There actually is a God. You may or may not believe this, but you have to admit one very key concept. The idea of, the notion of, the very concept of an ideal that is greater than ourselves is powerfully motivating. Many cognitive psychologists have theorized that it was this belief, this hope, that actually was the spark that created human consciousness in the first place. So believe or do not believe, that is not important. What is important is the act of faith, the accepting of the ideal, the very substance by which all our myths and legends are made. Faith is the power that motivates us humans to do great things, without that we would be nothing more than any other wandering species. The strive, the desire, the hope to obtain what is not here is at our core. Our ideal sits outside of our body and that ideal is God.
Prayer is the most powerful act of faith that you can perform. Real Prayer. Not memorized scripts, not inspirational prose, not repetitive phrases said over and over again producing a meditative state. Actual prayer is powerful. I have nothing against chanting, meditation and all that. That has value as well, but real prayer, meaning real actual communication with deity is the single most powerful act that any person can do. The impacts, effects and results of prayer are well documented in research studies. Many theories abound as to why. Personally, I choose to believe that prayer works because there actually is a God. However, if that is hard for you, just accept that humans have been doing this for thousands of years and the behavior still persists. There is something to the idea of acknowledging God in prayer, you just cannot escape that truth.
Entering into prayer, a real effective and life changing prayer, requires an attitude adjustment. I have a lot to say on this subject, I will try to keep that simple. First and foremost, and even Western and Eastern religious teachers will advise, you have to be humble. You must be willing to acknowledge the greatness, the goodness, the reality of God and that this ideal persona is significantly better than you. This is separating the ideal from your own consciousness and allowing you to look at that and yourself from an external perspective. There is a lot of science behind that concept, but even so, the point is that you must humble yourself before God. Having said that, you can do some things to really put your mind in the correct state prior to participating in this act of Prayer.
Finding a quiet, secluded and reverent space is critical. A place that you could imagine God wanting to visit. This could be your closet, but you may need to do some cleaning! For most people it is outside, in a special place. However, do not let that stop you from praying. You can find a special place almost anywhere. Treat this place with significant reverence. I have a few places where I said prayers that changed my life. Those places are sacred to me. Next, it is important that you come distraction free. Turn the phone off, turn the music off, the news off. Set aside the time. This is private time, this is a time and place where you are quite literally going to open yourself up for psychic surgery, so it better be clean and distraction free. Then you must consider the act of salutation.
When you begin a prayer the act of address, or salutation, is incredibly influential on your prayers. You may not be able to do this all the time, but kneeling in prayer as if you are kneeling at the very throne of God is probably the single defining act to prepare you to be in the right state of mind. Next your prayer, at least the really meaningful ones, should be said out loud. Talk in a normal voice, as if you are talking to an actual person. Bow your head as well indicating, once again, your surrender to the higher ideal and your willingness to follow, to acquiesce, to obey. Finally use language reserved only for your conversations with God. This is not a time for, Hey Bro, but rather, Dear Father. Instead of Hey You, try using words like thou, thine. These are old English phrases, but it has always helped me to clearly indicate a respectful manner of speech. The actual language means nothing to God, I am sure. However, the language means something to you and that is critical. Language is a key definer of our thoughts, and if we use respectful language, we will also be respectful. Now comes the fun part, knowing what to actually say.
However, before we talk about wants and needs and all of that, let’s talk about our audience. As in anything in life, it is really important to know our audience when we are giving a presentation. If you are addressing God, the very creator of the known Universe, then perhaps it might be a good idea to know the entity which we are addressing. This is where it gets deeply theological and I am sure that I will step on the toes of more than one religious doctrine. I frankly do not care, this is my experience and my concept. The idea of this has come through a lifetime of trial and error and reading and pondering scriptures and spiritual teachers (not all of them Christian). My attitude on this works well for me and that is my only evidence. So who is God?
In my opinion it is vital to conceive of God as an actual entity, a real person with a body and passions. God is as real as you and I. In fact God is probably more real than us. I firmly believe and my attitude in prayer reflects this that God actually exists in physical form. He is not a ubiquitous ever present idea, God is an actual entity that could, if he so chose, walk up to me and shake my hand, give me a hug or slap me in the face (more likely). God is not perfect because God is impassionate. God is perfect because he is perfectly passionate. God is not perfect because he has reached the end, God is perfect because he is perfectly progressing. God is not done. God is getting better. Now comes the pitch fork moment.
