"Whatsoever we shall ask in my name, that will I do."
After one has mastered the elementary forms of prayer suggested in the previous lessons, he is then ready to consider the next stages in its practice. However, let us briefly remind the student again that mastery of the first three points outlined in our previous lessons is essential in the most effective application of the succeeding stages of prayer. The first and simplest point in the practice of prayer is the mere act of developing sustained attention toward God. "I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on me." Second, one should remember that God, the object of our attention and search, is not far from us, for "In him we live and move and have our being."
In other words, we should train our attention to the point of habitual and persistent contemplation of the fact that God, the Source of all creation, is present as a moving force, imparting all intelligence, all power, all life, all substance, and all love; and is moving in and through and around us at all times. This moving force is also seeking to manifest all of these qualities of itself in us, just as the forces of nature are always seeking to manifest themselves completely and perfectly in all the varied forms of nature. Third, the most effective attitude for enlarging our concept of these present facts of God, is through the practice of being habitually grateful for that degree to which we have become aware of their manifestation in us. We should even carry our gratitude to the point of being thankful for that degree of God which is not yet apparent to us, but which, sound reason tells us, is in process of coming forth in us.
Having thus started on the path of effective prayer, we may now consider the next step in the process of developing and expanding our nature, to incorporate into our being more and more of these facts of God. For as we have learned, the fundamental purpose of prayer is to enlarge man's inner nature, to liberate his forces, to extend his capacities; rather than to gain for his bodily nature more of the things of the manifest world. These "things" belong to the realm of "the signs that follow."
Many people who have imagined themselves advanced
students in the principles of spiritual attainment, feel that the "asking" form of prayer is too primary, too orthodox, and for that reason have outgrown its practice. Others of the intellectually proud class feel much the same way about it. But we are not so sure these people have actually outgrown this practice. We are more inclined to think they have not grown up to its practice as yet. At least, unless they have previously mastered the art of gratitude for the immeasurable good which is already their lot and portion in life; and further, unless they have developed the capacity for using what they already have for their spiritual advancement; let us not be too sure that they have reached the point where they are ready even to begin asking. Furthermore, unless one has developed the individual capacity to produce everything he needs, and in a manner and quantity entirely to satisfy his own inner nature, there is yet just reason for considering this form of prayer. And if those people employing the practice of asking God for that which supplies their needs, have not received that for which they have asked, possibly they have "asked amiss," and they had best look into the preceding lessons further. People generally have overlooked the vital principle involved in this very simple "asking" attitude in prayer.
All the religions of the world embrace various forms of prayer which are requests addressed to God. However, the Christian religion seems to be
more specific in its direction regarding the use of this form of prayer than at least the majority of other religions. Below, we give you a few quotations; and we suggest that the earnest student search further in the Scriptures along this line.
"Ask and it shall be given unto you." — Matt. 7:7.
"And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do." — John 14:13.
"Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He will give it you." — John 15:16.
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God." — Jas. 1:5.
"And whatsoever ye ask, ye receive of Him." — John 3:22.
"And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, he heareth us." — I. John 5:14.
Every individual at times feels that he is standing completely alone amid the distressing problems and complexities of life; that he is at his wits' end, and that in this state of aloneness he is incapable of meeting or coping with the problems of existence. The "asking" attitude of prayer involves the possibility of receiving help and of availing himself of a supplementary power to reinforce his own ability, and thereby, with this assistance, of rising above his difficulty.
This matter of supplementing one's ability or reinforcing his present capacity is really a law of growth in every phase of creation, as we have previously
stated. The "asking" attitude in prayer involves the practical application of this principle in human experience. However, it should be remembered that the "asking" form of prayer should be directed primarily toward the facts which are in the being of God, rather than toward asking only for material things. Ask for what is in the name Jesus Christ — "The fullness of the Godhead"; the complete fulfillment of the Divine Capacity that is inherent within you. Remember, as we have also said, it is not wrong to ask for material things; but we do mean to emphasize that the prayer of asking, like those preceding forms, involves infinitely more than material gain. It applies primarily to spiritual things, to the enlargement of our own nature, to the increase of our own capacity by an increase in our knowledge and realization of the presence and power of God, moving for us and within us. It means enlarging our consciousness of the Divine nature and aligning ourselves with the working out of his will and purpose in the individual. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared."
We might more understandingly illustrate this principle of asking if we again return to our manner of dealing with children. So often in our most common practices we spontaneously express the very highest law of individual progress.
A normal child asks only that you provide it with
those things which are beyond its own power to produce or express. Nor does its asking presuppose a change in the mind, the attitude, or the willingness of the parent to give. It is only an attitude of open-mindedness that conveys to the willing parent what the child is desirous of receiving. When the child receives that for which it has asked, its nature and sphere of action is enlarged; supplemented, so to speak, by the greater capacity of the parent. That is, the child lives in a larger and fuller world than his own capacity could provide.
