THE FIRST SECRET OF ANSWERED PRAYER
This month, we are going to explore the power of prayer. About prayer, Ernest Holmes wrote in The Science of Mind: "No class of people on earth believes more in prayer than we do. Our whole theory is based not only on the belief in Spirit, but in the availability of It - of Its immediate response. We even go so far as to say in everyday language: "Pray right and God cannot help responding."a"
These are powerful words, and yet they beg an important question - what does it mean to "pray right?" That will be our very specific focus this month as we explore secrets of "praying right" as laid out in a new spiritual novel entitled The Prayer Chest written by New Thought ministers August Gold and Joel Fotinos. The novel is about a man whose life has fallen apart and it looks like it is about to dissolve completely.b
But before we begin to explore the first secret of "praying right" according the novel, let's spend just a few moments making sure we are all on the same page about Affirmative Prayer - the form of prayer we use in Unity. Mind you, we don't believe it's the "right" way to pray, or the only way to pray, but it is a very effective way to pray!
The first step is Relaxation, releasing physical and mental tension. You might say to yourself, "I am now open and receptive. I let the living stream of life flow into every cell, purifying and lighting it, giving to it its original state of perfection. I tell my body, "Relax, relax, relax, and rest in the Lord.""
The second step is concentration, gentle focusing of the mind. You could say to yourself, "Let the light of Your countenance continually be upon me, that I may be steadfast in my purpose of finding You. Let every thought of my mind become subservient to God thoughts, that my whole consciousness may be lifted out of darkness into that glory which I had with You before the world was."
The third step being Meditation - a 3-step unfolding process. Focus a few minutes on your oneness with Source. Then focus a few minutes on accepting your life with non-resistance (let go). Then visualize for a few minutes God's love transforming all conditions of your life (let God)
The fourth step is Realization-a deep inner knowing of the Truth and that our prayers are answered. You might affirm, "Glorious Presence that is ever with me, let me sit at Your feet until all darkness, all dimness of vision has passed and I see You as You are. Let me listen until all spiritual deafness passes, that I may hold sweet communion with the Christ, my soul. I await now the fulfillment of the Christ in me, that I may express the glory of the risen Christ in my life"
The fifth step is Thanksgiving-being grateful before the answer appears in the manifest realm. "I praise and give thanks for Your Omniscience, for the wisdom and right judgment that fills my mind and works out in my life, as I seek to be guided by the will of God."
Since the beginning of time, every man, woman and child has prayed - hundreds upon thousands of prayers daily. Like in the movie Bruce Almighty when thousands of prayers are coming across via email.
Why, then, are only a handful of them answered? Is it a person's goodness that determines it? Perhaps generosity? If it is goodness and generosity that determines it, why are the prayers of the unkind and selfish answered?
Somewhere along the line in the evolution of humankind, we collectively agreed on a reason why some prayers are answered and some seem not to be: It is God's Will that determines which prayers are to be answered and which are not.
This belief is what we might call a Race Conscious belief -- the collective belief of a large group of people. And many, many people continue to believe this.
But in Unity, we do not. We believe, in fact, that this is a great lie that robs us of our capacity to have our prayers answered.
Ernest Holmes The Science of Mind: "Most individuals who believe in God believe in prayer; but our idea of prayer changes as our idea of God changes; and it is natural for each to feel that his way of praying is the correct way. But we should bear in mind that the prayers which are effective - no matter whose prayers they may be - are effective because they embody certain universal principles which, when understood, can be consciously used."c It is those universal principles that we are exploring this month.
Here is a powerful, powerful promise made in the novel The Prayer Chest.:
"Slip 100 prayers into the chest
and do not use the secrets of the Prayer Chest
and all 100 shall go unanswered.
But slip 100 prayers into the chest
utilizing the secrets of the Prayer Chest
and every last one shall be answered . . . to the utmost."d
The secrets of the Prayer Chest return to us the authority to have our prayers answered and to use that authority as we wish. Ernest Holmes said: "There is a power for good in the Universe and we can use it!"e
Today, using the novel as our backdrop, we will look at and begin to embody the first universal principle, the first secret. Before exploring the first secret, let's set the stage.
In the beginning of the novel, we meet, Joseph Hutchinson, a man whom Henry David Thoreau may have been thinking of when he wrote: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with their songs still in them."f
Now Joseph has something going for him -- a loving wife and two wonderful children - but long ago his dreams of being a carpenter were thwarted because he had to work the family farm when his father died at a very young age. Joseph distains farming and isn't very good at it, but he keeps at it because that is what is expected of him.
When we meet Joseph, he is living this life. Joseph's wife, Miriam, believes fervently in God and in the power of prayer, but Joseph isn't so sure. He's not seen much evidence of God, but he does have one thing that anchors him, one thing he believes in. Strangely, it's the attic in his farmhouse.
The attic -- filled with family possessions, heirlooms, furniture, as well as lots of junk, dust, and spider webs - the attic is really his god. When he goes to the attic, surrounded by all the stuff of his life and of the life of his ancestors, he feels grounded. In fact, the attic is the place he prays - as if he is offering his prayers to the attic.
