of us can do much to improve the world by caring more for our earth both in our human activities and in our prayers.
The benefit of genuine prayer is that it turns us toward God, toward the power for good in our lives and in the world. At its best, prayer lifts us out of our personal concerns and helps us to see ourselves and God in a new light. It also shows us ways that we can live more wisely and with greater consideration for our fellow beings. Perhaps it reveals to us that God is Truth, or Mind, and that we can trust Him for guidance. Or we may see through our prayer that God is Spirit and that in our true being w e are spiritual and subject only to His law.
Prayer also requires that after we have understood something of this higher sense of ourselves and our relationship to God, we apply it in our lives. This means that we each need to do more to love our neighbors, to cherish our earth, to live lawfully and at peace with all mankind. This effort at the grass roots of prayer does have a worldwide impact. As each of us does our part to purify our thoughts and our lives, to resist greed and selfishness, we will be lifting at least some of the burden off our e nvironment.
Worldwide prayer turns us away from our own immediate problems--pressing as they are--and enables us to join the global family in uniting before the one God we all share. As we do this, let's expect results. BIBLE VERSE: Bless, the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty....O Lord, how manifold are they works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches....Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth....I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. Psalms 104: 1, 24, 30, 33,