(Adapted from a presentation given at the 2nd Latin-American Conference, São Paulo, Brazil, on November 2018)
To start the analysis of this subject and to understand more clearly the function of prayer in the strengthening of our faith by making it experiential, living, and growing faith, let’s start by seeing what faith actually is.
Belief has attained the level of faith when it motivates life and shapes the mode of living. The acceptance of a teaching as true is not faith; that is mere belief. Neither is certainty nor conviction faith. A state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience. One believes truth, admires beauty, and reverences goodness, but does not worship them; such an attitude of saving faith is centered on God alone, who is all of these personified and infinitely more. [Paper 101:8.1, page 1114.5]
According to this quote, a belief in divine teaching, even a belief in The Urantia Book, unless it gradually becomes a living reality in ourselves, is not faith. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience [101:8.1, 1114.5], and this experience has its origin in the spiritual presences that guide us.
Let us consider how we can progress from a mere intellectual belief in God and the divine teaching delivered to us by his Sons, to the application of these teachings in our lives. In my view, to attain such progress, it is essential to make a sincere consecration to seek divine realities and spiritual and eternal objectives. This consecration enables us to make the decisions and carry out the actions that realize our eternal destiny. The revelator in The Urantia Book says:
Convictions about God may be arrived at through wise reasoning, but the individual becomes God-knowing only by faith, through personal experience. In much that pertains to life, probability must be reckoned with, but when contacting with cosmic reality, certainty may be experienced when such meanings and values are approached by living faith. [Paper 102:6.5, page 1124.7]
What is the personal experience that allows us to know God? We know God through living faith which grows through our personal experience with him. Knowing God nourishes and strengthens our faith, which is part of the divine and transforming gift that constitutes the reality of our God-consciousness. The question that arises now is: How can we carry out this experience in our lives? Let’s look at what The Urantia Book says about personal experience:
When man decides, and when he consummates this decision in action, man experiences, and the meanings and the values of this experience are forever a part of his eternal character on all levels, from the finite to the final. Cosmically moral and divinely spiritual character represents the creature’s capital accumulation of personal decisions which have been illuminated by sincere worship, glorified by intelligent love, and consummated in brotherly service. [Paper 117:5.13, page 1287.4]
The decisions that have been illuminated by sincere worship, glorified by intelligent love, and consummated in brotherly service are of high moral value because they are steadfast, persistent and sincere. Their purpose is to do the will of God—doing the highest possible good, and are based on a reasoned knowledge of truth, augmented by wisdom and sanctioned by our religious faith. These are the decisions and actions that have survival meaning and value and which will be a part of our eternal character because they are motivated by the saving faith of those who love and worship God, who love and serve their siblings unselfishly. Said Jesus:
“…Even this saving faith you have not of yourselves; it also is the gift of God. And if you are the children of this living faith, you are no longer the bondslaves of self but rather the triumphant masters of yourselves, the liberated sons of God.” [Paper 143:2.7, page 1610.2]
“…This survival faith is a living faith, and it increasingly manifests the fruits of that divine spirit which first inspired it in the human heart. That you have once accepted sonship in the heavenly kingdom will not save you in the face of the knowing and persistent rejection of those truths which have to do with the progressive spiritual fruit-bearing of the sons of God in the flesh.” [Paper 176:3.3, page 1916.3]
This living and growing faith is a gift from God that dominates our mode of living effectively when we follow the divine guidance and teaching. Therefore, our choices and actions of moral and spiritual value are an essential part of the dynamic process of faith strengthening. Our active involvement in this process is important. Jesus and the revelators’ teachings show us that this living and experiential path consists essentially in our wholehearted consecration to the doing of the will of God. A Melchizedek in Paper 102 states:
…There must be perfection hunger in man’s heart to insure capacity for comprehending the faith paths to supreme attainment. If any man chooses to do the divine will, he shall know the way of truth. [Paper 102:1.1, page 1118.4]
