Do you ever pray? Do you ever smile when you pray? Or does prayer often feel like it's too serious for that - or like hard work? Is prayer what we do only when we're hurting, or sad, or sick? Are our prayers mostly a last resort, when everything else has failed?
Of course we should pray in times of challenge. But even if we are facing serious circumstances or tough times, our prayer lifts us up. It is never an added hardship.
I have a friend who sometimes bursts out laughing as he quietly reads the Bible to himself. Usually you can see it coming. There's a twinkle in his eye; then a smile lights his face; then a soft chuckle begins. In a moment he's just laughing out loud. Something he has seen in the Bible has filled him with wonder. And in all of this, he's actually praying. God's Word is speaking to him; he's listening; and he responds - with childlike joy.
It reminds me of the words in the Old Testament where God blesses Jerusalem: "And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" (Zech. 8:5). Or Jesus' words to his disciples when he brought the little children forward and said, "... of such is the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:16). Or when he told his followers that his words were come to bring them joy, "that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). Full. That's the kind of prayer I think we'd all like to know - prayer that is simply full of joy. A life that is full of joy.
Recently, Rev. Scotty McLennan, who serves as chaplain at Tufts University and was also the inspiration for a long-standing character in the syndicated cartoon strip "Doonesbury," told The Boston Globe about his personal spiritual growth over the decades. When asked where he hopes to go next on his journey, he replied: "I'd like to figure out how to make my whole life a prayer. I'd like to find a way to live in a consistently spiritual way. I'd like to love God and love people fully and always" (Nov. 9, 1999, pg. E6).
To make our whole life a prayer. Isn't that what Jesus did? He lived so close to God, followed so humbly God's will, that everywhere he went, his life was a healing influence.
In the journey of spiritual discovery Mary Baker Eddy took at the turn of the last century, she well understood what it means to live a life of prayer - and to know the complete joy of prayer. Her prayers led her to a remarkable ministry of spiritual healing; to write "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" so that others could learn Jesus' method of spiritual healing; to found a Church; to establish this newspaper. All these activities were the outcome of her life of prayer, the outcome of an inspired joy and purpose.
In Science and Health, in the first chapter, titled "Prayer," she wrote, "Christians rejoice in secret beauty and bounty, hidden from the world, but known to God" (pg. 15). That's what prayer can do for us. When our prayer starts with God as perfect, divine Love, and realizes that as God's creation we are necessarily Love's creation, everything becomes new and beautiful. We come to see that we're perfectly spiritual, because our creator is perfect Spirit. God's qualities include pure peace, grace, absolute goodness, beauty, bounty. These are freely given to us as His image and likeness.
So, as a flower turns naturally to the sun and opens its petals fully to the light, our own life naturally becomes a full life of prayer as we see ourselves in the light of God's love, truly expressing that love. And we naturally take joy in the divine beauty and bounty that are revealed all around us (where they always have been).
Do you ever smile when you pray? Maybe you just did ....
Then shall ye call upon me,
and ye shall go and pray unto
me, and I will hearken unto
you. And ye shall seek me, and
find me, when ye shall search
for me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:12, 13
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society