by Rev. Christopher R. J. Smith
“He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray” (Luke 18: 1).
Praying is having a talk with the Lord. It is “speech with God” (AC 2535). It is not talking at Him, or to Him, but with Him. This means there’s communication going on. Actually, “prayer is nothing but communication” (AC 3285). There’s a dialogue. I speak and the Lord answers.
His answer or His part in the dialogue comes in one or more of the following ways:
1. He may give me a better perspective or clearer understanding of whatever it is that I may be praying about. I may suddenly see or remember something I had forgotten. That is why we are told: “To pray signifies in the internal sense to be revealed” (AC 2535). A solution may present itself that was not apparent before. We see an example of this when an angel came as a result of Manoah’s request to understand what was to be done with his son Samson.
2. When answering a prayer, sometimes the Lord may give me a sense of hope, when that is what is needed, and I may not have even realized it.
3. Other times I may feel comforted or consoled. Weep no more, the Lord has heard your prayer. Consider Hezekiah. After hearing his death sentence, “he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying ‘Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart….’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then it happened, before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Return and tell Hezekiah…, Thus says the Lord…I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you'” (II Kings 20:1-5).
4. There also may be times when, as a result of my praying, the Lord will fill me with a sense of well-being and even joyfulness, for that is one of His wishes – that I may have life and have it abundantly (see AC 2535).
5. On occasion the answer to a prayer may be dramatic. Elijah’s request for fire on Mt. Carmel was certainly that. Often an account in the Heavenly Doctrines might amaze us. Swedenborg wrote: “I saw some English clergy … who prayed to the Lord that they might be permitted to ascend to a society of the higher heaven; which being granted, they ascended” (AR 341).
Now what if I pray and then receive or feel none of these good things? Could it be that the Lord has not heard and therefore not answered? Impossible! He must hear. He always hears.
When we don’t feel a prayer has been answered, it may be that the answer is simply, No! Or it may be that the message is, “I won’t help you. Don’t talk to Me. “I tell you I do not know you … Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:27). Because of the wickedness of the people, the Lord told Jeremiah: “Do not pray for this people, or lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me, for I do not hear you” (Jer. 7:16).
There was once a Phoenician woman, a Canaanite, who had a daughter possessed by a devil, and she came to the Lord asking for help (see Matt. 15:23). She spoke – if you like, she prayed to Jesus – knowing “that He was God” Himself (AE 815:5). But He answered first with silence and then a rebuff. There was, therefore, something about her request or state that was not acceptable to Him and needed changing.
Whether by silence or by a rebuff of some sort, the Lord does answer! So, after praying, if we do not feel any response, any new understanding, any idea of hopefulness, any consolation, or any sense of joy, the Lord may still answer by bringing into our consciousness a recollection of that story about the Canaanite woman.
Another story we suddenly may find ourselves remembering is that of Saul coming to Samuel to complain about the Lord’s not answering his prayers! “Saul [said], ‘I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me any more'” (I Sam. 28:15).
How could the Lord answer or help Saul after he had not once but twice deliberately rejected the Lord’s instructions? On top of that he filled his heart with hate and vengeance against David. “If I cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).
The Lord’s apparent silence may bring to mind, by His secret touch, one of these stories in the Word, for, we are told, “no announcements or responses are ever made from heaven except through outmosts such as are in the sense of the letter of the Word” (TCR 222; AE 1089e; AC 6047:2, 8694:3).
Or the Lord may bring to mind another teaching from the Word that tells us about two conditions that are to be met before prayers can be answered. One condition has to do with our general attitude. It must have humility in it.
The other condition has to do with the subject of our prayer. It must show concern for one’s own regeneration and the happiness of others. If either condition is missing, then the prayer is “mere babbling” (AC 1094). It is seen in the spiritual world as a “bad-smelling odor” (TCR 108), or as a mere “vocal sound” (AC 739 1).
If we have not humbled ourselves, how can the Lord enter our hearts? We are then like Moses before he took off his shoes at the burning bush. We are like Nebuchadnezzar boasting about his accomplishments just before he became a wild animal. We are like Peter telling the Lord what to do, just before he, Peter, was called Satan!
If we do not pray for things that will help in our spiritual life or promote the Lord’s kingdom, how can He possibly respond? We are then like Saul asking the Lord to essentially maintain his reputation and glory. The Lord cannot and will not “heed prayers that are contrary to the end, which is salvation” (AC 8179:3).
If we find our prayers go unanswered, we are going to do one of two things. Either we will give up, at best just going through the motions, just because the Lord requires us to pray daily,” (AC 5135:3) “morning and evening, also at dinners and suppers,” (Charity 174; AR 159), or we will learn to be humble, to change our state, so that we may come into the temple of the Lord’s holiness to speak with Him.
Bringing us into a state of humility is, in fact, a primary purpose of prayer. It is, therefore, a wonderful way of helping us to be humble. “He who supplicates is in humiliation” (AC 7391). When there is humility, then prayer works, “the Divine can flow in and be perceived” (DLW 335).
“The Lord does indeed demand humiliation … in man [but] for his own sake; because when he is in this state the Lord can flow in with heavenly good” (AC 5957). The flower must turn itself to the sun! Like a flower that turns and offers itself to the sun, we also have something we can actually give to the Lord. When praying, we are offering Him our minds, our attention. He who is our spiritual sun will in turn bless us with the light and warmth of heaven.
