It would be hard to name a contemporary religion writer who hasn't offered meaningful insights into prayer. John Ortberg wrote that, in prayer, "with simplicity of heart we allow ourselves to be gathered up into the arms of the Father and let him sing his love song over us" ("The Life You've Always Wanted").
Joan Chittister said, "Regular prayer reminds us that life is punctuated by God, awash in God, encircled by God." For her, it's the way she is brought to encounter herself so that "the work of coming to God [can] really begin" ("Called to Question").
Kathleen Norris learned that "prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine." Prayer stumbles over modern self-consciousness and self-reliance, she observed. For effective prayer, "the best 'how-to' I know is from Psalm 46: 'Be still, and know that I am God' (v. 10). This can happen in an instant; it can also constitute a life's work" ("Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith").
And in his most recent book, "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?," Philip Yancey describes prayer as a privilege, not a duty. He says that on a website poll conducted by his publisher, just over 3 percent of respondents felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. "If prayer stands at the place where God and human beings meet," Yancey writes, "then I must learn about prayer."
No wonder the founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, opened her pioneering work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," with a whole chapter on prayer. And her observations are inspiring its readers and changing lives over 131 years later.
Think, for example, of the strength of its opening declaration: "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." Mrs. Eddy went further: "Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self- immolation, are God's gracious means for accomplishing whatever has been successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind."
"Science and Health" continues: "The world must grow to the spiritual understanding of prayer.... Seeking is not sufficient. It is striving that enables us to enter. Spiritual attainments open the door to a higher understanding of the divine Life" (p. 10).
The fact that the first sentence begins "The world," tells readers that prayer is universal. It speaks to a basic human need for assurance that people are not alone. Every faith has some form of prayer.
According to Gallup polls, more Americans will pray this week than will exercise, drive a car, or go to work. Nine in 10 Americans pray regularly, and 3 out of 4 claim to pray every day. This happens despite the fact that advances in science and technology leave some people less inclined to pray. Sometimes modern skepticism taints prayer. And people today have less time for conversation, let alone for talk with God.
But those who consistently follow the example of Christ Jesus seldom hesitate to pray.
Jesus' life was a life of prayer. He believed in constant communication with his Father. He taught his followers to go to the same source for strength, inspiration, and healing – and he taught them how to pray. He spoke of the need for seclusion, where prayers are heartfelt and not a performance; for the rejection of sinful behavior; and for an absolute trust in God, the supreme ruler of the universe.
This infinite Mind mends broken lives, heals sickness, and replaces sorrow with joy, not just in response to our appeals, but because wholeness, goodness, and love are the realities of God's being, which we reflect as His children. Such blessings are well worth the discipline – and privilege – of time each day reserved for God alone.