In the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons, Paramahansa Yogananda has given step-by-step instructions for realizing God’s indwelling presence through scientific methods of concentration and meditation. And it was his great desire to see those who were practicing such methods serve others from their own expanding awareness of the Divine Presence in all — from actual realization of the world as one family.
The effectiveness of the Worldwide Prayer Circle depends not only on the wholehearted participation of as many sympathetic souls as possible, but also on the depth of communion attained by the individual members of the Prayer Circle. For prayer to bring God’s response, it is essential to know how to pray.
Here are some key points to be remembered for effective prayer:
Successful prayer depends to a great extent on the ability to concentrate — the ability to free the mind from distractions and to place it one-pointedly on whatever we wish. Just as the scattered rays of the sun may be converged through use of a magnifying glass to create intense burning power, so the subtle yet powerful energy latent in thoughts, feelings, and spoken words may be gathered into all powerful prayer through a definite method of concentration. Vast reservoirs of mental power may be tapped through concentration — power that can be used in any outward endeavor, or inwardly to gain experience of our immutable kinship with God.
Importance of Meditation for Effective Prayer
Meditation is concentration used to know God. Paramahansa Yogananda taught that before praying it is good to meditate, to gain awareness that we are made “in the image of God.” Concentration and meditation techniques such as those taught in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons interiorize the mind, revealing the divine Spirit within. Concentration on that inner holy Presence leads to direct perception of our true Self, or soul, ever one with God. “God does not wish us to pray like beggars,” Paramahansaji said, “wheedling Him to give us what we want. Like any other loving father, He delights in fulfilling our worthy wishes. Therefore, first establish your identity with Him through meditation. Then you may ask what you need of your Father with a child’s loving expectation, knowing that your request will be granted.”
The Power of Will
Will power is an essential element in prayer. “Continuous, calm, powerful use of the will shakes the forces of creation and brings a response from the Infinite,” Paramahansaji said. “When you persist, refusing to accept failure, the object of will must materialize. When you continuously work that will through your thoughts and activities, what you are wishing for has to come about. Even though there is nothing in the world to conform to your wish, when your will persists, the desired result will somehow manifest. In that kind of will lies God’s answer; because will comes from God, and continuous will is divine will.”
In prayer it is necessary to distinguish between a passive attitude that God will do everything, and the other extreme of relying only on our own efforts. “A balance should be struck between the medieval idea of wholly depending on God and the modern way of sole reliance on the ego,” Paramahansa Yogananda explained.
When Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done,” before undergoing the trial of crucifixion, he was not denying his own will. It took complete mastery of will to surrender to God’s divine plan for his life. Few people have developed their will power to that extent. But God expects us as His children to exercise His gifts of reason, will, and feeling to the best of our ability in every endeavor. While utilizing all means at our disposal to achieve success, we should simultaneously seek guidance from the Divine Presence within. This balanced attitude leads to poise, understanding, harmonization of our human and divine faculties, and attunement of our human will with the will of God.
Devotion, Love for God
Prayer imbued with devotion is the most effective prayer. Devotion, love for God, is the magnetic attraction of the heart that God cannot resist. Paramahansa Yogananda said: “The Searcher of Hearts wants only your sincere love. He is like a little child: someone may offer Him his whole wealth and He doesn’t want it; and another cries to Him, ‘O Lord, I love You!’ and into that devotee’s heart He comes running.”
Knowing all things before we ask, God is more interested in our love than in long-winded prayers. John Bunyan said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” Mechanical prayer, devoid of attention and feeling, is like absentmindedly offering wilted flowers to the Lord — an offering not likely to get much response! But if we call again and again to God, with devotion, concentration, and will power, we will come to know beyond doubt that our prayers are heard and answered by that Divine One whose power and loving concern for us is absolute and unlimited.