Recently I learned of a strong example of what it means to live consistently with our prayers. Hiroshima, Japan, the first city that experienced having a nuclear bomb dropped on it, flourishes today, beautiful and vibrant. While hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every year offer prayers, many of its citizens also pray for and are devoted to the elimination of nuclear weapons. In 1949 at Hiroshima’s request the Japanese parliament declared it a City of Peace, which makes it a natural location for the many peace conferences it hosts. Its mayor serves as the president of Mayors for Peace. A corps of volunteer guides helps visitors understand the city and its strong stand for peace and for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Clearly the desire of the people of Hiroshima is having an impact.
Without a doubt, true prayer involves not just words but the practical expression of goodness, kindness, and love – qualities that prove the sincerity of our prayer. Prayer finds its expression in a change of one’s own heart and in one’s life. It becomes practical when it brings about a change of thought for the better; it’s inseparable from the action that flows from and illustrates that change of thought.
So true prayer doesn’t just remain at the mental or verbal level – it is lived! This may mean that we simply express more patience and goodwill toward others as a result of our prayer, or, as in Hiroshima, prayer may result in taking action that stimulates progress and positive change on a wider scale. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, pinpoints the natural relationship between prayer and working for change. She writes: “In public prayer we often go beyond our convictions, beyond the honest standpoint of fervent desire. If we are not secretly yearning and openly striving for the accomplishment of all we ask, our prayers are ‘vain repetitions,’ such as the heathen use. If our petitions are sincere, we labor for what we ask; and our Father, who seeth in secret, will reward us openly” (p. 13).
Sometimes we may be tricked into thinking of prayer and action as being on two sides of a room – prayer on one side and action on the other. But prayer and the genuine expression of that prayer – taking form in a greater expression of compassion leading to inspired human actions – are inseparable and stand as one. Are we willing to live consistently with our prayers, no matter what we might feel led to do, or give up, in order to do so? For example, we cannot sincerely pray for the honesty of public officials and then cheat on our taxes. Nor can we pray for the elimination of violence and then allow ourselves to explode in rage at a friend or family member.
I have found that for prayer to be effective, it must be based on what is spiritually true about God and His creation. Jesus came to redeem us from a false, limited sense of ourselves and others and to show our true nature as the perfect, spiritual expressions of infinite Spirit, God. Understanding this true sense of identity gives us a strong basis from which to pray and act in a way that brings healing. Prayer grounded in this truth of man’s relation to God has the power to reform and improve our own character, improve the quality of life of those around us, and contribute to humanity’s progress.
Mrs. Eddy writes: “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (Science and Health, p. 4). As we understand and grow in the expression of God’s goodness in our own lives, our prayers go beyond words to being an effective and powerful force for good.