Watching thousands of refugees literally wash up on the shores of Greece in their efforts to escape the ravages of war, of course we are moved to pray for them. And I feel I hear their prayers. They are overwhelming in their anguish. “It is a fact of human experience that most persons, if sufficiently hard pressed, will pray in some way to some source of help.” (The Urantia Book, The UB, 91:6.4) I imagined that God’s ears were drowned with the prayers, too many whose needs weren’t being met for all of them to be answered. How could God care for everyone’s welfare?
Most of us know within the recesses of a reasoning mind that God does not intervene directly when we pray for rescue or healing. The intervention takes place at the point where we ourselves choose new patterns, make decisions and arrangements, even unconsciously rehearse the answers needed in our minds.
“Prayer, unless in liaison with the will and actions of the personal spiritual forces and material supervisors of a realm, can have no direct effect upon one’s physical environment. While there is a very definite limit to the province of the petitions of prayer, such limits do not equally apply to the faith of those who pray.” (91:6.1)
We surely realize this when we instinctively ask friends and family to pray for someone’s welfare, also gladly reciprocating when we are asked. Experience with many seemingly unanswered prayers has taught us that they may “have no direct effect.” Here’s another stern reminder in The UB, “Prayer may not be employed to avoid the delays of time or to transcend the handicaps of space.” (146:2.9)
“How petty and selfish it really would be for a person to ask that the laws of the universe should be set aside for his sake.” (A Student’s Philosophy of Religion, William Kelly Wright, 276—a source for Paper 91).
“Expect nothing; ask for a miracle,” my wife advises (when she notices what I’m working on!)
Sections in The Urantia Book that focus more specifically on the question asked in my title are: 91:9, “Conditions of Effective Prayer”; Jesus’ teachings on the topic in 144:3.17, and in 146:2, where many more details are given in answer to Nathaniel’s confusion.
A factual, philosophic answer to consider: “Materialistic praying is destined to bring disappointment and disillusionment as advancing scientific discoveries demonstrate that man lives in a physical universe of law and order. The childhood of an individual or a race is characterized by primitive, selfish, and materialistic praying.”
But stay with it. As the quote continues, we’re also informed of the positive results. “And, to a certain extent, all such petitions are efficacious in that they unvaryingly lead to those efforts and exertions which are contributory to achieving the answers to such prayers. The real prayer of faith always contributes to the augmentation of the technique of living.” (91:4.4)
Later in the text, even stronger assurance is given, “Prayer, even as a purely human practice, a dialogue with one’s alter ego, constitutes a technique of the most efficient approach to the realization of those reserve powers of human nature which are stored and conserved in the unconscious realms of the human mind. Prayer is a sound psychologic practice, aside from its religious implications and its spiritual significance.” (91:6.4)
The Harvest of Materialism
In situations where the effectiveness of prayer has seemed hopeless to me, I’ve experienced an insightful perspective through the Buddhist concept of karma, the reaping of what’s been sown, that whatever we do has repercussions, “the repercussional synthesis of all time-space actions in the Deity presence of the Supreme.” (94:3.5) The karmic debt of the planet is so great that many innocents are trapped in its jaws. What is the debt owed? Comments in The UB illustrate well a situation our world has inherited following the obeisance we’ve paid to materialistic mechanism in our actions, or persistent refusals to act, over the ages. Not only individuals, but whole societies and nations. “You simply cannot establish the brotherhood of men while ignoring or denying the fatherhood of God. … Secular social and political optimism is an illusion. Without God, neither freedom and liberty, nor property and wealth will lead to peace. … this is only the beginning of the dire harvest of materialism and secularism; still more terrible destruction is yet to come.” (195:8.11-13)
Unfortunately, the contemporary talk about God, where the Caliphate and its enemies are concerned, comes through the distorting viewpoint of the media. A discourse centering around revenge and martyrdom seems to be all that we hear when we listen to the Middle East talking. We are left to contemplate a tragic void of spiritual insight, without a consideration of the ideals of brotherhood.
There is only a partial understanding or acceptance of God as father, a need for a greater insight into divine personality. If we could grasp God’s parenthood more fully, we would recognize the brotherhood in each other’s eyes. Let us seek out the voices of those who are striving towards these goals.
Now That We Know What Prayers Cannot Do … What Is it They Can Do?
I’ve been a little hard-headed philosophically here, hard on our hopes. But in spite of all the things prayer cannot do, we are also reminded about the power and effectiveness of faithful praying as Jesus taught in Gilboa:
“The earnest and longing repetition of any petition, when such a prayer is the sincere expression of a child of God and is uttered in faith, no matter how ill-advised or impossible of direct answer, never fails to expand the soul’s capacity for spiritual receptivity.” (144:4.2)
“Prayer does not move the divine heart to liberality of bestowal, but it does so often dig out larger and deeper channels wherein the divine bestowals may flow to the hearts and souls of those who thus remember to maintain unbroken communion with their Maker through sincere prayer and true worship.” (194:3.20)
Prayer is most effective in guiding and directing us, through worship and communion, to self-realize the kind of human we aspire to become, to attain our “divine destiny of perfection attainment.” (184:4.6) As a planet we could do it together. Jesus once advised Nathaniel to begin with spiritual problem-solving in preparing us to solve our material problems (148:5.4). “Genuine faith will remove mountains of material difficulty.” (144:2.6)
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