Positive power of prayer
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Danish Philosopher and Theologian
What is prayer?
Benefits of prayer on health
To whom do we pray?
To many, prayer is a religious act and as many don’t do religion these days,
or so we are told, prayer is not a word to pass their lips. Many pray in private,
not in public.
Few I meet see prayer as an aid to health and healing anymore and yet, regardless of
what motivates people to pray, there's no denying that a lot of people still do it
and those who do, report great benefits. Even scientific studies have now proven
the benefits of prayer.
Aside from the question of whether or not prayer is a request you expect to be
answered by God, scientific studies show that prayer does generate response
within the one who prays. By 1990, over 250 studies had shown that leading a
lifestyle based on strong religious principles created a significant beneficial
outcome in physical, mental, and spiritual health and well-being.
Prayer and health
The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of scores of double-blind studies over the past four decades. We now know that during periods of prayer and meditation a “relaxation response” is triggered during which time the body’s metabolism decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and breathing becomes calmer and more regular. Just as stress fires up and creates havoc in the body, prayer has the opposite effect.
This is significant because most doctors’ visits are prompted by illnesses, like stress, depression, high blood pressure, ulcers, arthritis, fatigue, diabetes, cancers, and migraine headaches, that are exacerbated, in some cases caused, at least in part by elevated levels of stress and anxiety.
Whatever your religious preferences, prayer is a form of meditation, it helps us relax, to slow our breathing and brain activity, and the longer we pray (ie not just a spiritual quickie, “God, gimme, gimme, gimme” approach) reduces heart rate and blood pressure.
At the end of meaningful prayer, no matter how stressful you may have entered it, most report they come through it filled with peace, joy, and other positive emotions. And these emotions lead to positive physiological responses throughout the entire body. Our immune system becomes calm so chemicals like pro-inflammatory cytokines, which act like petrol on a fire, ie they are inflammation causing big-time, are not driving our joints and arteries to overreact and overheat. And so we enter a less inflamed, more beautiful place and way to live.
And you now, whether you just feel like it's helping, whether it's physiologically helping or not, the placebo approach (medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect) is often at play and so, just imagining prayer is doing you good, is in itself doing you good.
Bit of repetition there, deliberately so, because the word prayer somehow gets a poor rap and little hearing in some quarters.
But it may be just the thing you have never tried which could bring great benefit.
What is prayer?
Prayer need not be religious – it can simply be an earnest hope or desire, expressed deep in one’s heart for personal and greater good, perhaps uttered out into the Universe.
That said, prayer, for most, is about a part of our practice as religious, faith believing people. In this case it can be anything from an expression of gratitude to a deep conversation with, a pouring out of one’s heart to, or making a solemn request to one’s God, or other deity or to a Higher Power, Source, Spirt, Angels, Dragons and Unicorns – according to one’s beliefs.
Sometimes people use prayer like a wish list to Santa Claus asking for things, favours, healings, money, a new relationship, but that seldom works; prayers sent out thoughtlessly as “give me, give me” will have a low success rate.
It’s said that God, the Universe, the big something out there, already knows what’s going on in our minds and so coming forth in prayer with a shopping list is redundant and to Christians is like a list of complaints as if you are saying, “God I am asking you for x,y, and z, because up to now you ain’t provided them for me!” Grrr! Now imagine God, Source, Spirit, whatever you call the mystery, is a friend – is that a way to treat a friend who knows you well enough to know what you need, has the power to help, and wishes to help?
So why pray?
You may well ask if the source already knows then why bother to pray at all? The reason is that your mind is a field of energy through which it demonstrates your attitude and by praying you are attuning your Higher Mind to the Universal God Mind – that is, not in any strict religious, or denominational sense of God.
