God Help Us

Prayer is petitioning God for some kind of assistance. It’s an appeal to spiritual forces for help, either for ourselves or for others. All acts of prayer imply a belief in the existence of intelligent spirit beings or forces who can hear us, understand us, and help us.

In all prayer, we usually have some conception about who or what we are praying to. Most religious people pray to a god or gods, while others pray to a deceased person, such as a saint or a glorified human who they believe can hear and help them. This is the case in all Judeo-Christian traditions as well as Islam, Hinduism, and even Buddhism.

In traditional Buddhist schools, prayers are directed to enlightened beings, deities, and saints. However, some Western practitioners claim that Buddhist gods and deities aren’t really gods at all. Yet with some incongruity, they still believe these non-gods have the power to help or harm.

More secular Buddhists maintain they do not pray to, or for, anything and have no expectation that anyone is listening. Sam Littlefair of The Lion’s Roar website (2017) promotes the rather questionable notion that we are praying to ourselves. In his view, prayer is a personal aspiration to be more compassionate and wiser by drawing on the spiritual strength that is within us all. Certainly the latter is true, although it’s not entirely clear if he believes this inner spiritual strength is biologically inherent in the human brain or whether it exists as a cosmic essence that can be tapped through mind. One thing is clear—he avoids giving God any credit, as many Buddhists are inclined to do.

No doubt, there is a potent spiritual strength within all of us—the very source of all compassion and wisdom. But in the God experience, we recognize that the source of this strength is the divine inner Spirit—a gift of God given to each of us. Our prayers to this loving, helpful, and divine Spirit are important because all spiritual agencies, even though they are ready and willing to help us, will never interfere with our freewill. God can help us only when we ask for it. 

The Psychology of Prayer

No matter what we believe, the intent of all prayer should be spiritual. We are often tempted to ask for material things or profitable outcomes, but it is more advantageous and realistic to ask for intellectual, emotional, and spiritual help. Prayers for a new Mercedes or to conquer our enemies are not spiritual petitions. Your prayers are best viewed as a way to change your mental attitude. It’s not about getting your way but instead it’s a technique for learning God’s way.

We are motivated to pray because we are aware there is something greater, something better to be achieved—we are conscious of superior ideals and values, ones we would like to attain. In psychological terms, prayer is a mental technique for attaining these elevated ideals and for self-realizing divine concepts and values. It is a sincere attitude of mind that reaches upward (or inward) in an attempt to grasp the most advanced concepts of Deity.

In the highest sense, enlightened prayer is the psychological process of exchanging the human will for the divine will (spirit way). It’s an exchange of fear for courage, hatred for love, envy for appreciation, and pessimism for optimism. It’s your effort to adjust and identify your personality with the true nature of spiritual reality.

Beliefs About Prayer

Notions about the power and intent of prayer have evolved over the millennia. In the earliest expressions of prayer, people believed they could bargain with God and, with enough pleading and sacrifice, eventually get what they wanted, whether it was more children, more rain, or a good harvest.

But more enlightened individuals, past and present, realize that God is not a merchant of the soul. Any attempt to barter is foolish. God is perfect, replete, infinite, eternal, and changeless. He needs nothing from us, although he wants our love and commitment to live the spirit way.

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.

– Soren Kierkegaard

Likewise, it is useless to attempt to win favor with God or expect to put yourself above others. As a divine parent, God loves each of us equally, just as the sun shines on all. A wise parent never shows favoritism to any of her children.

One outdated notion often associated with prayer is the belief that we need to suffer in order to do penance and remove all sin. Not long ago, this included acts of self-flagellation, a bloody practice that still persists in some cultures. Another was to wear a hair shirt, or cilice, made of coarse animal hair and set next to bare skin so the wearer would suffer constant discomfort. In less severe practices, suffering by penance included such things as fasting, celibacy, and other forms of abstinence (see God and Suffering).

In many respects, these ideas are deeply embedded in Western culture. Notions of inherent sin, divine punishment, the need to suffer, harboring guilt, or feeling unworthy of success are manifestations of self-abasement that many have come to accept as normal. This is not to say we should never feel a sense of repentance—a sincere expression of regret. But it is difficult to imagine a loving, merciful, Supreme Parent who would condone the self-injurious behavior of her children, regardless of past mistakes. There is no cruelty, anger, or vengeance in the domain of Spirit. God is love.

Beliefs about prayer have changed little over the millennia. Since the beginning of written history over 5,000 years ago, prayers have been formalized and ritualized. Priests and followers alike were taught to memorize prayers verbatim as well as magic chants, mantras, liturgies, or psalms, believing the constant repetition of standardized prayers would elicit favor from the gods.

Such beliefs stem from irrational notions about the power of the spoken word, which is believed to be embodied in magic spells or incantations. However, it is unlikely that an eternal, all-wise, and loving God is some mischievous gremlin who refuses to do anything until he is satisfied you have uttered a magical formula in precisely the correct way.

