The Art of Prayer


Midweek Faith Lift

The Art of Prayer

Rev. Deb Hill-Davis

August 7, 2019


Dear God, please let me get this talk done before they start nailing the shingles onto our roof.  PLEASE!!!  That was my prayer on Tuesday as the roofers began removing the old shingles!  Is that an artful prayer?  It was certainly a heartfelt, beseeching prayer, perhaps an imploring or begging prayer.  Artful? Perhaps it was! We’ll see how this talk turns out!  I have certainly prayed a lot of beseeching prayers in my life. Prayers for my mother to stop drinking, prayers for my parents to not divorce, prayers for my brother-in-law Brent in his battle with cancer, prayers for the traffic light to change, for the train to get past so I can get to church on time.  All kinds of prayers!  None of those things worked out the way I was praying about them, but that does not mean my prayers went unanswered.


One of the powerful messages from Jesus about prayer is to pray in secret, quietly within your own heart.  He gives very specific instructions about prayer and almsgiving, which was and is a part of prayer.  It is in Matthew 6:1-6


Matthew 6:1-6  

Concerning Almsgiving

6 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


Concerning Prayer

5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (NRSV)




So what is this all about?  The most significant thing about prayer that Jesus is teaching us is twofold:  it is NOT a transaction and DON”T confuse form with substance.  The clearest way to think about this is that when we pray, we let go of attachment to the outcome.  We ask, we affirm and allow the power and Presence of God to move in and through us.  When Jesus says our reward will happen in secret, he is saying that it is an inside job, within us.  Prayer does not change the outer, it changes us from within and we will experience that reward within us by experiencing a change in consciousness.  There really is no other way.  It is through the change in our consciousness that what is on the outer begins to change. 


Prayer is to intentionally work with, open up to and allow the energy of a non-material force to allow that energy, that God energy, to be made visible.  Butterworth uses the analogy of the wind; you cannot see the wind, but you feel the effects of the wind as it moves around you. He says,  “You cannot see God, but you see the life of God in that which is living.  You see the love of God in one who is loving.” P. 108, Discover the Power. Prayer is of the heart and what changes is within our own hearts, not the hearts of the other.


When we pray, we do it in all kinds of ways.  Jesus in this passage was telling us not to confuse form with substance.  When he refers to “hypocrites” he is not saying they are insincere.  What this means for his time, in first century Palestine, is that the hypocrite is like an actor, going through the motions or saying their lines in public for all to hear.  The reward is the audience who listens and appreciates the piety of their performance.  Jesus is telling us it is not about how you say it, the performance of prayer.  It is about consciousness and deliberately stepping into that non-material energy or substance of God energy, which is in us, and all around us.


When the chaplains went through the training weekend, they did learn a prayer format to use when praying with others.  It is to invoke the name of God that the person prefers, the place of God, the prayer need or request and then to say thank you, amen.  Why this format?  Because it establishes the immediate connection to Source, to a power greater than we are and then acknowledges the presence of that power. And that is the purpose of prayer, to establish us in the energy of God; calling to mind that we are that energy of God in material form.  And then we ask, we state the desires of our heart and give thanks.  That in essence is the simplest form of prayer.  The most powerful three word prayers are “God help me” and “Thank You, God!”


Butterworth quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance” which describes the idea of prayer.  Emmerson says, “Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious.  Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view.”  It is no wonder then that Jesus is so often described as going to the mountaintop to pray.  When he prays, when we pray, we desire to see things from a much broader point of view, so that we can be present to the “facts of life” from a place of love and compassion, feeling with and loving all that is there in each prayer need that is expressed.


Perhaps when we are feeling that God does not hear our prayers or that the answer has not come, or the answer is not one that we like, we begin to feel that prayer does not “work.”  We are told by Jesus to ask and it will be given as it says in Matthew:


Matthew 7:7-8

Ask, Search, Knock

7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (NRSV)


What is being promised here is that something will change, something will shift, it just may not be how we wanted the shift to happen, or the door we wanted to open.  So in prayer, we ask for the highest and best good to unfold for all, and then we watch and wait to see how that is meant to be.  Our prayer is that when the opportunity is there for us to receive, to act in alignment with that “highest point of view” that we do so with all haste, energy and integrity.  When we ask in this way, we are opening to the transforming power of prayer to change us at depth.  That is how prayer “works.”


So often we pray when we want things to change, but we don’t know what to do.  Butterworth says that we don’t have to ask God for Wisdom, for God is Wisdom.  We just have to remember that our mind is an “activity in the Infinite Mind of God.” When we do that in prayer, we activate the wisdom that is already present!  When there is a break in that flow, it is because of us, not God.  Hmm, then the art of prayer is learning how to stay in that flow, how to activate that flow within us.


What is that flow?  We talk about that a lot in Unity: the unending, unwavering, positive flow of the energy of Spirit, of God that is in us, between us, and all around us.  We are part of that energy flow of the Creation that is the very life of God, the very air that we breathe.  And even when we forget to remember, all the energy of God is available to us at all times, just like the air.  That energy is what allows us to see the circumstances we are praying about from all points of view.  When we can see that, we begin to make changes in how we show up.  We can begin to ask what is needed for all to work or live together more comfortably.  We make real the “highest and best” for all and we can be very creative in how that comes about.


So how does this show up in “real life?”  Well, that is going to be different for each one of us.  What I have experienced is that prayer is often answered long after the request is made.  I prayed as a teenager for my mom to stop drinking.  She started after my parents divorced and she did not stop.  The real answer to that prayer came after I went through divorce and despite all the hurt, pain and grief of it, I did NOT start drinking.  Instead I found Unity and 12-step ACA recovery.  Prayers are answered in the fullness of time and we cannot always know what the fullness of time will look like or what it will bring.  We can only seek to understand the desires of my heart and ask according to my heartfelt desires.


Prayers can be very short and very heartfelt.  One of my reminders to pray is ASAP:  Always Say A Prayer….As Soon As Possible….Always Say A Prayer!

Over time, prayer is not something that you do, it is how you are, it is a way of being.  “God is solving this, Spirit speak through me, love is present here are three of my favorite mantra type prayers that connect me to Spirit and keep me connected.  “Love is present”  here is my favorite I-35 prayer….so that I stay in a loving presence! And one of my favorite “formal prayers” is the Serenity Prayer, which reminds me that prayer is to affirm the activity of God in all circumstances.  Would you say it with me:


The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.



And, my prayer was answered on Tuesday as I did get the talk written before the worst noise of the nail hammering on the roof started!  Thank you, God!


Blessings on the Path,

Rev. Deb