When we wholeheartedly choose to live by doing the divine will—that is the supreme decision—the Spirit of Truth enters into our mind and soul and then the living sap of the living vine, which is Jesus, flows through us. Then we are reborn of the spirit and become divinely God-conscious as he gives us this new consciousness of spiritual strength with a new and profound sense of spiritual joy, security, and confidence. To experience the happiness of receiving the Spirit of Truth consciously in the soul “…is a tonic for health, a stimulus for mind, and an unfailing energy for the soul.” [194:3.19, 2065.7]
The spiritual growth achieved through the divine values of the religious experience is the fruit of divine love, received by our living faith, with trust and wholehearted devotion to our Heavenly Father. These divine fruits and values are the key to our growth and eternal survival. By living this spiritual experience, we are becoming superhuman; our soul is moving forward along the path of the eternal progress. Jesus said:
“In order to yield the fruits of the spirit, you must be born of the spirit.” [Paper 156:5.2, page 1738.1]
In fact, the branch exists only for, and can do nothing except, fruit bearing, yielding grapes. So does the true believer exist only for the purpose of bearing the fruits of the spirit: to love man as he himself has been loved by God—that we should love one another, even as Jesus has loved us. A true believer is someone who lives the divine teachings. The fruits of the spirit manifest as divine love in ourselves; these fruits are God’s gifts.
Machiventa Melchizedek taught that favor with God is to be had by faith; that God agrees to do everything; man only agrees to believe God’s promises and follow his instructions. We need the living experience of knowing God within ourselves to nourish and vivify our faith, growing up, by grace, to the full stature of spiritual adulthood. Jesus said:
“If, then, my children, you are born of the spirit, you are forever delivered from the self-conscious bondage of a life of self-denial and watchcare over the desires of the flesh, and you are translated into the joyous kingdom of the spirit, whence you spontaneously show forth the fruits of the spirit in your daily lives; and the fruits of the spirit are the essence of the highest type of enjoyable and ennobling self-control, even the heights of terrestrial mortal attainment—true self-mastery.” [Paper 143:2.8, page 1610.3]
If we consider the fact that faith is a gift of God, a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience, and this faith consists in living the will of God effectively by sharing with him our inner life, we can discern this process as a feedback loop. In other words, the growing and living faith is a gift of God in response to our sincere quest for God and his truth. At first, our faith is small like a candle flame, but as we follow the divine guidance, live the teachings, and do the will of God increasingly, the Father works within us, giving us more of his guidance, his gifts, and his love, strengthening and nourishing our faith and making it grow. And this living faith, in turn, acts to release the superhuman activities of the divine spark [132:3.6, 1459.6].
…But living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. [Paper 101:8.2, page 1114.6, emphasis added]
The revelation informs us that those who know God have experienced the fact of his presence through a personal experience in which our minds and souls make spiritual contact with the presence of God, who resides within us.
But you cannot be sure about God unless you know him; sonship is the only experience which makes fatherhood certain. [Paper 102:7.1, page 1126.1]
The big question is: How can we experience the divine presence of God and come to know him?
If “God who is spirit can be known only as a spiritual experience,” [169:4.13, 1857.4] what can we do to live this spiritual experience in the highest and most ideal way? Here we have some teachings that will help us to find the answer:
But real praying does attain reality. Even when the air currents are ascending, no bird can soar except by outstretched wings. Prayer elevates man because it is a technique of progressing by the utilization of the ascending spiritual currents of the universe. [Paper 91:8.9, page 1002.1]
Genuine prayer adds to spiritual growth, modifies attitudes, and yields that satisfaction which comes from communion with divinity. It is a spontaneous outburst of God-consciousness. [Paper 91:8.10, page 1002.2]
But there is also a domain of prayer wherein the intellectually alert and spiritually progressing individual attains more or less contact with the superconscious levels of the human mind, the domain of the indwelling Thought Adjuster. [Paper 91:2.6, page 996.4]
Prayer then, is a necessary activity to experience the presence of God and to know him. This living experience nourishes our faith through communion with him in our superconsciousness. Prayer, as The Urantia Book teaches us, has an increasingly spiritualizing and ennobling effect in ourselves when it is accompanied by worship, which is the receptive phase that feeds our soul, in an ideal way, with the divine gifts.
