What Happens When We Pray?
We are told to abide in the Lord and that He abides in us. Yes, it is the best place. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
We call it heaven, and that is the purpose of human life – to become angels in heaven. In order to get there we do different things in our spiritual life. One thing is to pray. Prayer is not an unknown entity. We all pray, but with some reflection on the subject we may be more inspired and therefore come closer to the Lord and so become more angelic, and better people.
First of all, remember that something happens when we pray: Regarded in itself prayer is “talking to God and at the same time an inner view of the things that are being prayed for. … (There is) a certain opening of man’s internals toward God.” (Arcana Coelestia 2535)
And therefore Jesus says: “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22) Something does happen when we pray. That is the first thing to remember. And the other is that the greatest inspiration for prayer comes from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The message today is that something happens when we pray, and that our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest example for us. The Lord prayed – and since we should follow His example, we should also pray.
The Lord Prayed
The Lord Himself prayed for help in His own life: “He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23; cf. Luke 6:12) This happened many, many times. According to the Writings it happened more or less constantly, not necessarily on a mountain in a physical sense, but constantly.
Here is another example: “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there’.” (Matthew 26:36) The disciples fell asleep. Jesus Christ in His Human was all alone in His battle against the hells out in the spiritual wilderness.
When the Lord prayed something happened. He received from within the guidance He needed. “The Lord’s praying was nothing else than an internal speaking to the Divine … There was Revelation when He prayed.” (Arcana Coelestia 2535) This is clear from what it says about His baptism: “Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended.” (Luke 3:21) It is a powerful image. He prayed, and the heaven was opened. Something happens during prayer.
We Shall Pray
The Lord prayed, and we shall pray. “No one can be conjoined with the Lord … except by becoming like [Him] or making one with Him.” (Arcana Coelestia 1038:1) We may be tempted to think that we do not have to pray other than in formal settings. The Lord knows everything. He knows who we are, what our spiritual state is, what the future will be.
This is all true, but it is not an argument for not praying, because by praying we put ourselves in a better position for the Lord to work with us. We open ourselves to Him and to His guidance in a stronger way. “To abide in Him, and He in us.” By praying we make ourselves ready to receive.
This is what it says in the Heavenly Doctrine: “The Lord gives (a man) to ask, and what to ask, and the Lord therefore knows this beforehand, but still the Lord wills that a man should ask first to the end that it may be as from himself, and thus be appropriated to him.” (Apocalypse Revealed 376)
This necessary reciprocity is expressed by the Lord in these very inviting and encouraging words from Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Now, having seen what kind of prayers the Lord used, we can apply those four categories of prayers to our own spiritual needs.
Spiritual life has to do with one thing only – to be reborn, to be born into new life from the Lord.
- In the process we need help to fight our own selfishness.
- We need to ask forgiveness for the unrighteous things we have done.
- Once the battle is over, we wish to express our thanks to the Lord.
- And the more we abide in the Lord and He in us, the more we wish this transformation to be made possible for other people, and therefore we pray for others.
Let us now reflect on some of these categories in our own prayer life. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray for help: “Do not lead us into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13) That is what it is all about – to get away from hellish influences. Sometimes it is extremely hard. The hells hold us firmly in their grip. That is why the Lord said:
“This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29; cf. Matthew 17:16-21) “Fasting” stands for an inner fight against strong wishes to fall into a bad behavior. Praying is a way of letting the Lord come closer in our struggle. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
We can and should pray for others, even for those we do not know personally. The Lord did: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20) That is talking about people in the future.
We may pray for the growth of the Church, for people we do not yet know by name: “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)
We may not know exactly what happens and how it happens, but something happens when we pray for others. The Lord did pray for others. We are nothing in and of ourselves, so it is from Him that we pray.
It is from what is from Him in us that we pray for what will be from Him in others. Let us repeat this: It is from what is from Him in us that we pray for what will be from Him in others.
Things Happen When We Pray:
So, things happen when we pray. Again, we can use the example of the Lord Himself. Up on the mountain with Peter, James and John we read this: “And as He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” (Luke 9:29)
“There was revelation when He prayed.” (Arcana Coelestia 2535)
Prayer is about being in tune with the Divine. When we are in the Lord, something happens when we pray. From the Lord we pray to the Lord. Then we have the right disposition:
“When a person is engaged in true worship the Lord flows into the forms of good and the truths present with the person, raises them toward Himself, and raises the person with them.” (Arcana Coelestia 10229)
That is what is meant – among other things – with these words from chapter 15 in John’s Gospel:
“He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5,7)
Rev. Göran R. Appelgren is pastor of the Stockholm Society in Sweden and Regional Pastor for Europe and Ukraine. He has previously served as a resident minister in England and visiting minister in Denmark.
Reprinted from New Church Life magazine