But one day, one of his most important prayers is not answered. His beloved wife Miriam dies. And in a rage, in a blind fit of anger and sadness, he goes up to the attic and throws everything out the window, everything except the family Bible, into a big heap on the ground. And once everything is thrown out, he leaves the attic - never to enter it again - and walks outside in stony cold silence and burns it all.
He then lives, or goes through the motions of living, in stony cold silence for the next few months. Not even his children, who used to bring him such joy, could warm his heart.
Just when he thinks life could get no worse, he learns from the bank that the farmhouse, which has been in the family for over a hundred years, is going to be foreclosed on.
Yes, it's true that he has missed a number of payments, yet how can the banker have no heart?! How can he do this to Joseph and his children now? Why, oh why, is this happening to him? It simply isn't fair.
But the banker, saying it is strictly a matter of business, insists that Joseph and his children must be out in one month.
It is while he and the children are packing to leave the farm - with no money and no place to go - that Joseph realizes he must go back to the attic to retrieve the family Bible.
Once in there, with it now empty, he notices something unusual; the wall beneath the boarded up window was finished while the other walls in the attic remained exposed. He had never seen this before because of all the stuff in the attic.
Behind what turned out to be a false wall was hidden a wooden chest. And in it was a very, very old notebook.
Together with his two children, he discovers that this wooden chest is a prayer chest and that the notebook, written by his ancestor Malachi, reveals Three Secrets of Answered Prayer.
The notebook began:
Bring your prayers to the Prayer Chest, my son,
And all that you ask shall be answered one by one.
Before looking at the First Secret of the Prayer Chest, let's look at the spiritual significance of the events that led up to finding the chest in the first place.
We come into this life pure, open, connected, believing in ourselves and filled with love, with special gifts and talents to give to the world. Then life happens. We start to get boxed in. We start to shut down. We are told we are no good, we can't do that, this is impossible, we must do this, we can't have that, we don't believe that in our family.
And somewhere along the way in our lives, we find that this boxed in life doesn't work. Often that realization happens in a cataclysmic event - a coming to our knees event -- followed by what we might call a break down. A melt down. A crisis of faith. Lots of terms. A congregant here calls it "going down the rabbit hole."
We come to the point where it just isn't working! For Joseph, life wasn't really working, but he was hanging in there. And then his wife died, and he had the first part of his breakdown. And we saw it visibility as he threw everything out of the attic in a fit of anger, rage and despair.
But what he really was doing was something very valuable that a breakdown can bring for us. Metaphorically, he was throwing out false beliefs, old notions, ideas that had been passed on from generation to generation that he had come to think were true. He was releasing in this meltdown all the clutter and dust and spider webs that were clogging his consciousness.
A break down, if we let it, can lead us to a place of clarity and openness, where we can see more clearly and see what is real and true about ourselves.
When Joseph cleared away all the stuff in the attic and then went back to it a few months later after yet another cataclysmic event (breakdowns aren't always quick and neat!), he saw something he never saw before. The false wall, behind which rested powerful, powerful secrets to living.
And this breakdown prepared Joseph and breakdowns prepare us to receive the first secret of answered prayer. It is a secret that to Unity people isn't a secret - kind of like everything discussed in the movie/book "The Secret" wasn't a secret to us.
My question to us all this morning is -- have we embodied this secret rather than just known it intellectually.
Read from pp. 77.2 - 78.5 of The Prayer Chest.
The secret is: PRAYER IS ANSWERED THROUGH YOU.
In the words of Dr. Ernest Holmes: "What God can do for us God must do through us."g
And here's a deeper Truth: God can do NO MORE FOR us than what we allow God to do THROUGH us. God cannot aid us except as It flows through our consciousness, through our faith, through our vision, through our open hearts, through our receptivity, through our willingness.
Our greatest power is the power to become what we have been created to be. We are told in the scripture: "But to all who receive him, who believeth in his name, he gave power to become children of God."h You are a unique individualization of Spirit, and you are endowed with the power to be what you were created to be. But it must happen through you. Until we let ourselves become channels through which the Divine Creative Process expresses, our prayers may well go unanswered.
It can be a good thing in our lives when we arrive at those time so helpless and hopeless. Some of us never really find the divine level of our life until we are "driven to our knees."
When Jesus arrived at this point, he said, "I, of myself, can do nothing."i If you feel you can do nothing, you are in precisely the same situation in which Jesus found himself when he began to do the great and wonderful things we call miracles.
Whenever you get yourself out of the way and find your innate oneness with God, you will, to quote Thoreau again: ". . . begin to live with the license of a higher order of beings."j And that, my friends, is when prayers begin to be answered.
In the Science Of Mind: "There is a place in us which lies open to the Infinite; but when the Spirit brings Its gift, by pouring Itself through us, It can give to us only what we take. This taking is mental. If we persist in saying that Life will not give us that which is good ("God will not answer my prayer"), It cannot - for life must reveal Itself to us through us. The pent-up energy of life, and the possibility of further human evolution, work through our imagination and will. The time is now; the place is where we are; and it is done unto us as we believe!"k
And so it is!
aErnest Holmes The Science of Mind, p. 283
bThe Prayer Chest August Gold and Joel Fotinos
cErnest Holmes The Science of Mind, p. 150
dThe Prayer Chest August Gold and Joel Fotinos
fHenry David Thoreau
jHenry David Thoreau
kErnest Holmes The Science of Mind, p. 151