The inner voice is something which cannot be described in words. But sometimes we have a positive feeling that something in us prompts us to do a certain thing. The time when I learnt to recognise this voice was, I may say, the time when I started praying regularly. ― Mahatma Gandhi
Prayer is something that most of us associate with religion. What do you think of when you hear the word “prayer”?
I know that when I hear the word “prayer” it instantly takes me back to the bigoted and dogmatic teachings of my childhood. I remember sitting in the pew for years upon years listening to the empty, dull and formulaic repetitions of the preachers. Sitting there silently, the lack of zest, depth and genuine feeling of these “holy invocations” made my skin crawl.
I couldn’t understand why talking to God was so openly pious, but inwardly hollow. Being a highly sensitive child since birth, I never once felt the presence of something divine or transcendental among this congregation’s midst in my entire 19 years there. This left me feeling divided, confused and lonely for many years.
For others, prayer is linked with a chintzy, cute and immature form of spirituality. I’m talking about that muffin-baking, holier-than-thou, goodly-housewife-born-again-Christian kinda vibe. You might also associate it with people like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons and his progeny, or those squeaky clean Jehovah Witnesses that pay you a visit every now and then.
And still, for some of you guys who don’t come from a Western context, prayer might be associated with Salat (Muslim ritualistic prayer), or even the traditional honor of gods and goddesses.
Whatever background you come from, it is likely that you need to detox your thoughts, associations and beliefs about prayer. Without being open to change your definition of prayer, you will continue to perceive it through the lens of your religious, cultural or societal conditioning. This isn’t a good thing! Especially if your perceptions are polluted.
For that reason, this article is an invitation to see prayer in a different light, untainted by its somber past. I would love for you to actively incorporate the power of prayer into your daily life and witness just how life-changing it is. All you need is an open and willing heart.
Why the Power of Prayer is so Undervalued
Of all the spiritual gifts and paths out there, prayer is probably one of the most — if not THE MOST — undervalued. In fact, I will go so far as to say that it’s rarely even written about in the self-help field. And I read through a lot of self-help material out there.
I mean, how many times have you read about prayer on your favorite websites or internet hangouts? Probably not too much. At least not on the ones to do with Christianity or other religions.
Prayer is a black sheep in the spiritual community. If it’s not associated with bible-bashing and religious extremism, it’s associated with childish new age spirituality. So you see, prayer always seems to get a bad rap. How many sincere and mature pieces have you read about it?
But I think one of the main aversions we have to prayer is our egotism. After all, we are the “do-it-yourself” society. We currently value self-sufficiency, strength and power over all else. For this reason prayer can be perceived as somewhat “weak” and self-effacing to the modern mind.
Common misconceptions about prayer include:
- The idea that it makes you a failure (because you have to ask for help)
- The belief that you’re not worthy of help in the first place
- The belief that God/the highest good in life is a spiteful, ruthless and fearsome force, which makes prayer dangerous
- And of course, damaging associations with prayer and its murky past
In reality, prayer is often the last thing we resort to when in a crisis. Only after we have dried out our last resources do we think of praying.
The truth is that our lives would change drastically if prayer was the FIRST thing we turned to in a time of need, or even in a moment of gratitude. After all, prayer is a direct bridge to the Divine.
Prayer is also not a “passive” thing, as is so commonly believed. I held this very belief for a long time. I always thought that saying a few words didn’t really change anything. Really, the very act of prayer itself seemed pointless to me, particularly after I left fundamentalist religion. Because of that I shut myself off to it for a long time.
But this belief about the power of prayer could not be further from the truth. Prayer is actually one of the most active spiritual tools out there. As author Dostoyevsky once wrote, “be not forgetful of prayer … prayer is an education.” In other words, not only does prayer open us up to higher guidance, it actually helps us to be receptive to the lessons we most need to learn.
Gifts of Prayer
There are so many benefits of prayer that I say at least one prayer daily, but often up to three or four. I have found it to be such an energetic, influential force of change, that I can’t do without it.