A normal child is not content habitually to ask, but proceeds to exercise itself in this larger field which it has embraced from the ability of the parent, until it is enabled to comprehend and produce in like manner. The child's natural attitude is: "What I see my father doing, that I do also." So long as the child proceeds to develop its own capacity on a par with that which it has received, this practice becomes a vital means of its growth. "The right use" of what we have is essential to our progress in any direction.
To say "I don't know" is often a more definite indication of intelligence than to venture an opinion when one is not sure. And to ask is often a greater sign of capacity and ability for progress than the tendency to forge ahead in one's own strength. It is not asking help that destroys human capacity, but habitual dependence upon outside assistance. We all live vicariously to a larger extent than we
realize. Those who feel that they have outgrown the "asking" stage of prayer had better ask themselves if they have reached that stage where they can produce everything they need, through their own efforts. If not, the principle of asking is still open to them as a means of liberation and progress. What a limited life we would all live if we could not enjoy and embrace in our standard of living, the accomplishments of others. We may not ask in a sense of begging, but we do ask by opening ourselves to and by making demands upon the general effort of others, which is the equivalent of asking. It is this same practice which will enable us to avail ourselves of the intelligence that conceived, and the power that created, the heavens and the earth.
Asking is not a system of begging. It is an attitude of open-mindedness, an expansion of consciousness into the unknown that one may know more than he already knows, receive that which he is not already in possession of, attain that which is beyond his present estate. To be forced to ask for that which is beyond one's present estate is not a belittling practice which should shame a person because of his lack of achievement; but if properly used it is a means of extending his power and capacity into a larger field of attainment.
Of course one is not supposed to ask continually and to receive without any effort at self-progress. He is to use the elements gathered under the principle
of asking, to increase his character to the point where he needs no longer to ask for these things but can produce them for himself by means of his enlarged capabilities. When he has reached this plane, however, there is still more that he may ask for, and still more that he may attain, and so on toward the ultimate of his potential capacity, to which there is no apparent end.
Neither does the "asking" form of prayer necessarily involve such requests as "Please give me something." Often a child or even an adult asks more effectively through an attitude of expectancy, than through definitely formed requests. To ask much of life is not to say "Please give me more life," but to live in such a manner of reliance upon life, and expectancy regarding its response, that the entire nature is always expanding in that direction. In other words, the "asking" form of prayer is the next step in the expansion of one's potential capacity — the further extension of his spiritual nature in harmony with his ultimate destiny. At a later time we shall find that this "asking" form of prayer applies also to the needed things involved in our outer life, but at present we are concerning ourselves only with the central motive and purpose of prayer.
Asking, as in the previous forms of prayer, does not apply fundamentally to things of form that relate only to the bodily needs and desires, but applies to the things that relate to one's spiritual advancement.
It is more particularly asking for those forces which enrich man's nature as a spiritual being, those elements that make him more intelligent, more capable, more creative, more kindly, and more Divine in his nature. Asking God for his life, his guiding intelligence, his sustaining power, his love, his healing spirit, and his providing substance is the right field into which our requests should be directed; and the realm toward which our expectancy should expand our nature.
Asking does not change the will of God, nor his purpose toward us. He is "without variableness or shadow of turning," "The same yesterday, today and forever." The effect of asking is upon the being of man, and the change is within his own nature rather than inline nature of God. Asking only places man in a receiving attitude in order that he may become alert to that which God is already willing to give; for it is the "Father's pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Prayer is not begging an unwilling God, but a means of establishing ourselves in our right relationship to God as recipients of his generous bounty. Only our lack of comprehension and appreciation of this fact closes the door to that immeasurable supply of God that is always moving in our behalf.
When the followers of Jesus Christ asked, "Master, teach us to pray," Jesus answered: "After this manner pray ye." In the prayer which he gave he outlined the most vital method of procedure for the
individual. No one else was so familiar with the practice of prayer, and so well acquainted with the power to be derived therefrom. Surely this prayer outlines the most vital method of procedure for the individual, whereby he may place himself in harmony with the will and purpose of God, to receive in unlimited degree, all the resources of infinite space. This prayer is a series of simple, straightforward requests, made directly to the Father, not to change the mind of God, nor alter his purpose in our behalf, but to place ourselves in a position to receive that which was and is his pleasure to give. Let us study for a time this prayer of asking, given to us by the Master of prayer.