Most Christians will reel in shock at the next statement. With respect, I understand. Showing fealty to God and acquiesce to his greatness is important and I believe that as well. However, I have started to develop a different attitude. God wants me to improve, that is why I am here. God wants me to become great and if it were possible, God would want to rise me up to be as great or even greater than him. I believe that is his mission statement. That is definitely not possible, but that does not mean his attitude would not be for his creations to become amazing. God does not have a you versus me thing. God does not have a us versus them thing. God does not have a hierarchy, God created all and loves all. God, therefore, has only a we thing. God is We. I am God. God is me. I know blasphemy. I can only cite the greatest religious teacher of all time as my authority on this subject, his name was Jesus. Look him up.
I look at it like I view my own children. I have a hard time viewing them as different than me. I view them as an extension of myself. My wife says, she is living with her heart outside of her body. I want nothing more than my children to progress, to achieve greatness. My greatest glory would be their glory. I want them to surpass me in every way. I want them to be awesome. So why would God, our Father in Heaven, be any different? In fact would not this feeling be magnified exponentially? This is my belief when I go into prayer with God.
Another thing. You have to believe that God is so close to you that he knows you by name. He knew you before you were born. You have existed, at least in his creation scheme, forever. You are an eternal soul and he has made a massive investment in helping you become better. He wants you to succeed, more importantly, he wants you to learn lessons and grow. God has a plan for you. God knows exactly what you need and when you need it to be successfully, you just have to be willing to listen and when prompted take action and follow his will. Above all things, the best attitude to take into prayer, is a willingness to do God’s will.
Your will, your ability to even have a will is at the very root of this grand experiment called human life. Every material thing in the Universe does not get to exercise free will. You are special. You can actively an openly disobey God’s will and get away with it (at least for a period of time). No other object in the Universe has that option. Life, organic life, is the result of sheer intelligence. A way to create an existence that thrives and multiplies on its own in an extremely efficient manner. Every other form of material follows the laws of Physics, life, and more specifically human life is the exception. So you have agency. You can choose for yourself what you will do. The question is, will you follow the will of God? Or in other words, will you prove yourself a worthy child that God will be willing to grant more to?
The struggle between your will and God’s will that is really the ultimate purpose of Prayer. It has been called at times, a struggle with God. That is essence what Prayer sets to achieve. An alignment. To align yourself to God’s will and to struggle through that. So get ready to talk to God in your act of humble, reverent prayer. Talk openly and honestly. Work it out, talk it out, figure it out. Your time in prayer is your time to openly and willingly struggle through figuring out what the will of God is and if you are brave enough to say, “Not as I want, but as thou will.”
So the prayer begins. I think it is acceptable to have a formula, it may even be acceptable to bring notes. After all, this is a really important meeting. However, the best prayers in my experience are from the heart. Clearly spoken, clearly communicated and deliberate. A conversation with God. There are some basic formulas you can follow to aid you in your prayer. The best one is the one that Jesus’ gave. The Catholic church took to calling this an “Our Father.” I have nothing against memorizing this prayer, but perhaps it might be a good idea to look at the intent of what Jesus was trying to teach.
- Our Father, who are in heaven, hallowed be thy name – Clearly we need to address God by a respectful title.
- Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven – Jesus also is reminding us that prayer is about aligning your will towards God. Also note the different language usage.
- Give us this day our daily bread – Jesus is telling us that it is perfectly acceptable to ask for what you need in life. Ask and you shall receive.
- And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us – Humility. Knowing our place, knowing our weaknesses and acknowledging them before God. An important aspect of any good prayer.
- And lead us not into temptation, but deliver is from evil – Now we get serious. What is really troubling us? What are we fighting right now? What is our struggle? Talk about that, ask for help.
- For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen. – The best way to end any prayer, even after begging for help. Acquiesce to the will of God, with or without his help.
That is a great formula. A more basic one might be:
- Salutation – “Father in Heaven…”
- Gratitude – “Thank thee for….”
- Ask for – “Father, if it be thy will, I really need….”