Here are some common gifts of prayer to expect if you incorporate this practice in your life. Some of these benefits are even scientifically backed:
- Increases receptivity and openness to life
- Improves self-confidence
- Enhanced feelings of safety and security
- Improved relationships with others
- More mindfulness
- More synchronicity
- More unexpected gifts
- More gratitude
- More forgiveness and self-forgiveness
- More connection with the Divine
- Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
- Increases trust in self and life
- Induces transcendental experiences of oneness, wholeness and unity
The power of prayer is immense. It can literally transform every dimension of your life.
How to Benefit From the Power of Prayer
Before you attempt prayer, there are a few handy things you should know that will help you benefit from it the most:
1. Be willing to surrender your previous ideas about prayer
As I mentioned above, you might need to go on a “detox” of your perceptions towards prayer. This might include deeply examining how you feel about prayer, and why. For me, this involved sitting down and thinking about my many mistaken beliefs. For you, this detoxing process might also involve introspection, or another tool such as journaling or meditation.
You will know when you are ready to pray when the very thought of “prayer” no longer makes you internally cringe.
2. Choose another name for “God”
You don’t need to be religious to pray, and you also don’t need to believe in the “man above.” For prayer to be powerful, you need to think about what the highest possible good looks and feels like to you. Choose a name to replace the word “God” that feels comfortable and meaningful to you. Examples include Source, Consciousness, Love, Beloved, Divine, Goddess, Shiva, Allah, etc.
3. Pray for what you need, but also what you’re thankful for
God isn’t a pimp. He/She/It doesn’t give you things because you are His/Hers/Its servant. This is what many of the world’s major religions would have us believe.
Surrender the idea that God is anything other than a universal source of complete unconditional love. Let go of the idea that God is there to punish, control or condemn you. The true “sin” is not in denying the existence of God, the true “sin” is believing that God is even capable of hurting you in the first place.
When you are praying to God, you are praying to that boundless, egoless source of love that is your true nature. This divine source of purity and peace wants the very best for you. Prayer is a way of communing with this divine source. Prayer is a way of allowing the Beloved to fulfill its ultimate desire: for you to be happy, whole and at peace.
Thanking God/Love/Divine will also increase your gratitude for life tenfold. The more you find to be thankful for, the happier you will feel, and the happier you feel, the more you are thankful for. It’s a beautiful cycle!
You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
4. Allow your prayer to come from the heart
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice: pray from the heart. If you don’t, if you repeat by rote old verses, if you say the same thing over and over again, your prayers will feel dead. Your connection to the Divine will perish (at least consciously).
Instead, when you pray, pray from the soul. You don’t need to speak out loud. In fact, my most heartfelt prayers are said silently, and so can yours.
Making up your prayers as you go is also a much more authentic way to pray. However, if you find a prayer written by someone else that speaks to your heart, by all means, use it. There are no rules here. God/Divinity doesn’t care what you say, but how you say it, or what emotional sincerity you put into it.
Here is a sample prayer:
Dear Beloved, all things in my life are sourced from you. Every blessing I have is because of you. My breath is yours, my mind is yours, my heart is yours, my body is yours, my soul is yours, my spirit is yours. I am yours, and you are mine. Let me embody you in my daily life. Let my life become an expression of your radiance and purity. Help me to surrender what no longer serves me. Help me to know what questions to ask and places to look when I am stuck. I give my trust to you unconditionally. I love you. Amen.
At heart, I am a mystic. So all of my prayers are mystical and have an ecstatic quality. You might have another heart: the heart of a musician, artist, architect or philosopher. Let your prayers embody whatever comes the most naturally to you.
Reflect on the Power of Prayer
In order for you to continue praying, it is important that you reflect on the power of prayer in your life. How has it helped you in times of need or want, even subtly? How has it filled you with more goodness? What changes has prayer brought to your life? The more you reflect on prayer, the more you will realize what an immense force of good it is.
So tell me, what is your relationship with prayer? Has it been tainted with your religious or cultural context? And if you regularly pray, how has the power of prayer transformed your life?