Words are irrelevant to prayer; they are merely the intellectual channel in which the river of spiritual supplication may chance to flow. …God answers the soul’s attitude, not the words. [Paper 91:8.12, page 1002.4]
The characteristics of enlightened and effective prayer taught in The Urantia Book are:
Believing—we must recognize the presence of God in Paradise and within ourselves.
Ethical, altruistic—we must not seek selfish advantage over our fellows.
Trustful—in submission to the Father’s all-wise will.
Sincere—the sincerity of our prayer is the assurance of its being heard; the spiritual wisdom and universe consistency of any petition determines the time, manner, and degree of the answer.
With faith—in our prayers, let us ask for strength and guidance to act, to augment the technique of living.
Intelligence—in the light of scientific facts, philosophic wisdom, intellectual sincerity, and spiritual faith.
“Prayer is the breath of the soul and should lead you to be persistent in your attempt to ascertain the Father’s will.” [Paper 144:2.3, page 1619.1]
Let’s pray when harassed, but also speak to our Father even when all goes well with our soul.
Let’s give thanks to the Father for all his blessings. This kind of prayer leads up to the communion of true worship.
Jesus taught that prayers for divine guidance over the pathway of earthly life was next in importance to the petition for a knowledge of the Father’s will. In reality, this means a prayer for divine wisdom.
Jesus taught that prayer is a factor in the enlargement of our capacity to receive the presence of the divine spirit.
When Jesus taught us to pray in the spirit and in truth, he explained that he referred to praying sincerely and in accordance with our enlightenment, to praying wholeheartedly and intelligently, earnestly, and steadfastly.
At the end of our prayer (be it personal or group prayer), let’s remain for a time in silent receptivity to afford the indwelling spirit the better opportunity to speak to our listening soul. The spirit of the Father speaks best to us when our mind is in an attitude of true worship.
… Prayer will lead the mortals of earth up to the communion of true worship. The soul’s spiritual capacity for receptivity determines the quantity of heavenly blessings which can be personally appropriated and consciously realized as an answer to prayer. [Paper 144:4.4, page 1621.3]
Worship, taught Jesus, makes one increasingly like the being who is worshiped. Worship is a transforming experience whereby the finite gradually approaches and ultimately attains the presence of the Infinite. [Paper 146:2.17, page 1641.1]
When we pray in this way, we recharge the spiritual batteries of the soul, and in worship, we tune in the soul to catch the universe broadcasts of the infinite spirit of the Universal Father. Worship is an attitude of saving faith that affords us spiritual growth and greater personality integration.
Worship is a personal communion with that which is divinely real, with that which is the very source of reality. Man aspires by worship to be better and thereby eventually attains the best. [Paper 196:3.22, page 2095.6]
Our realization of the reality of the worship experience depends on the developmental status of our born-of-the-spirit immortal soul. This spiritual capacity of the soul grows as we commune internally with the Father in prayer and worship—in a constant feedback loop.
…the experience of God has no limits save those of the creature’s comprehension capacity, and this very experience is in itself capacity enlarging. [Paper 117:6.9, page 1289.2]
… the better approach to the morontia zones of possible contact with the Thought Adjuster would be through living faith and sincere worship, wholehearted and unselfish prayer. [Paper 100:5.7, page 1099.5]
In true worship we ask nothing and expect to receive nothing, but this does not mean that we do not receive anything, because if we consider that true worship make us increasingly like God, it is clear that in it we receive heavenly blessings—spiritual fruits, divine values, love, spiritual discernment, growth to our souls. We worship God for what we comprehend him to be, and this comprehension is implicit in our true worship. The depth of our worship is conditioned by our concept of God, and it determines our capacity to receive the divine gifts.
