When we think of prayer, questions always arise. If the divine creator behind this world is omnipotent, wouldn't this Being know what is needed before we do and give it to us? Why doesn't he? What is the purpose of prayer?
Some spiritual traditions deal with this issue by assuming God requires prayer as a test of loyalty or conviction before help is granted. Other traditions hold that prayer is merely an exercise in communication and reverent listening, and that all outcomes follow some divine plan and are outside our influence anyway.
But today, I believe a new consensus is forming based on our direct experience about prayer. Dr. Larry Dossey in his classic book, Healing Words: The Power of Prayer
and the Practice of Medicine, surveyed the best of existing prayer research and found several important findings: One is that the longer and more intensely people pray, the greater the effect. Another is that the greater the number of people praying, the more powerful the outcome.
But he also found something else: the more affirmative and faithful the prayer, the more it works, which may be the most important finding of all. Certainly a prayer in which we ask for help is effective, but there is something more powerful and centering that happens when we voice prayers in a more affirmative way.
Look at the Lord's Prayer in the Christian tradition for example. It is not, "Will you give us our daily bread?" It is expressed as an affirmation, "Give us our daily bread." It is not, "Please let your kingdom come." It is "Thy kingdom come," uttered as an expression of faith.
I think what we are discovering is that we have more influence in the outcomes of our lives than we ever thought possible. When we affirm that something will be given to us in our lives, or that some outcome will occur with others, we are directly engaging an energy of creation that flows through us into the world and acts to bring about our request. What seems to be happening spiritually is that we, in our free will, are placed in this world to help accelerate divine evolution. Like it or not, we are in a position of co-creation.
Thankfully, these affirmations or injunctions are weighted on the side of the good, and the just. I think we are finding that prayers outside a greater divine intention in the world don't work as well, but they still can have an influence, especially when we think and thus assign negative characteristics to others.
When we make negative assumptions about others, we actually feel the effects of the pronouncement in ourselves; it's like an energy of prayer that flows though us first as it flows into the world. Saying someone is crazy is to have a prayer effect that calls for them to be exactly that way, crazy. This tends to bring the exact same craziness into ourselves.
Never before have we so understood the old adage, "Be careful what you pray for." Our thoughts and prayers have the energy to bring into existence our intentions, and so our responsibility is clear. We have to engage only in positive affirmations in all situations -- in conversations, in our most hidden thoughts, and certainly in group efforts to amplify this power to uplift the world.
You'll notice in our biweekly prayer group that we pray for only one outcome: that others in the world will come closer to the divine within themselves and thus become more connected with divine intent and proper action in the world. This assumes that every person who opens up can be redeemed in an instant, and insures that our prayer will bring about the most positive outcomes without worrying that we are praying for the wrong things or for the wrong side in a conflict.
It's the only way to further human evolution in the world.
So keep passing the word. I believe we are making a big difference.