What is Prayer: Thought? Desire? Wish? Belief?

According to the WebBible Encyclopedia, “Prayer is conversation with God; the intercourse of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him. Prayer may be oral or mental, occasional or constant, ejaculatory or formal. It is a “beseeching the Lord” (Ex. 32:11); “pouring out the soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15); “praying and crying to heaven” (2 Chr. 32:20); “seeking unto God and making supplication” (Job 8:5); “drawing near to God” (Ps. 73:28); “bowing the knees” (Eph. 3:14).

We all pray. We grew up praying in church, at home, in the silence of our room, before acting on a challenging task, and in many other circumstances. Indeed, If one were to stop and think about it, one would recognize that our lives are replete with prayer in one form or another.


How many of you remember the prayer you made as a child when you did something that you knew was going to get you in trouble? It probably went something like this: “Dear God, please don’t let my parents find out about this. If you don’t let them find out, I promise that I will never do it again. In fact, I promise that I will do whatever it is I am supposed to do from this moment on. In my case, no matter how many times I pleaded and cried out with all the promises of the world, my parents still found out, giving way to my first lesson of the laws of the universe: cause and effect.

So what is Prayer? Emerson writes in his essay, “Pray Without Ceasing” : “It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray. We pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion…every desire of the human mind, is a prayer uttered to God and registered in Heaven.” (emphasis added)

So what is Prayer? Is it a wish? A thought? A desire? A belief? None of the above? All of the above?

Ernest Holmes writes, in Love and Law: “Prayer is nothing but mental attitude. It is a simple and direct, positive believing, mental attitude.” (Page 127) He further states in The Science of Mind Textbook: “it is a consciousness of one’s union with the whole.” (Page 151)


Recognition of our being in union with the whole of that greater consciousness can be a difficult task. After all most of us were brought up to believe that this consciousness (God) is a deity, separate and distinct from our lowly human selves. Indeed, we have been taught from the early days of existence that the only reason we are on this plane is to reach out our hands to the heavens in fear and awe, and to worship he who has created the heavens and the earth and the lowly creatures that inhabit it.

But at the same time we are taught that God is all there is. And if that is truly the case, does not that also mean that all we see around us, all that we are is in union with the all that is? This is the starting point to which Holmes and Emerson and all of the mystics point in their definition of prayer.

“Whoa now,” you might say. “Them’s some mighty big conclusions, and them conclusions are based on some mighty big assumptions. Them assumptions is based on a whole lot of statements from a few weirdos who spent most of their time in the woods staring at trees and water and such. How do we know what they claim is right? How do we know they’re not just full of hooey with all of their wishful thinking?”

Let’s look at it a little closer. Holmes says prayer involves a mental attitude and a belief in the union with a greater consciousness. So let’s look at attitude and belief.

Every Sunday, part of the ritual of one of the religious centers I attend is to say affirmations. Why? Does saying an affirmation multiple times really have any kind of effect?

Some years ago there was a psychologist named who conducted a study involving basketball players at a university. He chose three groups of students at random. None had ever practiced visualization. The first group practiced free throws every day for twenty days. The second and third groups made free throws on the first and twentieth day. The third group, in addition, spent 20 minutes every day visualizing free throws. If they “missed” they “practiced” getting the next shot right. On the 20th day Richardson measured the percentage of improvement in each group. The group that actually practiced free throws daily Improved by 24 percent. The second group did not improve at all. The third group improved by 23 percent.

In effect, by visualizing success, the third group developed an attitude of being able. They believed they would make the free throws and the results were commensurate with their beliefs. They had an attitude for success.

In this philosophy that I study we state our belief in a higher power. We state our belief that there is a power and a presence for good in the Universe and that we can use it. We make declarations of knowing, holding our good high in our minds and in gratitude for the results that we know will follow. We do this because we know that there is a connection, a union, if you will, between ourselves and that greater Consciousness. We experience this connection through our spiritual practice of meditation and affirmation. We hold ourselves in conscious awareness of who and what we are. We allow ourselves to step higher in that consciousness each day, declaring ourselves to be whole, perfect and complete by virtue of our ability to direct our thoughts and our lives through affirmative prayer.

So What is Prayer? I submit that Prayer is a belief, it is a belief in being a part of something greater. It is a knowing that there is a power and presence for good in the universe and that we can use it. It is a knowing that when we ask, when we focus on our good, when we believe that we have a say in the manifestation of our thoughts and desires, when we hold up our hands in an unwavering belief that there is only one, when we declare that we are part of that one and that our declaration of that belief has power, we begin to understand, and to live in gratitude. And when we live in gratitude, we become aware of the power of our beliefs, in the power of our words and in the power of that which we call prayer.