I was taught prayer in Sunday School and looking back it was learning by rote – this prayer for before a meal (usually one of thanks), this prayer before bedtime (usually a request to keep me safe and if I died could I go to heaven please?), this prayer to give thanks, another for healing, and so on. But it all felt pretty iffy to me, who was listening after all, based on an uncertainty that the prayer would be answered. After all, I had prayed nightly for years that the Vietnam war would end and it never did. Least not whilst I was a child. But no one promised prayers were immediate and certainly no one told me that there I a difference between a prayer being answered and actually answered. Some things take time. But it put doubt in my head – doubt as to whether prayers were heard let alone answered. And then I got to thinking that praying to the Lord, Christ, Jesus, God or whoever – well they all seemed pretty out of reach to me and placed way above me in the rankings of life! That’s what church did.
That is what is known as traditional prayer, a petitioning / asking type prayer. But that kind of prayer allows you to remain an untransformed, egocentric person who is just trying to manipulate God.
These days, I experience prayer more in term of a spiritual science prayer, more of an affirmative prayer based on complete faith and expectation that the prayer will, in some way, and not necessarily in mine, be answered, where anyone’s prayer will be answered and not based on some sort of spiritual hierarchy of we lower mortals down here and some great almighty in the sky. Was it not Jesus himself who said, “All of you are equal to me.” “Greater things than thee, you shall do also.”
Prayer is in fact your every thought, your every wish, - hence why we say, “Be careful what you think of. It may just happen.” The Universe is always listening, always responding – always. So this is not about taking time out for five or ten minutes to pray and then having lingering doubts for the rest of the day! It is about a process and a constancy and not just shouting for help when life is yuck. Prayer is not just for set times in the day or when help is needed; it can take place any time AND in any circumstance. My greatest prayers are often whilst swimming. For other, it is as they light candles or place flowers at scenes of accidents. You see, we are all really praying in our own way, it’s just we don’t have to call it prayer.
In my own experience prayer is this:-
Opening my mind to God – as I know God, and not in any specific denominational sense; it may, or may not, be for you. God is called by many names. This opening is a starting part of my prayer process – instead of just launching in! We dial up first I guess or switch on and tune in.
Being positive – beginning by affirming I know I am being heard and that my prayers are being answered. Present tense to be noted! Ie - not “will be” answered.
A handing over – sometimes called surrender. For me prayer is almost just like having a conversation, just saying this is what I am dealing with, what I am currently facing, how I am struggling, what I am grateful for, what joy I am experiencing. In difficult times I may be saying “ and I can no longer do this on my own so I ask that I be open and given the strength and a courage to do what is needed, to be open to opportunities I may not have seen, because – this is not about my will alone, this is about your will too, what is for my greater good (oh and maybe I am not meant to have that fancy car and three months cruise!)” By handing the problem over you are lifting yourself above the consciousness of the problem.
Being “now” focussed – rather than speak about future possibility I give thanks for what I am now receiving eg “beloved, thank you for giving me the courage to face my wounds and the abilities to heal.” Or eg “Beloved, you know I am hurting and confused. Thank you for helping me through this difficult time, for helping me see things differently, for finding the strength to take the steps you put before me.” Or “Beloved, God within me…I know You know I have financial needs and so I affirm that what I need financially is already mine through the power of Your presence working in and through me. For this I give thanks, and so it is.”
Ending also with thanks –If "Amen" does not do it for you, find your own way. Sometimes I say Amen, sometimes I say, “For this I give thanks and so it is.” Giving thanks acknowledges that you know that God (your Source) has heard you and is already answering the prayer. The “so it is” is like a seal of your faith that what you have said spiritually will soon be manifest in this physical world. Christians might use the term “Amen” which means simple "Verily" or "Truly". In John's gospel (eg John 3:3) Jesus is recorded as using the word twice in succession, "Verily, verily, I say to you..." Amen is similar to “and so it is” or " I say this to you.”
Repeating a prayer – is not like saying, in traditional prayer, “You haven’t heard me God so here I go again.” Which is a bit of a complaint. Repeating a prayer is like an on-going treatment of your consciousness, keeping it open to the Higher Power to work in and through you. Notice your mindset as you do a repeating prayer - let it not be one of, "You didn't answer me God!" Sometimes God is waiting for you to play your part.
