Prayer: the long and the short of it

A Christian Science perspective: Whether our prayers are long or short, the key is heartfelt sincerity and trust.

Prayer is inherently good, and it can take different forms: We can ask for God’s direction; we can affirm that God is present and all powerful; we can live our prayers by being kind, Christian, selfless, and neighborly. In any case, prayer has a beneficial effect.

Prayer can be long. Sometimes long is very good because it gets us into a mind-set of quieting our own thoughts and preparing us to listen for God’s direction. The Bible tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). Sometimes it’s not easy to be still because our lives are so full, and there are so many things vying for our attention.

One day years ago I was taking time to figure out which direction my life should take, and which career to follow. I’ll never forget sitting at my desk and deciding to be very still and just listen to God. I know from my study of the Bible and Christian Science that God is constantly communicating with each of us as His dearly loved sons and daughters. Knowing that it’s sometimes hard to discipline thought that way, I took a kitchen timer and set it for 15 minutes. I put it into a dresser drawer so I would hear only the ringer and not the ticking. After what seemed like more than enough time for the time to be up, I checked the timer. It had 10 minutes to go!

This made me realize that it’s a discipline to be still because so many things were coming to thought – my job, where I was living, friends, a movie I had just seen, fixing the car, etc. Then I went back to my listening mode and ignored all those distractions. A great spiritual peace and harmony then came to me, and I stuck with it even after the next 15 minutes had elapsed. That experience has been helpful ever since.

Prayer can also be short. We can turn to God earnestly and with a totally ready mind, open to His guidance and goodness. There’s a wonderful story in the Bible about a woman of Canaan whose daughter was “grievously vexed with a devil.” During her conversation with Jesus she said to him simply and in so few words, “Lord, help me” (see Matthew 15:22-28). Her immediate willingness and readiness to have faith in God brought quick healing to her daughter. It was a very short, but totally sincere, prayer that brought her the help she needed in order to see healing for her dear child.

We can do the same. We might be heading into a business meeting with trepidation and concern. We can stop at the door and with absolute sincerity reach out to God with “Help me.” We might be faced with some kind of potential accident and can quickly pray “God is right here protecting me.” Recently on the television news, a man whose home had been demolished by one of the tornadoes in the Midwest said he had heard and seen the danger coming. As he was coming out of his room to help his family, he said he had only enough time for a “short prayer.” Short, but sincere and heartfelt. He and his family were OK.

Recently when I was driving home, I suddenly felt a very sharp pain in my foot. I could hardly move it. My first thought was, “Why?” But my very next thought was a short prayer, “No!” To me this meant that I do not accept that God has ever created or caused or allowed pain, discomfort, incapacity. He is all good and keeps His children in perfect condition in every circumstance. As I pulled into the driveway, that sharp pain was completely gone, and I walked into the house normally.

Why is prayer always good, whether long or short, petition or affirmation? Even a short “No” to the negative and intimidating thoughts knocking at our door is powerful. Is it just the right words that make prayer effective? Or is it the heart, the motive – the sincere desire to turn to God, divine Love?

Since prayers can be effective even without words, it has to be the sincere, heartfelt desire that makes prayer always good. It’s our desire to love God, to please God and honor Him. In the chapter titled “Prayer” in the Christian Science textbook, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding, which regenerates; but silent prayer, watchfulness, and devout obedience enable us to follow Jesus’ example” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 4).

Whether our prayers are long, short, audible, or silent, or whether they involve patient listening, immediate trust, or instant denial of a bad situation, the key is heartfelt sincerity and trust in God’s presence, goodness, and lovingkindness to bless.

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