No doubt the average student has felt that this matter of answers to prayer has been long delayed by our attempts to give first consideration to the actual process and purpose of prayer as outlined in the preceding lessons. However, this concern about the answer, rather than an interest in the actual process of prayer, has been one of the outstanding reasons why our prayers have not been answered. The wise have always taught: "Mine is the right of action, not the fruits of action." Results come in accordance with the action which precedes. "The signs shall follow" the righteous application of processes religiously followed. When we are as much interested in prayer and its fundamental purpose, as we have been interested in the
answers, there will be more answered prayers. But when prayer is not properly understood and applied, — when we "ask amiss" — is there any logical reason for expecting an answer?
As we have previously suggested, the impulse to pray, the actual process involved in the right practice of prayer, and the answer to the prayer are not three separate things, but are one and the same thing. That which causes one to pray is really the evidence that the answer is already seeking expression in us. The process of the answer's coming forth is not really the development on the part of the answer, but rather an expansion of the mind of man to comprehend the answer which already existed. In truth, the entire practice of prayer is the self-operative facts of God moving through the nature of man, and urging their way into complete expression in him, in all his affairs, and in all creation. "Before you call I will answer." In the beginning of prayer — the urge to pray — is the first assertion, and in the end it is the expression of the Divine Self with all its powers and capacities.
Christ's prayer to the Father to "glorify thou me with thine own self" was completely answered in his acknowledgment: "How thou hast glorified me." His first utterance in this case was the longing of his Divine Nature for complete expression, and in the realization of his perfection was the answer not only to his prayer of that moment, but
the answer of every other prayer he had uttered in his entire experience.
Prayer in its truest sense is, therefore, as we have previously suggested in this series, the struggle of the Divine Self to come forth into being; and the ultimate answer to every prayer is this Divine Self actually come forth and expressed in the nature of man. This is illustrated in the fact that one's desire to become a musician is but the first struggle of his potential musical genius to come forth. All of his study and practice is to bring this about, and the answer is the awakened musical genius in the individual character. When this condition is established in the character of the individual, all the other demonstrations are but the further extension or manifestation of the student's awakened musical character.
When the Prodigal Son returned to the Father's house, he found that there was enough and to spare of all the things which he had need of in the way of position, shelter, food, and clothing. All of these lesser needs of his nature were taken care of in his definite return to his rightful place in his father's house. So when man returns to his rightful place in the Divine scheme of life, when he awakens to the knowledge of his Divinity, he will also find that there is enough and to spare for all of his inner and outer nature.
A number of years ago there was related to the writer the story of a boy who, during one of the
Mid-West's most severe winter spells, had lost his job. He had been without work for some time and his money supply had been completely exhausted. He had gotten behind with his rent and the landlady shut off the heat in his room. For several days he had no money to buy food, and he was therefore hungry. His plight was beyond any possible solution from his point of view.
Far into the night this boy pondered his dilemma and tried in vain to figure some solution to the apparently hopeless situation. Finally he arrived at the very unintelligent conclusion that the only solution for his problem was to go to the Missouri river, jump in, and — as he thought — put an end to it all. So in the wee small hours of that cold, stormy morning, he started his long, cold, hungry, and discouraged march to the river.
On this almost indescribably terrible journey to the river, he sought a temporary shelter from the icy blasts of the North wind, and huddled in a doorway to gain strength and warmth enough to resume his pilgrimage. In relating this story, he said that as he huddled there his head began to whirl and everything went black. Just at that moment when consciousness had all but fled, he heard a voice, and that voice said "I am." It startled him, because he thought some one had followed him. He looked about and there was no one. He looked out into the street and no one was there. Concluding that it was his own over-wrought
imagination, he again huddled in the corner for shelter and strength. But again his head began to whirl; everything went black; and again he heard that same voice. But this time it seemed to come from deep down within himself. This time he was more puzzled than before, and he fell to contemplating this strange thing which had happened. In an attempt to figure it out, he meditatively repeated the words which he had heard: "I am." What did it mean, where did it come from, what was it all about? And as he repeated the words audibly he was still further mystified, for his words only seemed to formulate that same voice which spoke from within himself. He kept repeating these words, "I am," "I am," — fascinated and bewildered at the same time, and trying to fathom what it all meant. Finally his attention was turned to his body, and it seemed warm with a glow of new life. His hunger was gone, and his mind was strangely clear. His whole being was strong.
