Praying Effectively

READINGS

Psalm 19
1 THE heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. 2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. 4 Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun, 5 Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoices like a strong man to run its race. 6 Its rising is from one end of heaven, And its circuit to the other end; And there is nothing hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.

Matt 6:31-34
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Arcana Coelestia 2535
Regarded in itself prayer is talking to God and at the same time some inner view of the things that are being prayed for. Answering to this there is something akin to an influx into the perception or thought of the person’s mind, which effects a certain opening of his internals towards God. But the experience varies according to the person’s state and according to the essence of whatever he is praying for. If his prayer springs from love and faith, and if they are wholly celestial and spiritual things about which and for which he prays, something like a revelation is present within his prayer which manifests itself in the affection of the one praying in the form of hope, comfort, or some inward joy. This is why ‘praying’ in the internal sense means to be revealed.

SERMON

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight O LORD… Ps 19:14.

This verse from the 19th Psalm captures the heartfelt cry of every person who desires to be closer to the Lord. It is clear from the Word that if the heart is not right then the words of our mouth, no matter how right they may appear, will be empty and ineffectual so far as the Lord is concerned. Our subject today is effective prayer. The Lord through His Word as understood in the light of the Heavenly Doctrine shows us very clearly that there are prayers which the Lord hears and answers and that there are prayers that are not heard, or answered, because they are misplaced, so that, if Lord were to grant them, they would have a detrimental effect so far as our salvation was concerned. We see then that knowing how to pray, as well as knowing what makes a prayer an effective prayer, is an important subject for the spiritual life if are to attend to what we need to in our lives to ensure that when we pray our prayer is aligned with the Lord’s will for our life and that we are not working against Him or His purposes.

When we get that our minds are multileveled having an external or natural level and above this an internal or spiritual level, and that these levels are so distinct so as to have a life distinctly their own we can begin to appreciate that each level is concerned with very different things. The natural mind or natural man within us is only concerned with those things that relate to the body. It will give lip service to spiritual things if it can see some advantage to itself in doing so. So for the natural man who has a natural or historical faith, and who has little idea of what constitutes a genuine spiritual faith, prayer is seen solely in terms of seeking God to supply his natural or bodily needs, or to bring relief to the mental difficulties that he suffers and attributes to the external circumstances of his life in the external world.

Every human being born in the world is born natural and comes to have their sense of self immersed in sensual and bodily things that belong to the loves of self and the world. If people are born into a religious tradition or embrace a spiritual orientation at some later point in their life then it is highly likely that their spiritual activities will begin centered on, and defined by, natural needs and desires. But if the search for what is spiritual develops into something genuine then there comes a time when natural things have to be put aside if things of a genuine spiritual nature are to be strengthened and become the true basis for their life. This is captured in the words that Paul the Apostle spoke to the Corinthians when he said…

1Co 13:11
11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

In the Heavenly Doctrine the Lord makes it clear that effective prayer is not prayer focused on external things or external life matters but that for prayer to be effective must be focused on celestial and spiritual things or those things belonging to the internal or spiritual man. So it is that we read the Lord’s admonishment in the Gospel of Matthew…

Matt 6:31-33
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

If we want to cultivate a spiritual life then we need to work to have our sense of self shifted from its identification with affections and thoughts tied to the things of the body onto the goods and truths of the Word that have to do with cultivating the life of heaven within our minds. This takes effort because our sense of self in the process of becoming spiritual straddles two worlds, and is most strongly identified with external things. The state of spiritual life that this scripture from Matthew’s Gospel addresses is one where a person is beginning to realise that a spiritual life, defined in terms of natural needs and desires, is not really a spiritual life at all but that to live a spiritual life requires a whole new way of looking at things. Of course while we are in the natural world we will always have to attend to natural needs and responsibilities so it’s not about divesting ourselves of these or withdrawing from external life. What it is about is engaging in life without having external things dominating our life to the point were spiritual concerns get very little air time. It is helpful to remind ourselves that every one of us is destined to pass out of this world. When we do we will all find ourselves in the spiritual world where the life we have cultivated in the world will determine our eternal state. If we have cultivated a life in the world that finds its delight in bodily or external pleasures then that is the life we come into as our own in the next life, for that life is simply a continuation of the life we have developed while living in the world. Similarly, if we have looked to develop a spiritual life based on the practise of the Word, so that a love for the things the Word is developed within us, then we have in us that basis for receiving what is heavenly when the body is put off. Therefore the Lord says, “seek first the kingdom of God (i.e. make internal things a priority) and His righteousness, and these things will be added to you.”

