Growing in the understanding of prayer

Originally published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

A prayer is a prayer is a prayer. Or is it?

An old spiritual song says:

It's me, it's me, it's me, O Lord,
Standin' in the need of prayer....
Not my sister, not my brother, but it's me, O Lord,
Standin' in the need of prayer.

Such an admission may be the most valuable step toward praying the kind of prayer that makes a difference. Praying from the depths of one's own need for spiritual help is a sure sign of sincerity - and wisdom, too; if we're truly honest with ourselves, whose needs do we know better than our own? A gift and a blessing, effective prayer is also a holy effort - and one worth making.

Prayer is a vital theme in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who, over 100 years ago, discovered Christian Science, a spiritual system of healing based on the methods practiced by Jesus. To reach a world of people seeking a closer walk with God, she published "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," a textbook designed to enlighten and heal its readers. The first chapter is devoted to prayer, and bears that title. Its 17 pages culminate in the Lord's Prayer, which the author said "covers all human needs" (page 16). Mrs. Eddy added what she understood to be the "spiritual sense" of that prayer.

That chapter explains what effective prayer is, and is not, and shows Mrs. Eddy's profound devotion of thought to prayer's sacred nature. Her ability to speak with authority on the topic was proved in her experience as a spiritual healer. In the first sentence of that first chapter of her book, the author revealed her great expectations for prayer and for the one who prays: "The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, - a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love."

The chapter points out the importance of having the right motives for prayer, including:

• A desire for righteousness.

• A willingness to be brought into harmony with God's will.

• A striving after goodness.

• A devoted effort to understand the nature of God.

• A willingness to reshape, even reform, one's thoughts and actions.

On the other hand, the chapter exposes certain commonly used forms of prayer as bearing little resemblance to the kind of prayer that "reforms the sinner and heals the sick":

• Pleading with God as if He were a human.

• Attempting to give information or advice to God.

• Thanking God for blessings while feeling ingratitude in one's heart.

• Using prayer as a way to confess sin, while yet clinging to the sin.

• Speaking words of prayer, without a real desire for reformation.

Qualities of thought and character that support prayer are emphasized in the chapter, and include gratitude, devout obedience, an honest heart, kindness, spiritual sense (Science and Health, pages 3-9).

Prayer is much needed in the world today. Especially the spiritual understanding of prayer. And these pages afford a more spiritual concept of prayer, which turns thought more closely to God and results in healing.

For instance, the text points out that "the Lord's Prayer is the prayer of Soul, not of material sense" (page 14). Soul is one of seven synonyms used frequently to describe God in Science and Health. The others are Mind, Spirit, Principle, Life, Truth, and Love. And because they can be used interchangeably, these names for God allow the reader to gain deeper insights into the nature of Deity. (See how the "Glossary" near the back of the book describes "God," using these synonyms.) We enter into prayer as we humbly listen for God's direction, seek to know more about God, strive to understand the genuine nature of ourselves and others in His likeness, and desire the peace of His presence for all.

Approaching the Creator through new and expanding views of His nature is a meaningful way to bring freedom, peace, and healing to humanity.

Thursday is National Day of Prayer in the United States.

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