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So many references are made to prayer in the Gospels that it is useful to collect some of them together and try to gain an idea of what was taught by Christ about the meaning of prayer and the conditions necessary for it to obtain any response. Prayer is directed to what is above a man—to what is at a higher level than himself. We have already seen that the language of parables, as used in the Gospels, conveys meaning from a higher to a lower level. Prayer is conveying meaning from a lower to a higher level. The one is heaven communicating with earth, and the other earth trying to communicate with heaven. And since we have also seen that there is a difficulty in the communicating of the higher with the lower, we shall not be surprised to find that there is a similar difficulty in the communicating of the lower with the higher. The two levels are not in contact.

Let us again remind ourselves that the central conception of Man in the Gospels is that he is an unfinished creation capable of reaching a higher level by a definite evolution which must begin by his own efforts, and that their entire teaching is about what must be done for this to be effected. In this light the Gospels are nothing but a series of instructions that concern a possible and definite pre−established psychological development that Man is capable of, and one that, if he begins to set himself to the task of its fulfilment, opens his eyes and makes him see in which direction his full meaning lies. And let us also remind ourselves that the attainment of this higher level possible for Man is called heaven or the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels and that it is within a man, as a possibility of his own inner evolution or re−birth of himself, and that Man at the level he is on, as an unawakened creature, an unfinished experiment, is called earth. These are the two levels, the higher and the lower, and some very great differences exist between them, as great as the differences between a seed and a flower. Thus communication between these two levels is difficult. The mission of Christ was to bridge, to connect, and to bring into correspondence in himself these two levels, the divine and human; and of this we will speak in another place. But it can be said here that unless this connection is made by a few at certain intervals in time, all communication with the higher fails and Man is left without any ideas or teachings that can lift him—that is, he is left to his instincts, his self−interests, his violence and his animal appetites, and so without any influences that can lift him beyond the level of barbarism.


IN view of the difficulty of communication between the lower and the higher level, it is possible to understand that direct contact with God is not easy, as religious people often believe. Religious people often think that they can come in contact with a higher level—that is, with God, just as they are. They do not realize that for this to be possible they must become different. Let us now look at some of the observations made about prayer in the Gospels in connection with the idea that persistence is necessary. One of Christ's disciples asks how to pray. He says: "Lord, teach us how to pray even as John taught also his disciples. " (There is, by the way, no record of how John taught his disciples to pray. ) Christ says in reply:

"When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation."(Luke xi, 2−4. )

Notice how Christ goes on. He says:

"Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee? I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. " (Luke xi, 5−8. )

Christ emphasizes that persistence is necessary and uses an illustration that seems to suggest that it is as if prayer is addressed to someone who hears but does not wish to be bothered and is forced to do something only if there is sufficient persistence; and Christ indicates that it is through shameless persistence that a response is obtained. The word translated as "importunity" means, literally, shameless impudence. The same idea, namely, that prayer is not easily answered, is expressed in another passage:

"And he spake a parable unto them that they ought always to pray and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming. " (Luke xviii, 1−5. )

A parallel is drawn between the widow who asks for justice from a judge who acts only because he is forced, in order to save himself trouble, and the man who prays to God. All this means that prayer is not easily answered. Barriers exist. Help is not easily obtained. Christ tells his disciples in many places to pray continually, but he does not tell them that prayer is easily answered. It is not an easy matter to obtain response from a higher level to requests coming from a lower level. Only persistence and intensity can cause the higher level to respond. The difficulty is shown as being like the difficulty of prevailing upon a man in bed to get up, or a worldly judge to render justice to a widow. Christ taught that in regard to prayer and getting help for it, matters are just as they are on earth, as when a man asks for help from people who are reluctant to give it. But in the case of prayer, it is not actually a question of reluctance, but a difficulty inherent in the nature of things. What is lower is not in contact with what is higher. Understand this point clearly: the lower is not in direct contact with the higher. God and Man are not on the same level. The whole conception of the invisible aspect of the Universe or spiritual world implicit in the teaching of the Gospels is that there are higher and lower levels distinct from one another and that it is arranged in an order of what is above and what is below—that is, in levels. The lower is not in direct touch with the higher, as the ground−floor of a house is not in direct touch with the top floor. And so, to reach what is above, many difficulties stand in the way, which makes it look as if there were reluctance on the part of the higher level to respond to the lower. It is not a question of reluctance, but it seems like it to the human mind and so is illustrated in such terms by Christ in the above comparisons, which show that great effort is necessary in order to obtain any response to prayer. It is as if a man who prayed in earnest had to throw something up to a certain height by an intensity of purpose before he could expect to make anyone hear or get any response, and, failing to do so, failing to make the request rightly, failing to throw it up to a high enough level, thought he was praying in vain, to someone who was reluctant to do anything, and so began to be faint−hearted. He must insist. A man's prayer, his aim, his request, must be persisted in; it must go on, in spite of not being answered. He must have shameless impudence. As Christ says, "he must pray continually and not faint". This expression "not faint" means in the original "not behave badly".

He must pray continually and not behave badly in regard to all the difficulties connected with praying.


from The New Man by Maurice Nicoll

Spiritual Teaching from the Christian Tradition

"O Thou Who hears the cries of the world, come to us."