Why are prayer and worship so important?
… prayer is a function of spirit-born believers in the spirit-dominated kingdom. [Paper 180:2.7, page 1946.5]
The cry of the righteous is the faith act of the child of God which opens the door of the Father’s storehouse of goodness, truth, and mercy, and these good gifts have long been in waiting for the son’s approach and personal appropriation. Prayer does not change the divine attitude toward man, but it does change man’s attitude toward the changeless Father. The motive of the prayer gives it right of way to the divine ear, not the social, economic, or outward religious status of the one who prays. [Paper 146:2.8, page 1639.3]
The sincere prayer of faith opens the doors to God’s action within ourselves. It is a wholehearted communication with our Father, which nourishes and sustains our personal relationship with him. Our Master Jesus attained a high consciousness of the presence of God by intelligent prayer and sincere worship—unbroken communion with God. Jesus’ life is an example for all of us—when we live by his teachings, we can also attain a high consciousness of God.
…Such a God-knowing person is inwardly illuminated by worship and outwardly devoted to the wholehearted service of the universal brotherhood of all personalities, a service ministry which is filled with mercy and motivated by love, while all these life qualities are unified in the evolving personality on ever-ascending levels of cosmic wisdom, self-realization, God-finding, and Father worship. [Paper 106:9.12, page 1175.1]
The Father’s supreme mandate, the perfect expression of God’s will that summarizes the ascendant path, is: “Be you perfect, even as I am perfect.” To become perfect as the Father is, we need to find him first within ourselves and start making an effort to be like him by transforming and vivifying our souls—by receiving the bread of life, the living truth, the eternal word of God, as well as the water of life of the Spirit of Truth that nourishes the soul, quenching our spiritual thirst.
The imitation of God is the key to perfection; the doing of his will is the secret of survival and of perfection in survival. [Paper 111:5.2, page 1221.3]
The ascendant path begins here, in this life, when we start to follow the guidance of God, recognizing him as our Father—and when we keep growing in faith and the love of God until we are reborn of the spirit by our living faith, all with the full confidence of a little child who trusts in the love of his earthly parent. In this way, we will achieve perfection gradually, and every step that we take in doing God’s will, is a partial fulfillment of the supreme mandate. Prayer and worship are vital to maintain the connection with God and nourish our soul, yielding abundant fruits of the spirit.
Prayer is indeed a part of religious experience, but it has been wrongly emphasized by modern religions, much to the neglect of the more essential communion of worship. The reflective powers of the mind are deepened and broadened by worship. Prayer may enrich the life, but worship illuminates destiny. [Paper 102:4.5, page 1123.5]
The Urantia Book teaches us that true worship requires the use of the following techniques:
Silent receptivity to afford the indwelling spirit the better opportunity to speak to the listening soul. Therefore, in worship we do not praise God, talk mentally, or repeat or focus our attention on any phrase, thought, or image. Praising, repetition of inspiring phrases, and expressing mental concepts about God, all these precede worship, they are not part of it.
Self-forgetting—superthinking: If we forget ourselves when we are focusing on the Father in silent and receptive attention, we transcend thinking, attaining worshipful contact in our superconsciousness. Says the revelator:
Religion must continually labor under a paradoxical necessity: the necessity of making effective use of thought while at the same time discounting the spiritual serviceableness of all thinking. [Paper 102:3.1, page 1121.3]
We make effective use of thought processes when we seek, study, analyze, comprehend, share, and live the truth, and when we pray sincerely. We discount all processes of thinking when we elevate ourselves to the superconscious level in the inner worshipful silence, transcending thinking with love and devotion to the Father. Let us remember that it is the soul who worships God with the consent of the mind. Worship is a superconscious activity.