Prayer as a transformation process
I often use this line, a paraphrase of Albert Einstein: "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it." Alas, we have been trying to solve almost all our problems ourselves and with the very same mind that caused them. This egocentric (self-centred) mind treats everything in terms of short-term gain, what's in it for me and how I can look good? It’s all about me. Gimme, gimme, gimme. As long as you continue to operate at that wish-list, small self perspective level, you're not going to see the bigger picture, your part in the bigger picture, or see things in any new way which is a huge purpose of prayer – opening your mind to transformation. It's not about getting the cure for a dis-ease as much as it is helping you see where you may have gone wrong and what you need to do as your part in self-healing.
All the great religions taught a different way of seeing things afresh, anew, from a different perspective. It is in this way we develop wisdom and become more whole, healed.
Contemplation or prayer?
What if you still don’t like the word prayer?
Try the word contemplation. For a long time it wasn’t taught much in the Western church until reintroduced in the 1950’s by Thomas Merton – a Trappist monk, mystic, and writer.
Contemplation is the process of entering a deeper silence than our everyday thinking activities and letting go of our thoughts, sensations, and feelings by taking our attention inwards. Many religions use the word meditation instead. Christians use the word prayer. But for many in the West, as said above, prayer has come to mean something practical, something you do ie ask to get something, or get something done. Such prayers of requesting aren't all bad, but they don't really lead to a new state of being or consciousness. Instead of inner transformation you stay stuck in the paradigm of: How can I get God to do what I want God to do? Paradoxically, when we come from this ego perspective, we diminish our contact with God when in EGO - we Edge God Out!
As I talk to people, often at weddings, funerals, and naming ceremonies, they often talk of in some way feeling transformed through the ceremony. The ceremony is not a standard, traditional one done by rote and habit; each ceremony is especially created for the occasion, prayer or meditations or contemplations worded specifically for each occasion and couple or circumstance, the experience meaningful and transformative.
Is that why religion is in such desperate straits today: it isn't really about transformation but about keeping people stuck, having them foolishly still believe that they are in control when, truth be told, we think we are but are not! The small-self is still in charge.
Transforming, mature, authentic spirituality, involves spiritual science prayer, contemplation, meditation, calling us into experiences, insight, intuitions, and teachings that open us to an actual transformation of consciousness, to raising our vibrations, to a new dimensional way of living, through love not fear.
As you pray for your own personal healing, wholeness, transformation, then as each one of you is transformed, so too are you engaged in the work of making the world whole. It’s not all about you!
All through this day
All through this day, O Lord, by the power of Thy quickening Spirit,
let me touch the lives of others for good, whether through the word
I speak, the prayer I speak, or the life I live. Amen
- written by Mary Sumner, founder of the Mothers' Union in 1876
Prayers to be
Beloved Mother father God, thank you for bringing me into your family. May I never let you down you in the way I treat others, in the way go about my life. May others see in me the qualities of character that can only be attributed to your presence in my life.
For this I honour you and give thanks to you. Amen.
Prayer for purpose
Beloved, through your direction I have acquired great knowledge during my healing crisis. Please show me now how to use it wisely and find ways to make your people and the world healthier.
Grant me faith and courage as I put your purpose for my life into action. Show me how to serve, give me the words you would have me speak, and through your presence, let me be all that is needed of me so that all the knowledge and skill and attitude I have gleaned may find their true fulfilment as I learn to do Thy will. For this I give thanks. And so it is.
May All I Say
May all I say and all I think
be in harmony with thee,
God within me,
God beyond me,
maker of the trees.
Chinook prayer, Pacific Northwest Coast, North America
Prayer for When You are Weak or Ill
Divine One, I am feeling low in spirit today, weak, and physically in pain. You said that your grace was sufficient for me. I thank you for strengthening me, for giving me resolve, for healing my path. Thank you for filling my heart with joy in spite of how I feel physically. Amen