Prayer has been used in virtually all spiritual traditions as a means of contacting or communing with the Godhead. The form of prayer ranges from the beseeching to the appreciative, including the affirmative and surrendering forms. While advocacy is not the purpose of this paper, we will explore both the effect of consciousness on prayer and the effect of prayer on consciousness.
The four forms of prayer easily discerned in the Christian tradition are:
1. Beseeching Prayer – the asking for correction of some aspect of one’s experience is perhaps the most basic form of prayer. When using this form the individual is falsely declaring at least three things: a) “I have a lack in my experience that needs to be corrected”, b) “My perception of the situation is more accurate than God’s”, and c) “God may fix what I need fixed if I implore correctly and/or persistently.”
2. Affirmative Prayer – the stating of a need that is already fulfilled is a form of prayer that comes from a more elevated consciousness. Here the individual is shifting responsibility for the perceived lack from God to his(/her) own awareness. That is, while he perceives a need in his own experience, he recognizes that the need has already been fulfilled – now he just needs to become aware of that. While the need still exists, it is not God’s oversight but his own.
3. Surrendering Prayer – “not my will, but Thy Will, be done.” In the surrendering form the individual recognizes that he is not lacking in anything but has only a purpose to fulfill. And that purpose is to be an instrument for the fulfillment of the Divine Will. However, this form of prayer still acknowledges the separation of “my” and “thy.”
4. Appreciative Prayer – with this form of prayer the individual not only recognizes that no needs exist but appreciates all aspects of his experience. Here he does not separate himself from God but sees himself as an expression of God, an integral part of the web of creation that is also an expression of God.
This basic form of prayer declares that our perception of God is both limited and fearful. “God must either be limited in His power or He doesn’t care about me because He has overlooked this aspect of my experience that needs repair. And because He has chosen not to notice or not to respond to my request, I am anxious (fearful) about my fate and my relationship to Him.” While this form of prayer demonstrates a recognition of a power beyond ourselves, it nonetheless demonstrates our very limited understanding of God. And according to the Law of Mind Action – “thoughts held in mind, replicate after their kind” – this traps us in a consciousness of “the fear of God.”
Does this form of prayer achieve the desired results? Sometimes. We certainly hear of situations in which an individual, when in danger, cries out a beseeching prayer for rescue and is met with a miraculous turn of events in his favor. Did God respond? If we are to accept an integrated, consistent view of God, we would have to answer “No.” It was the faith that the individual placed in a power larger than himself that shifted his consciousness to respond with clarity of mind, or strength, or a reforming of the situation to achieve his personal safety.
Is Beseeching Prayer dependable? No. Does it lead to a better understanding of our relationship to the Divine? No, because it reinforces the incorrect belief that God is a being “up there” that is looking down upon us with either a loving eye or a cynical eye, ready to help us or hinder us, favor us or shun us. This form of prayer, however, establishes in us the consciousness that we do have a spiritual relationship with God, a necessary first step.
To move to a more expanded awareness of God, to climb the ladder of consciousness, requires either a revelatory experience or a mental practice that shifts our beliefs. Such a practice is Affirmative Prayer.
One rung up the “ladder of prayer”, this form can be used to shift consciousness to more closely align with the Reality of God. When used with sincerity, Affirmative Prayer engages the mind in the paradigm that God has already provided for our every need, that the only lack exists in our consciousness – which we have the ability to change. Using this prayer strengthens our belief that we are the masters of our experience, that our consciousness determines our experience.
This is an important discovery as we evolve to a more expanded awareness. With this realization, we recognize that we have a means of consciously shifting our life experience to a more harmonious relationship with God.
As our experience becomes more harmonious with God, we loosen the fetters that bind us to our needs. We build a trust in the Divine that, we come to realize, abides within us. Less often are we compelled to the fulfillment of our needs – we recognize the simple means of their fulfillment; more often we are drawn to consider what is our purpose on this planet, with this awareness, at this juncture in the evolution of consciousness. Through contemplation, meditation and prayer we come to understand that it is the Divine Will which we are to serve.
It is written in Matthew 26:39, “And going a little farther, he (Jesus) threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ ” This surrendering prayer elevates our consciousness one step further towards right relation with God. Our individual needs are no longer of concern; “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33. In this consciousness, we demonstrate that we are now aware that it is the kingdom of God that we seek.
But the seeking, in and of itself, declares that we do not think that we have yet arrived, that we think we are still separate from the kingdom. This perception of separation will prevent our ultimate realization of our truly harmonious relationship with God. Once again we can use a mental practice to shift our belief from separation from God to oneness with God.
Webster defines “appreciation” in four ways: 1) to be grateful, 2) to value, 3) to understand and 4) to grow. Appreciative Prayer synthesizes these meanings into one contemplative state in which we recognize that we are indeed an integral part of the One God.
One way to practice Appreciative Prayer is to let our breathing model the prayer, accepting and appreciating the gift of vitality from our plant friends with the inhalation of our breath and offering and appreciating the gift of vitality to our plant friends with its exhalation – as they supply us with oxygen, we supply them with carbon dioxide. With this practice we become still in the web of life, breathing the web, expanding the consciousness of the web. We become present in the Heart of God, not as an intruder, but as Its expression. We become the Love that is God, the Light that is God, the Wisdom that is God, the Peace that is God, the Joy that is God.
Our consciousness moves from moment to moment, day to day. As we strive to elevate our consciousness, we experience “setbacks” as we succumb to our outmoded, habitual ways of thinking. We let ourselves be “dressed down” by fear. But these setbacks are merely a flag to tell us that we have not yet completed our healing. Prayer facilitates that healing.
The prayer that we are inclined to use demonstrates the consciousness in which we presently reside. But the prayer that we use draws us to the consciousness it expresses. Knowing this, we can intentionally lift our consciousness at least one rung on the ladder – if we are drawn to Beseeching Prayer, let us use Affirmative Prayer. If we are drawn to Affirmative Prayer, let us use Surrendering Prayer. And if we are drawn to Surrendering Prayer, we can lift our consciousness into the Heart of God with Appreciative Prayer.
No longer is it “Thank you, God”, but in union with God, we say “Thanks” – spoken silently and for One Self.