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." This statement involves the idea that the first step in effective prayer is to establish firmly in our minds the nature of God and to sustain the facts involved in his nature as the only motive in our approach to the whole process of life. The name or nature of God as revealed in his own declaration to Moses is "I AM that I AM, and beside ME there is none other." To hallow the name of God would be to establish ourselves in a perpetual realization that God is All and there is none beside him. This is the foundation premise of life itself, and the foundation upon which even Christ builded his character; and it is the foundation which "No man can lay other than that which is laid." The ancients taught this same philosophy and said that
the way to eliminate evil from the world and from one's own soul was perpetually to declare that "there is no strength or power but in God." This means to the individual that if he would actually progress in the realm of high spiritual attainment he must give himself in uncompromising devotion to the fact that there is "but one presence and one power in the Universe, the Presence and Power of God."
When the consciousness of the allness of God is established, man may proceed to open himself to this Presence and Power by asking its further activity and expression in his life. Certainly one cannot hope for the further extension of any fact in his life, nor can he ask or hope for a greater expression of any fact in his nature, until that fact is an established starting-point in his calculations. Sound reason would demand that honest logic is possible only by proceeding, without compromise, from a fixed hypothesis. To vary from a hypothesis is to destroy the processes of the rule of right reason.
Man has followed the practice of reason from an established or assumed hypothesis in all his various structures in life. In mathematics he proceeds from the unit, symbolized by the figure one; and all his mathematical calculations evolve from and around this unit. Yet he cannot prove the unit except by the most complex mathematical calculations. The unit is both the simplest and most complex phase of the principle. To proceed from the basic fact
upon which the principle is constructed, is essential to the entire structure. To vary from the basic fact is to destroy the entire principle itself as well as the structure evolved from it. What is true of mathematics is also true of every other structure which man has builded. Where there is no established basis from which to reason, there can be no reasoning process; and the mind goes into chaos, as does life itself.
Man's cardinal sin has been the sin of separation, the violation of that fact that there is "only God," that the entire system is a unit, and all the varied forms of life proceed from that Unit, which is God. Therefore the fundamental step in establishing righteousness is the realization that there is only God. And truly this must have been God's own estimate of himself when he proclaimed, "I am that I am, and beside me there is no other."
When the foundation fact of life is established in the consciousness of man, he then is in position to ask or to anticipate the further unfoldment of this fact in his nature. He is in a position to open his nature for further expansion by praying: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven." In this attitude, man is merely opening his nature to receive the governing authority which controls infinite space, that Its will and purpose may be fulfilled in his own mind, body, and affairs.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is a direct request of him who created all things that we may
receive the consciousness of God's supply which will meet our every need upon every plane of our being. It is anticipating supply to manifest itself from all sources, visible and invisible. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth/ out of the mouth of God."
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," involves the idea that only as we are forgiving toward those who seem to be obligated to us are we in position to receive that which releases us from confinement in the realm of comparative values, and to receive that free gift of God which is beyond the value of the human mind's conceptions. Lesser laws with their restrictions cannot let go their hold upon us until we have trained ourselves to conform to higher laws. In other words, our individual nature must consistently conform to the Divine nature. How could a forgiving law work through an unforgiving mind?
"Lead us not into temptation," as it is usually given in our translations, is very incorrectly translated. God, who is love, and who is all, would scarcely tempt man away from his divinely appointed path. The literal meaning involved here is man's request that he be sustained in trial, or upheld when he is tempted. "Be with us in trial" more correctly embodies the request in this matter. "When I am in need of strength to go forward in my spiritual progress, reinforce my will with thy will, supplement my strength with thy strength,
illumine and direct my mind with thy mind" is the most consistent attitude involved in this request. In other words, it is only natural to expect that the creative power of the Universe is back of every attempt at progress in human experience.
"Deliver us from evil" involves the possibility of being freed entirely from everything which has militated against our progress and our well-being. "A man's enemies shall be those of his own household" says the Scriptures. This request, then, involves complete release from any opposing reactions within our own nature. It is therefore evident to the careful student that these requests embrace every need in the experiences of man; and that were these requests granted, we would all be perfectly supplied with everything that we might need or desire upon every plane of being.
Perhaps the most startling and illuminating revelation to the devout student of this prayer is to be found in the closing statement. We have imagined that all our prayers were for our own particular and private benefit; that we alone were the point of consideration. Christ's revelation in this prayer is that the answer to prayer is not primarily for our own benefit. Our benefit is included in that greater fact which is the fulfillment of the very will and purpose of God himself. For in the closing words of this prayer he says: "Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory." Our requests are therefore only practices by which we open our minds and
lives to receive the will and purpose of God, that His plan may be fulfilled as He has ordained it from the beginning of time. Is the blooming flower an expression of its own glory, or rather the law of nature glorified in it? Is not the towering oak tree but the revelation of the purpose in nature back of it? Likewise, is not the highest degree of perfection stirring in the depths of all men, but the faint, embryonic shoot of the will and purpose of God; and is its fulfillment other than the crowning glory and manifest perfection of his purpose?