At this point, the boy stepped out into the street and began to walk — back to his room, away from the river. Truly the self he had gone to drown had died on the way, but a new Self had been born. On his way back to his room, with each step he repeated over and over, "I am, I am"; and as Eliza Pitzinger put it in her wonderful "Song of the Soul Victorious," he
— felt a power uprising,
Like the power of an embryo God;
Mith a mighty wall it surrounds me
And lifts me up from the sod.
Back to his room he went, and as he opened the door it seemed that the room was warm. He investigated but the heat had not been turned on. Then he went to bed and slept soundly. The next morning he awakened, still conscious of that something which had awakened in him only a few hours before. He hurriedly dressed himself, went out into the street and straight to one of the places where he had been refused work the day before. The man in charge instantly assigned him to a position at a good salary, and from that day on this boy was a complete success. You see, the finding of himself was in reality the answer to all the prayers which he might have uttered regarding work, salary, ability to pay his rent and buy food. Has not the poet said:
You have but to right yourself,
To find that all the world is right?
All that anyone actually needs in life is exactly what this boy found. The fact that he found it proves that it was latent within himself, and if it can come forth out of extremity, it might have been awakened and cultivated by intelligent and
purposeful application. If such a state is within one person, there must be something akin to it in all men, for the Universe is no respecter of persons. This boy only found himself as God created him, fully alive, vital, awake; and all the other things came as an automatic result of this Self-awakening. This was his return to his Father's house, and he found enough and to spare awaiting him in that state.
We already have all the things for which we seek, in all their completeness, if we would only train ourselves to become aware of them. Do not the Scriptures clearly teach that "before you call I will answer"? The Koran teaches that "God will increase the guidance of the already guided," and the illuminated have always taught that "Prayers are granted by thee before they are uttered."
But we do not recognize the waiting answers to our prayers because we anticipate the answer only in some particular form of our own imagining. We have not trained ourselves to recognize them in their true sense. We might throw still further light on this matter by recalling an incident which occurred in the experiences of an artist some few years ago. This artist had a particular debt which he owed a man, and which gave him a great deal of concern. The artist had become so concerned about the debt, in fact, that he had begun praying about it. He prayed that he might receive the money with which he might pay the debt. He
followed this method for some days but the money was not forthcoming. Then one morning during his hour of prayer it occurred to him that it was not the money with which to pay the debt that he really wanted; but that he wanted the debt taken care of in any way that the Divine law might provide. Then he began to pray as Christ taught in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our debts." In the midst of this manner of prayer one morning, he recalled that he himself was an artist and that the man to whom he owed the debt was furnishing a new home. Furthermore, the artist had many paintings in his studio and perhaps some of the paintings might be desirable in the decoration of this man's home. The artist visited this man, showed him some of his paintings, and enough of them were selected completely to cancel the debt, and the artist was free. Here, he had all the time, the answer to his prayer, and the only thing needed was an awakening of his own mind to the facts that already existed.
But not everyone is an artist, nor does everyone have painting to meet his obligations, nor would paintings be acceptable to those to whom many of us are in debt. Every individual has, in one way or another, valuable resources which he may have forgotten, overlooked, or failed to discover in his nature; and among these resources already within himself, in his environment, or within his reach and
at his command, is the answer to every prayer of his heart.
To become alert to the existing good and to the actual realities which are here upon every hand, is to awaken to the fact that every prayer is answered already, regardless of the form we use, or the nature of the need. But to discover or recognize this fact, it must be remembered that the real prayer is what the heart is seeking, what the inner nature of man is seeking to express; and not some specific and fantastic thing which we imagine we wish to merely satisfy the appetite or a desire of the flesh. All these will be satisfied, that is true, but no doubt in ways beyond our present imaginings and in a manner infinitely more satisfying than the notion which we have about them.
The first answers to prayer are to be sought and found in the actual development of individual character. It is first a matter change in the mental and emotional processes of man, just as in the case of a music student. The first effect of study and practice of any principle is upon the mentality, and then upon the character, and then finally in the body, and lastly in the environment. The "signs" follow and the expressions of character accompany and are the equivalent of the degree of its development.
