I asked for strength
And God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom
And God gave me problems to solve
I asked for prosperity
And God gave me a brain and brawn to use
I asked for courage
And God gave me dangers to overcome
I asked for love
And God gave me people to help.
I asked for favors
And God gave me opportunities
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
And I would add:
I asked to know God
And God taught me how to meditate!
Paramhansa Yogananda, world teacher and author of the renowned classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, composed a book, Whispers from Eternity, filled with what he called “prayer-demands!” As Jesus taught, long ago, “Pray believing!” Calm confidence in the power of prayer; the love of God; and the worthiness of oneself and one’s need are all vital aspects of prayer.
Yet most people think of God only when a material need or crises occurs. “T’aint no atheists in fox holes” they say. Such prayers, however desperate, beggar the question of one’s being a beggar, an outsider, to the loving heart and omnipresence of God. Not surprisingly, such prayers are not very effective, though I suspect, in truth more effective than perhaps they “ought” to be!
An Irishman was once late for a job interview—a job he desperately needed in order to support his family. As he circled the parking lot in his car, anxious for a parking space, he resolved upon an ancient and time-honored solution: he prayed for help! “Dear God, I know I don’t go often to Sunday mass and I drink too much, but if You can find me a parking place right away, I WILL reform!” Suddenly to his happy amazement, a car backed out and a space opened up. He cried out in joy, “Oh never mind, Lord, I found one!”
I suspect that’s how a lot of desperate prayers go: into the dustbin of forgetfulness and ingratitude. As the poem above suggests, we get what we NEED, not what we WANT. And by need, I refer less to our material needs and more to the needs of our soul to grow in wisdom, compassion, and divine love.
The highest prayer, Yogananda taught, was to know God; to have devotion and pure faith; and to serve God in all people and circumstances. After that we can also pray for our material or emotional needs, or for healing for our self or others, but always subject to that result which provides the most effective route to spiritual awakening and knowledge of God (whether for us or others).
Swami Kriyananda tells the story how he had sudden kidney stone (or gall bladder) attack on a Sunday morning when he was to give the Service. He was in agony but he refused to pray for himself. Then as the hour came closer to the time of Service, he prayed to Divine Mother, “I can’t give the Service in this condition, so if you want me to give the Service you have to do something about this pain!” Almost before the words were finished, the pain suddenly ceased. So filled with bliss was he (and not merely from the cessation of pain but from the instant consolation of such a divine response and presence), that, ironically, though he conducted the Service, he couldn’t really give much of talk!
I cannot recommend highly enough the book of prayer-demands, Whispers from Eternity. A year or two ago, our weekly study groups at Ananda Seattle studied this book together. The inspiration was so great that we, too, could hardly say or add anything to the poems we read except to enter into them in inner silence.
Let us close with this excerpt from prayer demand number 19 from the edited version published by Crystal Clarity Publishers of Whispers from Eternity:
Prayer for Expanding Love from Myself to all my Brethren
O Divine Mother, teach me to use the gift of Thy love, which I feel in my heart, to love the members of my family more than myself. Bless me, that I may love my neighbors more than my family. Expand my heart’s feelings, that I love my country more than my neighbors, and my world and all my human brethren more than my country, neighbors, family and my own self.
Lastly, teach me to love Thee more than anything else, for it is only Thy love that enables me to love everything.
Blessings, and joy to you,