- Benediction – “I acknowledge your will in all things, and will continue to be thy servant. Amen”
Most Christians will end with, “in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen,” or something to that effect. However, not all that pray are Christians or even believers in God at all. Belief has very little to do with this. Faith is the key ingredient, and faith requires the hopeful soul to take action. Prayer is always the first step.
There are some key things over time that have made my prayers more effective. Not saying that God does not listen to all prayers, but I have noticed that certain things that I do in prayer produce a more positive experience for me. I share these tips, not as absolutes, but as pointers for guidance toward efficacy.
Tip #1 – 25% Talk, 75% Listen – Most people forget that prayer is a two way street. God, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, the light of Truth, whatever you want to call it speaks to our souls in a still small voice. You can only pick up on that with solitude, distraction free contemplation. Once your prayer is complete, then take 3X the amount of time to stay in the position you are in and listen carefully. Listen to your heart, listen to your soul, listen to the birds. I have had some pretty intense experiences in my life after listening carefully following a heartfelt prayer. The answers btw, do not come quickly. Many times they have come after I was done and walking back to my car or home. Other times, I have seen something or caught a glimpse of something that brought a flood of thoughts, feelings and emotions that connected me with something higher than myself. There have been a couple of times where a direct answer came and I was not quite prepared for that experience. I do not talk about that often, it was a moment that when I think about it, start crying. Just remember. Listen.
Tip #2 – Work It Out and Ask for Confirmation and NOT a Sign – For the love of God (pun intended) do not be a sign seeker. There are theological reasons for saying that, but the real reason is the faith destroying part of an actual sign given to you. God bestows boons on those that are faithful, not a reward for the one eye open partial believing skeptic. I have determined my prayers are always better when I praying for something really specific. Usually a problem. For example, trying to choose between two jobs. I work out in my own mind the benefits and disadvantages of both. They I carefully consider the best option and I choose that one. Then when I pray, I explain to God my thought process and then I ask confirmation that what I have chosen is correct. If you experience confusing after this prayer – well you chose wrong. If you experience enlightenment, elation or a sense of fulfillment then you chose correct. God is pretty good at telling the faithful soul – warning – you chose wrong. Nice try, but try again.
Tip #3 – Sacrifice is Tied to Blessings – When you elect to sacrifice something in trade for a blessing that you are asking for, it is infinitely more likely you will receive what is desired. Make a barter with God? Why not? My children barter with me all the time. What I do not like is when my children bring a frivolous or trivial proposition to me. Whenever they bring a serious proposition to me, with skin in the game, then I am a willing ear and guess what? I always almost give into their request on a well thought through and sincere offer for exchange. Do what Jesus taught the rich man when he asked for the recipe for eternal life. Sell all thou hast and give to the poor. The greater blessing, requires the greater sacrifice. Why would God be any different? I have faith that any proposition that I bring to God, that he accepts, he is then duty bound to grant my boon IF I do my part.
Tip #4 – But if Not – this is the big one. This was life changing for me and still is. When I pray to God, with an offer for exchange. My sacrifice for some boon, then I always immediately follow with this phrase, “but if not.” This means to me that even if I make a sacrifice and do not get the asked for boon, I would do it anyway. You know why? Because my intent and purpose is to align my will toward God’s will. If that requires me to serve faithfully and without reward, then so be it. Reference the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah in the Book of Daniel. Chapter 3 – read that and you will understand where I developed this notion. But if not.
I will end with this. Prayer is the great magnifier of your own efforts. Prayer is the spark that starts many a life change. Prayer changes things to use the often quoted phrase. Be very wise and careful. I had a prayer for reconstructive surgery on my life and soul and God delivered. After I went through the crucible and I prayed and asked why, I was reminded in my mind of the prayer that I had said that started the entire chain of events. Also, pretty good idea that if you get an answer in prayer that you follow the prompting. One time in my life I chose NOT to do what God told me to do, bad idea. Bad. Bad. Bad idea. Be prayerful. Be a person who prays. Join the few people on this earth that hold conversations with their divine creator and have not forgot who they are. There is no greater habit, no better self improvement task, no elixir, no vitamin, no drug that can compare to the impact on your life that prayer, real prayer, will have on you.