Ritualistic observances, such as repeating the same prayer in a mechanical fashion, do not make them more powerful or appealing. It is very likely God heard you the first time. There is no reason to believe an all-knowing Creator requires his children to incessantly repeat themselves.

If a man …merely utters the words that come to his lips because he has learned them by heart through constant repetition, I do not call that prayer at all

– Teresa of Avila

Many of us resort to prayer in times of deep stress or trouble, but it is also helpful to share your life with God when things are going well. In fact, praying for spiritual benefits when things are good is an efficient means of establishing and strengthening your channels of spirit communication. And then, when things do not go so well, you find yourself better prepared.

Genuine Prayer

When you chat with God, make it genuine, spontaneous, sincere, and personal. If you approach a good friend for a heart-to-heart talk, do you begin by reciting a monologue of drab verses? It is more likely you would open your heart to talk about things that really matter to you, about life experiences you long to share and things you would like to achieve.

It is also unrealistic to think that one prayer fits all. We all come from different times and different cultures, and we all have different life experiences. Each of us has unique needs and varying levels of spiritual comprehension, therefore, our prayers should be unique, spontaneous, and personal.

Prayer is very much an individual matter, but it is more beneficial, productive, and powerful when it is:

  • Unselfish – serving others as well as yourself.
  • Believing – with unwavering conviction and faith.
  • Sincere – being completely honest of heart.
  • Intelligent – thoughtful, reasonable, and perceptive.
  • Trustful – because God is good, loving, and trustworthy. (144:3.16 )

God and the angels want us to advance spiritually and they give us the tools necessary to achieve that end. Therefore, we pray for the ability to identify divine values and to achieve spiritual maturity. It is beneficial to ask for spiritual strengths, such as perseverance, courage, tranquility, tolerance, and patience. We can pray for a greater appreciation of faith or spiritual insight. We can even ask for direction in our daily affairs.

But just as important as prayers for yourself, is asking God to help others, whether it is family, friends, or strangers. Praying for others is selfless and considerate but it also helps you—it changes you. It is good to pray for those who love you, but if you can do the same for those who despise you, you have made considerable progress.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you.

– Jesus of Nazareth

Cultivate unselfish prayer by learning to pray in the plural. The Lord’s Prayer is a good example of this: “give us this day our daily bread.” Try converting all your petitions to include others. Change “God, give me strength” to “God, give us strength.” This is a powerful technique, and you will notice the difference.

Realistic Prayer

You can pray for greater wisdom, enhanced concepts of goodness, the appreciation of spiritual beauty, and further revelations of truth. All of this is given to you freely with no conditions attached—you only have to ask for it. But you also need to be realistic with your requests. All growth takes time, and it requires personal effort. You gain little wisdom by trying to bypass the necessary experiences.

If you plan to climb a mountain peak and your five-year-old child asks to go along, do you take her? Or do you prepare her mentally and physically so that when she comes of age, she can climb that peak herself? In God’s wisdom, you may not immediately receive what you ask for but, if it is a spiritual quality, you will receive it in time.

You cannot expect God to give you everything you want and then, if you don’t get it right away, stomp your feet and say you don’t believe in him anymore. Genuine prayer is mature and sincere. It is spiritual in its intent and it is reasonable. Accordingly, the answers to your prayers will appear in the context of spiritual realities and divine values.

Don’t get discouraged because you think nothing is happening. Your prayers will change you in meaningful and lasting ways over time, especially if you have steadfast faith and absolute confidence in the promises of God. Prayers never fail to expand your capacity for receiving spiritual wisdom and spiritual energies. Be persistent but reasonable. And never doubt the good and just wisdom of God.

Pray as though everything depended on God.
Work as though everything depended on you.

– Augustine of Hippo

Prayer is not an excuse for inaction, nor is it a means of avoiding the challenges and difficulties of life. It is not an attempt to exempt yourself from your responsibilities, duties, and the need to be industrious. But it is a means of dealing with all these challenges in positive and effective ways. Prayer provides you with the mental and spiritual stamina you need to deal with contingencies, as well as the wisdom and insight required to achieve the best solutions (see Divine Problem Solving).

Benefits of Prayer

Genuine prayer is a potent, spiritual stimulus and an effective technique for spiritual enrichment. It improves your sense of cosmic consciousness, modifies your attitudes, and lifts your soul to greater heights of spiritual awareness.

God answers your prayers with love, giving you an increased revelation of truth, an enhanced appreciation of beauty, and an augmented concept of goodness. In this way, prayer leads you upward and onward to superhuman and progressive spiritual values.

Prayer is a form of spiritual communion which leads to intelligent worship. 144:2.2

– The Urantia Book

By maintaining sincere, unbroken communion with God through sincere contemplation, prayer, and worship, you widen the spiritual channels along which the divine gifts of love, grace, and new life can flow into your heart, mind, and soul.