Effortless attention focused on God’s presence, which indwells our superconsciousness. Worship is effortless attention, true and ideal soul rest, a form of restful spiritual exertion. [Paper 143:7.7, page 1616.9]
To step aside from the rush of life—to escape the harassments of material existence—while [believers] refresh the soul, inspire the mind, and renew the spirit by worshipful communion. All this is done by God; this is the function of silent spiritual receptiveness.
Restfulness, relaxation (physical and mental stillness). The strain of living—the time tension of personality—should be relaxed by the restfulness of worship. [Paper 143:7.3, page 1616.5]
… Relaxation determines the capacity for spiritual receptivity. [Paper 160:3.1, page 1777.2]
We ask nothing and expect to receive nothing. There is absolutely no self-request or any other element of personal interest in true worship—we simply worship God for what we comprehend him to be.
Our Father will give us the heavenly blessings that he knows we need. The quality of our worship is determined by the depth of our perception and our knowledge of the infinite character of God.
Our inner self must be intent upon God: He who is full of faith worships truly when his inner self is intent upon God. [131:4.5, 1448.4]
When should we pray and worship our Father? In a talk with the apostles, Jesus said:
“But when to pray, I will not say. Only the spirit that dwells within you may move you to the utterance of those petitions which are expressive of your inner relationship with the Father of spirits.” [Paper 146:2.11, page 1639.6]
Although Jesus didn’t establish daily prayer as a rule, he did teach we should pray sincerely, earnestly, and steadfastly.
He [Peter] admonished them to neglect not their daily worship. [Paper 163:4.10, page 1805.7]
Simon Peter said this during his ordination sermon when he preached to the seventy evangelists, which was an elaboration of the Master’s charge given at the time he laid his hands upon them and set them apart as messengers of the kingdom. On another occasion, Jesus said:
“Prayer and its associated worship is a technique of detachment from the daily routine of life, from the monotonous grind of material existence. It is an avenue of approach to spiritualized self-realization and individuality of intellectual and religious attainment.” [Paper 144:4.5, page 1621.4]
When we love God with a whole heart, we want to do his will above all things. To be in communion with him is something we yearn to do every day of our lives. Believing in Jesus and the revelators’ teachings means that we put them into practice, and then they become a living reality in us. For this, we need to choose to respond to the divine leading by sincerely basing our human life on the highest consciousness of truth, beauty, and goodness, and striving to coordinate these divine qualities in our lives through wisdom, worship, faith, and love. Then our faith will grow and become alive through our inner experience with God—by following the divine guidance and receiving the divine gifts in our minds and souls.
Of God, the most inescapable of all presences, the most real of all facts, the most living of all truths, the most loving of all friends, and the most divine of all values, we have the right to be the most certain of all universe experiences. [Paper 102:7.10, page 1127.4]
This is all made possible if we are willing to follow the right path taught in the revelation, opening the heart to divine love. We need to have the courage to make wise decisions, survival decisions. Sometimes we will need to get rid of a pet evil that inhibits the growth of our soul.
When we search for God, we are searching for everything. And when we find God, we have found everything. Our spiritual growth is proportional to Father identification; success in our quest of the Infinite is directly proportional to our achievement of Father-likeness. We appropriate these qualities of divinity personally through the experience of living divinely, and to live divinely means actually to live the will of God. This life is predicated on the living of the Father’s will, is inwardly illuminated by worship, and is devoted to the wholehearted service of all human beings through mercy and love. The spiritualization of our minds and souls springs from the personal spiritual experience with God within ourselves, growing through the worshipful communion with God to the loving and altruistic service to humanity, fulfilling the supreme duty of every human being by increasingly yielding the fruits of the spirit in our lives.
The Urantia Book contains divine truths that must become mightily alive within us by the action of the Spirit of Truth and the divine Adjuster, thus we have a growing spiritual vitality and an increasing spiritual power. Spiritual works can be done only by having spiritual power, which arises from the personal experience of possessing a living, experiential faith. The inner strength that enables us to transmit the certainty of the divine realities springs forth from our personal spiritual experiences with those realities.