Mazzini said: "The true instrument of the progress of a people is to be sought in the moral factor"; that is, in the refinement of man's nature, and in
the development of those finer sensibilities which exist in his spiritual nature.
It is said of Abraham Lincoln that "he stripped every question of its political and economic aspect, laying bare its moral character." All illumined and awakened people know that there are inner phases of man's nature which are of infinitely greater importance than any outer phase of his existence; for it is the inner development, what is actually formulated in his character, that determines his entire outer status.
In other words, the answer to prayer is first, an illumined mind; second, a redirected emotion; third, an inner sense of security, stability, assurance — a sense of skill and mastery — all of which are purely a matter of character; fourth, a healthy body; and fifth, an attending and resulting success in all the affairs of life.
All this does not mean that the outer answers to prayers are delayed until one's character is fully developed. But it does mean, however, that if the outer answers precede our illumination and transformed character, the demonstration may be insecure or more or less uncertain unless the individual character is developed along with it. The very act of prayer is a step toward the development of this character, and one's spiritual muscle is developed in its practice. When the outward answer arrives, that very answer — through the law of right use — may become a means of further development, if the
individual pleases so to use it. If he uses the answer to spiritual practice for the purpose of satisfying selfish desires and as a means of self-indulgence, he is not following the law which leads to the Kingdom of desirable states of being. The Kingdom is the first objective, but righteousness — right-useness — is the procedure of the Kingdom itself. Therefore the "signs" are not necessarily delayed any more than the child's actually producing sounds upon the piano is delayed, when he is studying music. But the motive back of the act is not to produce the sounds, but to develop musical character and ability. In this case the demonstrations are a means of the child's musical progress. This is the law of right use, or using both the process of producing sounds and the resulting sounds as a means of increasing one's capacity in that particular direction.
At a certain point in the progress of the practicing student, a distinct change takes place in his entire motive of procedure. In the first case he was seeking to develop certain characteristics within his nature; and in the second place, at the time of change in motive, that which he has been developing takes command of all his further activities. That is, his musical genius becomes awakened. He no longer practices for self-development, but he plays for self-expression. His practice has fanned the flames of inward genius, and his playing now becomes the expression of that awakened flame.
This awakened flame of conscious power and authority is his "rod of authority," and he plays for the sheer joy of expressing that which is moving within his own nature and welling up for the fullest and freest expression.
At a corresponding point in one's spiritual development in the understanding and application of prayer, a like change takes place in the individual nature. One arrives at the point of realization of that for which he has labored from the beginning. In this state he reverts to one of the very fundamental forms of prayer. His prayer is a song of gratitude for hopes fulfilled, goals attained, longings satisfied, and desires expressed. His prayer becomes the joyous proclamation of a realized fact. His joy is full, because he has arrived at the fullness of his own character development; this developed character now uses and controls his mind, his feelings, his body, and his environment, and they become the exact portrayal of the quality of his awakened spirit. Thus were David's songs; and his Psalms are full of such utterances.
To the individual thus awakened spiritually, his continual realization, his daily joyous prayer is the living declaration that God is All in All; that the Will of God is done in absolute perfection in and through his own being and in all the world; that God is his instant and inexhaustible supply; that God has always and completely forgiven him from the beginning and he is free from the binding and
false notion of limitation; that the Spirit of God sustains him in every undertaking of life; that through the very goodness of God he is delivered from all that which has seemed contrary to Him; that he, as an individual, is a Kingdom wherein God rules; that the power of God moves through him to accomplish that which ought to be done by him; and that the ultimate expression of all creation is but the crowning glory of God himself.
Thus the beginning and the ending, the alpha and omega of prayer are the same. The beginning of the actual individual practice was in the grateful approach in anticipating the good things which were in store for one; the concluding practice of prayer became the joyous and grateful acknowledgment of hopes realized. The joy with which he proceeded in the beginning was the answer seeking to come forth; and the joy in the end became the grateful acknowledgment of ideals fulfilled. And then regarding all his seemingly unanswered prayers, he prays:
Dear Lord, I thank Thee that I did not get
An answer to my prayer of long ago.
In looking back I see I asked amiss
In praying for the things I longed for so.
I should have prayed to trust Thy Wisdom more,
To know Thy ways were better far than mine.
How blind we are, when stubborn human will
Obscures the perfect plan of Love's design.
— Louise Knight Wheatley.