There are factual things that we know, and know so well that we never have even a hint of doubt about them. “The sun is bright,” might be a good example of one such fact. A person standing outside on a sunny day isn’t simply hoping that’s true when saying that. No, for that person, neither hope nor faith is required to believe the sun is bright. That’s because beyond mere hope or faith, they have a clear, tangible understanding of the sun’s brightness.
I’ve found this to be a helpful illustration when it comes to prayer. Sometimes it can seem as if when we pray, we’re stuck in the “hope” category. Say, for instance, we’re considering what it means that God is Love (see I John 4:16), and we come across this verse in the Bible: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18). Certainly, both hope and faith in that statement are very helpful. Yet, it’s a clearer understanding of the actual spiritual truth of it that really brings it to life and makes it tangible. Feeling more of the power of divine Love when we pray begins to effectively annihilate fear.
If you feel that you’re lacking trust in God’s truth, that’s OK. You’re in good company, and yet every one of us has the natural ability to discern spiritual truth. Once a man whose son had serious convulsions came to Christ Jesus for help (see Mark 9:17-27). Jesus spoke to the man of how all things are possible “to him that believeth.” The father was hopeful but realized he had a bit further to go in really understanding God’s power to heal: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” he said to Jesus. Jesus healed the boy.
Reading that story, I can’t help thinking how hope in God, divine Truth itself, is helpful, but a growing understanding of spiritual truth really deepens our trust in God and empowers our prayers. In a companion book to the Bible, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” author Mary Baker Eddy observes: “‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!’ expresses the helplessness of a blind faith; whereas the injunction, ‘Believe ... and thou shalt be saved!’ demands self-reliant trustworthiness, which includes spiritual understanding and confides all to God” (p. 23).
So how can we move from mere hope to understanding? A leading way – in fact, a most effective way – is based on the “great commandment”: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). As we welcome God’s message of love into our hearts, and love God more deeply and wholeheartedly, our understanding becomes clearer and firmer and more constant.
As an example, when a young girl I know suddenly became ill, her parents began praying for her, affirming the infinite goodness of divine Love. As they prayed, it became clear to them that they could see this girl in a different light, as the pure and spiritual creation of God.
At first, this truth, as beautiful as it is, remained for them sort of in the “hope” category. What moved their prayers from a sense of hope to prayers based in understanding was the love for God that overflowed in them both. As it did, they saw more fully that all of God’s spiritual creation, including their daughter, continuously expresses God’s perfect goodness, without any interruptions. The girl fell asleep peacefully on the living room sofa, and when she woke up a short time later, she was entirely well.
In any moment, we have the privilege of loving God, who reveals to us constantly the healing truth. When such love is the basis of our prayers, we find help and healing, and a firmer understanding of Love’s reality. As God promises, “I will put my laws into their hearts” (Hebrews 10:16).