When you hear the word "prayer," you may have memories of being bored to sleep as you squirmed next to your parents in church. Or maybe you have images of pleading with a deity to grant your wishes while you wring your hands. Do you call it prayer when you stay up all night obsessing over your finances or the safety of a loved one?
None of these activities are prayer: These are all symptoms of wrestling with problems. Prayer is what you do when you're done struggling with a problem, and you're ready to call forth its solution. As Eric Butterworth says again and again in his book, "The Universe is Calling", prayer is not about trying to get God to do something to you or give something to you. It's about allowing God to do something through you.
When something troubles us, we often approach prayer with a sense of urgency and tension. It's as if we're an ocean wave facing a continent alone. The first thing we must do, then, is relax into God. We quit acting like a wave that thinks it can pound the shore all by itself. We give up the illusion of separateness and relax into knowing that we are part of the infinite ocean that God is. We envision ourselves drifting out to sea, knowing that the ocean has far more power to shape the shoreline than we have alone. If there's anything for us to do, anywhere for us to go, the current will carry us there and give us the power to do it.
If you don't like watery metaphors, Butterworth offers another useful image. See yourself as an archer, and the solution to your problem as a target. To send your arrow home, you don't start hurling arrows willy-nilly at the bull's eye. And you certainly don't start throwing arrows where you don't want them to go. Similarly, in effective prayer, you don't spew out a lot of words that focus on the problem – at least, not if you expect to make your mark.
In archery, what you do is center yourself, take one arrow, draw your bow, and LET GO. You remain still and let the arrow do its work. When prayer is your bow, the arrow is your word. It may be a statement of truth, such as "I am grateful for divine wisdom that reveals to me my good," or "I am energized in mind and body through the healing activity of God in me." It may be a familiar scripture that focuses your attention on the target, your solution, such as "Be still and know that I AM God." Then, you let go and send your arrow home. Once you are centered, your word cannot fail to reach its mark.
And what is the mark, or the goal of prayer? Speaking these affirmations doesn’t make them true. They already are true. Whenever you are in distress, it is only because you have forgotten your essential oneness with all that is good and true in the universe. The only thing that ever needs correction is your perception, and your perception is exactly what gets healed in prayer. You'll know it has happened when a sense of gratitude flutters through your spirit and across your face. And so it is.
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