Right Relationship to the Divine

Lesson Three: Right Prayer

Ideally, prayer is an intimate conversation with God, an honest and loving exchange in which we come to God with an open heart, talk to Him, and listen to Him. As in any relationship, what we (predominantly) bring to our communications with God determines how the relationship feels. This lesson offers not a formula for prayer, but some basic principles about prayer that will help you to maintain a relationship with God that FEELS good, intimate, and strong.

1. Accept the Presence of God

God is here, but if we don't know it, it doesn't do us any good. For our prayer to be effective, the first thing that we need is to accept that God is with us right now, and always.

When we go to pray with the presumption that God is not with us, we are presenting God with a very difficult situation. How can we possibly have a conversation with a God who (we think) is not here? How can God talk to US under those conditions? You may have had the experience of having sat down and listened to your friend, and at some point your friend complains, "I have nobody to talk to. Nobody listens to me." In that case you might feel, "Hey! Aren't I here? Don't you even see me here?" That friend is making it impossible for you to help them or comfort them, because they are not seeing or hearing you. In the same way, if we do not accept God's presence, we are making it impossible to receive God's love, blessings, and guidance.

Furthermore, when we pray with the belief that God is absent or far away, we reinforce our feeling of distance from God. By concentrating on trying to reach God, as if He were not already here, we increase our CONVICTION that He is not here. When we feel the distance that is created by that, we try a little harder and shout a little louder to reach God, but that only makes Him SEEM even more distant to us. So it becomes a vicious circle in which we become more and more convinced that God is far away. And, at the same time, God becomes less and less able to reach US, because we have closed ourselves to the reality of His presence that is right here, right now.

I turned to speak to God
About the world's despair;
But to make bad matters worse
I found God wasn't there.

God turned to speak to me
(Don't anybody laugh)
God found I wasn't there -
At least not over half.

-- Robert Frost

The truth is, God is here. The God that is far away is not the true God; nor is the God that you have to yell at to get His attention. That is simply a mistaken idea of God (and one that is commonly held). The true God is always beside you, within you, and all around you. He is neither deaf nor prone to ignore your calls. He hears and responds to every whisper of your heart. Acceptance of this is the basis for good, meaningful and functional prayer.

Bringing our Presents to Prayer

"Bringing our Presents" is a pun. On the one hand, it refers to the fact that true prayer is a gift to God, not just a request for something from God. When we bring bright and loving attitudes and intentions to God in prayer, She is happy. This is our present to the Divine.

Secondly, "Bringing our Presents" refers to being present with the Omnipresent. Not only is it important to accept the presence of God in prayer, but also, to be present ourselves. Our presence IS a present to God. When we call or visit a loved one, we realize that we are making them happy by doing so. The same is true of God. God WANTS to stay in touch. God loves us, wants us, and is happy when we remember Her. It pains God when we forget Her, or try to go about our lives without Her; and She is delighted when we remember Her and want to consciously be with Her.

On a more subtle level, being present also means being openhearted, sincere, and receptive. It is talking candidly to God, and being open to God's response. When we come to God in a spirit of openheartedness and honest presentation of ourselves, that too is a gift in itself. To God, an honest person is an open door. God is better able to help, guide and heal an honest, open person because, by giving Her their heart AS IT IS, they are allowing Her to guide and heal them. It doesn't matter what our imperfections are. God is much more able to direct and help a criminal who is willing to be honest and openhearted than a "perfect" person who is closed-hearted and unwilling to present the reality of themselves to Her. That person is like a closed door, inaccessible, and impossible to help.

Similarly, when we offer God our gifts of love -- our devotion, our faith, our care, our desire for God -- we open up possibilities in the relationship with Her that would not otherwise be there -- for example, if we were closed due to grosser attitudes of withholding, doubt, fear, etc. A beautiful attitude and orientation is a gift to God, partly because God appreciates and enjoys it when we come to Her with a loving heart, just as anyone would.

Another part of the gift of a loving orientation is it allows for a relationship that is more dynamic and more functional. Such prayer opens OUR hearts, and therefore makes us more AWARE of the presence of the Divine, and better able to commune with Her. As we give we become much happier, and more secure and confident in relationship to God. Our fears of abandonment are eradicated by our happy, personal involvement in the relationship. We become less concerned about taking, so we more willingly receive God's blessings, guidance and healing. Our mind is quieted, so we are more able to hear Her directives. As a whole the relationship becomes stronger, more functional and more enjoyable.

When we come to God in prayer, we should do so with full awareness of what we are bringing, and how that affects the relationship between ourselves and God. May our prayers be a sincere communication of deep affinity, intimacy, and love. Such prayers are a powerful affirmation of the truth and goodness of the relationship with God, and will gladden the heart of the Beloved.

What should we pray for?

When it comes to making requests of God, what should we pray FOR? Should we pray for THINGS -- material goods, wealth, etc.? Should we pray for CHANGES OF CIRCUMSTANCES -- "Lord, fix this situation, remove this difficulty"? Or should we pray for inspiration, guidance, and understanding?

Far too much prayer requests the correction of conditions we BELIEVE are unfavorable and inappropriate, but most of the time we are in no position to judge or discern what is truly favorable. Often, the challenges that we would wish away provide opportunities to grow in our understanding, compassion and strength, and to become more aligned in our mind and will with God, by relying on Him to direct us. So before we ask God to remove the challenges we face, we should remember that THE CHALLENGES ARE HELP. Life provides challenging circumstances to serve our growth. Providence provides the understanding by which to rightly CONSTRUE things.

Problem: We all have problems in life. But the biggest problem any of us has -- and the source of most of our pain -- comes from our own NEGATIVE INTERPRETATIONS of the problems we have. Our biggest and most useful challenge is to constructively face life's inevitable difficulties.

God, having this illness and not being able to go to work is terrible. I just don't need this right now. Please make this illness go away, so I can do what I'm supposed to be doing.

Solution: Our purpose in life is to heal our attitudes and interpretations. And God's purpose is to help us meet that challenge. Our life circumstances, both "good" and "bad," provide the opportunity to do that.

God, help me discover the spiritual value that having this illness may hold for me, so that I may make the best use of the experience.

Ask, and ye shall receive. And pray not for different circumstances, but for God's help in understanding how to relate rightly to the circumstances at hand. We should petition for the Divine guidance we need to solve our human problems, correct our misunderstandings, and guide us to remedy the spiritual insufficiencies under which we labor on the evolutionary path.

Of course, we should not only pray for Divine guidance when times are rough. When we rely on God for direction at ALL times we are giving God the reins, and allowing God to direct our lives to where He would have them go. God knows the desires and needs of our hearts, and is committed to our happiness and well-being. So when we hand over the reins we can do so with faith in the fact that where God would take us will nourish our hearts and fulfill our souls.

May it be so!