SCRIPTURE READINGS: Luke 18: 1-8
PrayerWow! That’s a whole lot of power the angels have……..much more probably than most people think when they pray, for, in truth, praying puts you in touch with that power !!
But often our experience of prayer is anything but powerful!
Have you ever had the feeling or experience that when you pray there is nothing out there…….that you are just praying to a big void?
I certainly have——–like nobody is really home “out there.”
Obviously that is not the truth, but it can sure feel that way!
There are a lot of illusions in life like that though, and part of our spiritual job is to sort through all that to find out what’s really going on.
But when the Lord is obvious about answering prayer, how DOES God answer prayer anyway?
Like many other things in life, we can also have unrealistic expectations when it comes to prayer.
We can think it should solve all our problems……..or win the lottery……or whatever.
So today I’d like to get really grounded when it comes to prayer and briefly look at how it can work.
In Swedenborg’s wonderful work called “Heavenly Secrets,” he defines prayer one way as channeling influx, the way a magnifying lens focuses light. One of the things this means is that, in a sense, we are co-creators with God because of this power we have in prayer!
That is, we can fashion life and it’s outcomes by means of prayer, which means we are creating to some extent.
But, we have to remember that, from an objective, not subjective place, it is God who puts the prayer in us,
puts the inclination to prayer in us,
in the first place!!
Now for some folks, that seems to ruin things! Remember, I said we are co-creators in a sense, which we are.
But, if you want to feel like you are fully functioning all on your own in prayer, you can’t. God is always there giving you sooooooo much to work with. This is just part of the deal! The bottom line is is that God is in total control, no matter what the appearance is, and He is in control according to His rules and criteria, and this is especially true when it comes to prayer.
If our prayers don’t fit in with Providence, we’re wasting our breath. So best to pray from a place where it FEELS like you are being LED, or, said differently, that God is somehow praying through you.
But another way Swedenborg talks about prayer is that it is “talking to God and at the same time experiencing some inner view of the things that are being prayed about.”
So we might say that there’s a dialogue there. I speak and the Lord answers this way, or in other ways as well,,,,,,,,that is, the Lord’s response, or His part in the dialogue, can come in one or more of the following ways, and may or may not come right away! We may want instant results or gratification, but the Lord’s timing and ours are not always the same! I must admit, this one always kind of “gets me.”
So, First, (as a result of praying)
- God may give us a better perspective or clearer understanding of whatever it is that we are praying about. We may suddenly see or remember something we had forgotten. No wonder Swedenborg comments that “to pray signifies in the internal sense to be revealed.” Or, in being revealed, a solution may present itself that was not apparent before. On more than one occasion I have meditated/prayed about a particular problem, esp. as I go off to sleep, only to awaken with a new answer to that problem! More revelation!
- Ever feel really despondent and hopeless? When answering a prayer, sometimes the Lord may give us a sense of hope to help us go on. The souls under the altar
“cried with a great voice, saying, ‘How long oh Lord……..dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood……..And it was declared to them that they should rest yet a little time…..” (Rev. 6: 10-11). Hope comes from God.
- Other times during prayer we may feel comforted or consoled. Weep no more, the Lord has heard your prayer. Like Hezekiah after his death sentence, “he turned his face toward the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart…..’
And Hezekiah wept bitterly……. Thus says the Lord…….I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you.”
(II Kings20: 1-5).
- There also are times when, as a result of my praying, the Lord will fill me with a sense of well-being, and even joyfulness, for that is one of His wishes———that I may have a wonderful sense of BEING ALIVE. “I am come that they might have life, and have it abundantlyyyyyyyy.”
- On occasion, the answer to a prayer might be quite dramatic…….esp. since the angels have so much real power. Some of you might recall Elijah’s request for fire on Mt. Carmel………that was certainly dramatic indeed.
Or miraculous healing that I think goes on all the time in this world.
- But now comes one of the more difficult options that can happen in prayer. The Lord can say NO! This is the answer that feels most like no one is there…….because there is most often no response at all. It’s like the Lord is saying, “I won’t help you with that——–stand back from Me! “ (Lk. 13:27). The Lord told Jeremiah: “Do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I do not hear you.” (Jer.7:16).
There was once a woman from Canaan. She had a daughter possessed by a devil and she came to the Lord asking help. (Matt 15: 23). She spoke and prayed for Jesus to help knowing, we are told, “that He was God” Himself (AE 815:5). But the Lord answered first with silence and then a rebuff. There was, therefore, something about her request or state that was not acceptable to Him and needed changing. Once that happened, her plea for help was granted. And this can happen to us as well.
Whether by silence or rebuff of some sort, the Lord DOES answer——-and that answer, like the Canaanite woman,,,,,,,might at first be NO!
Another example in the Bible of the Lord saying no is Saul coming to Samuel complaining about the Lord not answering his prayers. Saul said, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore…..” (I Sam.28:15).
What Saul forgot is that twice he had rejected the Lord’s instructions!! On top of that, he filled his heart with hate and vengeance toward David. That is why it is said in the Psalms, “If I favor iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66: 18).
- As well in all this subject of prayer, there are, in general, two conditions, Swedenborg talks about that have to do with our general attitude. Our attitude must have humility in it and it must show concern for one’s own regeneration and the happiness of others. If either condition is missing, then the prayer is “mere babbling” (AC 1094). It is seen in the spiritual world as a “bad smelling odor.” (TCR 108) or as a mere “vocal sound” (AC 7391).
So if we find our prayers going unanswered, we will probably do one of two things. Either we will give up, at best just going through the motions as we continue with the same prayer. Or, we will learn to be humble, to change our state so we may enter the temple of the Lord’s holiness to speak with Him.
Now here’s a good example of how dynamic the Lord can be, for bringing us into a state of humility is, in fact, a primary purpose of prayer—–a very effective way of helping us find humility! Or a Swedenborg puts it: “He who beseeches or emplores is already in humility, and when there is humility prayer works……..the Divine can flow in and be perceived.” When we are praying, we are offering our minds and our attention……….THAT is connection, and is probably the best and most important part of prayer.
Praise the name of the Lord for giving us this direct route to Him!