Because of the wonderful response, sometimes incredible power we are able to receive from the Lord as a result of taking time to talk with Him, it should be no surprise to see hundreds of occasions when prayer is used in all three parts of the Word-prayers that are answered!
“Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech” (Gen. 20:17). “The people cried to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down” (Num. 11:2 . “And the people came to Moses, and said . . . ‘Pray to the Lord to take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.” (Num. 21:7). Hannah prayed to have a child. Her prayer was granted and Samuel was born. “And Samuel said, Gather all Israel at Mizpeh, and I will pray to the Lord for you” (1 Sam. 7:5). “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (I Sam. 12:23).
Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple (see I Kings 8). Elisha prayed many times. Jonah prayed to be released from the belly of the fish (see Jonah 2:1). Hezekiah took the letter of Sennacherib into the house of the Lord and prayed (II Kings 19:14). Daniel prayed three times a day (Dan. 6:10). Many of the psalms are prayers. “Hear my prayer, 0 Lord” (Psalm 4: 1). The Lord says in Isaiah as well as in three of the Gospels: “My house shall be a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7; Matt. 21:13).
In the New Testament it is often said that the Lord Himself prayed. “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). “He was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). And He taught them the model for any prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Then later He showed that they “always ought to pray” (Luke 18:1).
Pray about what?
“Jesus said . . . , ‘Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest'” (Luke 10:2). “He who knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, should pray that it may come” (AR 956).
“He who desires truth should pray that the Lord may come with light, and … he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without his own work” (AR 956). “Everyone who, while reading the Word, approaches the Lord alone and prays to Him is enlightened in the Word” (Life 2e; TCR 165).
“Show me Your ways, 0 Lord; teach me Your paths” (Psalm 25:4). “It is because prudence is from God and not from man that a Christian … prays that God will lead his thoughts … and deeds” (DP 191:2; SD 3527). “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O Lord, correct me” (Jer. 10:23, 24).
Pray for conjugial love, for it is given to “those who from youth have … asked the Lord for a legitimate and lovely partnership” (CL 49e).
In prayer we are to follow the Lord’s own example, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). We are to “fight against the falsities and evils which are … injected by the hells” (AC 8179:2). In doing this, “a man must act of himself but from the Lord’s power, which he must petition for” (Life 104e). “Every man is so constituted as to be able, by the Lord’s power, if he begs for it, to shun evils as of himself” (Life 31e). “In order to refrain from sins and shun and turn away from them, [a person] must pray to the Lord for help” (AE 803:2). “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
We are also to pray about people who upset us. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25; AE 325:8). Pray for others to be forgiven their transgressions as well as to receive spiritual food. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:11, 12).
Let prayer for others often be included in our petitions to the Lord. James wrote: “Is any among you sick? [Then] let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him … Pray for one another that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:15, 16). “The Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail'” (Luke 22:31, 32).
By praying for the spiritual welfare of others, we make it easier for the Lord to use our help. Also, our spheres are brought closer together so that we can receive greater influx from heaven. This is illustrated by a team of players backing each other, working together, so that their game is more effective and enjoyable.
Doesn’t the Lord know all this without my praying about it? What difference does it make for me to pray.? Here is the answer: “Man should first will, desire, and pray, and the Lord then answer, inform, and do; otherwise man does not receive anything Divine … The Lord gives them to ask, and what to ask; therefore the Lord knows it beforehand; but still the Lord wills that man should ask first, to the end that he may do it as from himself, and thus that it should be appropriated to him; otherwise, if the petition itself were not from the Lord, it would not be said in those places, that “they should receive whatsoever they asked” (AR 376).
Yes, we are to pray, “devoting much time to prayer” (NJHD 124) every day (see AC 5135:3, 8391). And we will be able to testify about wonderful results. “I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). Amen.
Lessons: I Kings 8:22-39; AE 1148:4
Presented in Bryn Athyn November 11, 1990
Apocalypse Explained 1148:4
Man is from creation in a state to know that evil is from hell, and that good is from the Lord, and to perceive these in himself as if they were from himself, and when he so perceives them, to cast the evil down to hell and to receive the good, with the acknowledgment that it is from the Lord. When he does these two things he does not appropriate evil to himself, and does not claim merit for the good. But I know that there are many who do not comprehend this, and who have no desire to comprehend it, but let them pray that the Lord may be with them continually, that He may lift up and turn His face to them, that He may teach, enlighten and lead them, since of themselves they can do nothing that is good, that He may grant to them to live; that the devil may not lead them astray and instill evils into their hearts, knowing that if they are not led by the Lord, the devil will lead them and breathe into them evils of every kind, as hatred, revenge, cunning, and deceit, as a serpent instills poison; for the devil is present, stirring up and continually accusing, and wheresoever he meets with a heart turned away from God, he enters in, dwells there, and draws the soul down to hell. [Let them pray:] “O Lord, deliver us.” All of this coincides with what has been said above, for hell is the devil. Moreover, this is an acknowledgment that man is led either by the Lord or by hell, thus that he is between the two.