Controversy swirls around the effectiveness of prayer. Scientists reject it, and even Jesus confronted its limits in Gethsemane. (“Father, take this cup from me” with the implied rebuke leading to “Not my will, but yours be done.”) Those of us less enlightened often find ourselves disappointed by the response to our prayers.
To guide our practice, we need to understand our unique role in Creation. God breathed His spirit into Adam, making him a “living creature.” This was a binding in partnership.
Throughout the Old Testament, God testifies to the pain brought by the binding – and would we expect it to be any different today?
So what was God’s purpose in offering us that gift? We have to go to the last of the Gospels: God is Love. His purpose is that we should redeem the world by offering it love. This is implied in Jesus’ teaching: Love God (call love into the world) and love your neighbor.
Having surrendered in Gethsemane, Jesus then demonstrated on the Cross that we find greatest power in surrendering ourselves to love for our neighbors. This is the first condition for successful prayer.
Secondly, we must recognize that every person exists in a situation. If they are in need of prayer, that situation may bring suffering and loss to them. But that suffering is a reflection of the need for others to receive love. When we pray only for them and their needs, we can find ourselves fighting against a much larger need. If we do not perceive that need clearly, our prayer does not serve to organize God’s energies.
Read that last sentence again. This is the second aspect of the gift of Eden: God allows us authority to direct His energy. This is why He feels such pain when we err. Remember after the Flood: “I will put the rainbow in the sky as a covenant that never again will Creation suffer for men. From this point, you will pass judgment upon each other.”
So after removing self-concern from the situation, the second factor in effective prayer is that we see the situation clearly. Those two points are related. We cannot see the situation if we think only of ourselves. We have to step back and consider the needs and roles of others. Having done that, we can guide the Holy Spirit into it.
So the prayer “God, help me pay the rent” is less effective than “God, so many of us are without work. Hear the plea of Your children and awaken the hearts of leaders to our need.”
If you are beset by worry and fear, and cannot see beyond them, find a prayer partner. Talk each day, and pray for one another. Looking at your situation from outside it, they may see answers that you do not.