This brings us a little closer to understanding what’s required for a prayer to be effective. Prayer we are told is “talking to God and at the same time (note that; ‘at the same time’) having some inner view of the things that are being prayed for.” (AC 2535). To pray effectively we need to bring an inner view or perspective to our requests. If we can learn to do this then we will learn to discern whether what we seek is something the Lord is able to grant or not and so have a clearer idea of what it is we should ask for and what needs to be set aside. This kind of discernment enables us to distinguish between what springs from love and faith as opposed to what springs from the loves of self and the world. The teaching in AC 2535 says that this kind of prayer facilitates “something akin to an influx into the perception or thought of a person’s mind, which brings about a certain opening of their internals to God.” In other words, when our focus and priority in prayer is on spiritual or internal things, what this teaching describes as “wholly celestial and spiritual things”, then our internals are opened up to receive what is higher into our awareness. This is because the life of heaven flows into the celestial and spiritual things that reside in a person’s mind. The degree to which these things are present to the awareness of a person is to the degree that they have been made one with their life, or to the degree that they have through practise cultivated an affection for them. Nothing can be given to a person without them having developed an affection for them. This is why the Lord says that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”.

So the question now is, what are these “celestial and spiritual things” that receives this influx and manifests as hope, comfort, or inward joy when in prayer? The Lord answers this directly in…

AC 2953 …it is the ideas comprising man’s thought that serve as the objects which angels need for spiritual thoughts, especially those ideas comprising his thought which primarily are obtained from the Word. For all things described in the Word are representative, and every single expression carries a spiritual meaning. And angels are instantly aware that those images come from the Word, because spiritual and celestial things in the Word follow one after another in a perfectly ordered sequence, holding that which is holy within them by virtue of the inmost sense which has to do solely with the Lord and His kingdom.

Celestial and spiritual things are to be found in the Word or Sacred Scripture which in every part contains what “has to do solely with the Lord and His kingdom.” So if we are to seek the kingdom of God we need look no further than the Word. The letter of the Word is the form that the loves of heaven take in the natural world. We need to be careful that we don’t separate the loves of heaven (love to the Lord and towards the neighbour) from the means that the Lord has provided to make them manifest as a presence in the human mind, i.e. His Word or the texts of Divine revelation. Further to this we have this teaching from the Lord…

AC 8862.2 …the Word, sent by the Divine Himself, has passed from Him through heaven to earth. When it reaches earth it is truth made suitable for the human race, which lives amid earthly and bodily things. But as it exists in heaven it is made suitable for angels, who live amid spiritual and celestial things. Because it is like this the Word is in itself holy; for it contains what is heavenly and Divine within it.

Truly effective prayer is prayer that is aligned with what the Lord is seeks to accomplish rather than our own ideas about what He seeks to accomplish. Spiritual thought from truths from the Word enables us to come to see the difference. Everything that flows forth from the Lord is focused on one end, the salvation of the human race. The supreme means for achieving this end is the Word which, because it contains all things celestial and spiritual, even the Divine Itself, is heaven itself, so that if heaven is to be in anyone it can only be in them to the degree that the truths of the Word are loved and so have been made one with their life through its practice. True prayer, or prayer that is heard by the Lord, and so is effective, must be a product of the Word working in in our life…

AE 248.4 They…err who believe that they can make themselves receptive of influx by prayers, adorations, and the externals of worship; these things are of no effect unless man abstains from thinking and doing evils, and by truths from the Word leads himself, as of himself, to things good in respect to life; when man does this he makes himself receptive, and then his prayers, adorations, and externals of worship avail before the Lord.

Ps 19:7-14
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. 13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.

Amen

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