What Do We Want When We Pray?

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What exactly are we supposed to ask for when we pray? The usual understanding is that we are supposed to be asking for something for ourselves – happiness, health, success – or, if we are feeling altruistic, something for others – peace, healing, prosperity. But Christ teaches his disciples a prayer that is not about these personal or altruistic wishes at all. It is a prayer about spiritual evolution, it is a prayer that praises God and asks God to help our souls ascend to a higher level of Being.

It begins with an acknowledgment of what we are: mere children in the eyes of God, children on a low level who must ‘hallow’ His infinitely high level. This also places us in the warm and hopeful relationship of children to their parents.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.

The prayer then requests a direct connection between the higher level and our own: it asks that God’s Will may be done on us, here, in this body, in this soul, on Earth. Not “my” will: “Thy” will.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

The next verse asks God to give us the sustenance we will need to make the difficult journey through life, and to continue the ascent of the soul all the way back to Him.

Give us this day our daily bread

The specific request, in English translation, is for ‘daily bread’. But the Greek word that has been translated as ‘daily’ really connotes ‘above material substance’, so it would be more properly translated as supersubstantial or spiritual bread. The request refers to food for the soul, the higher Teachings that feed the soul and sustain it in its efforts of inner transformation.

Next comes the soul’s request for forgiveness, and a karmic acknowledgment that we can only receive as much forgiveness as we give.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

God’s forgiveness should not be taken sentimentally, and it does not mean that anything one does is fine because eventually it will all be automatically pardoned and forgotten. This would imply that all efforts of the soul are unnecessary and of no value! There would be no incentive to do anything at all, and thus there could be no hope for spiritual evolution. But this is not what forgiveness means. God does not forgive our evil acts. These must be paid for. Mercy cannot exist without Justice, and God’s karmic Justice demands that everything must be paid for. As Christ himself later says, “Never, I tell you, will you get free till you have paid the last farthing.” What the Lord’s Prayer is asking God to do is to forgive our weaknesses.

We, too, are not expected to forgive another person’s evil. But we must forgive their weaknesses (which are no different from our own, the same ones for which we are seeking forgiveness). Nothing holds us down and binds us to the ‘earth’ more completely than our unresolved feelings of indignation and resentment.

Now there follows the request that we not be led into temptation. Again, there have to be temptations in the world. Otherwise there would be nothing to learn, no obstacles to overcome, and the descent into this realm of Time and Becoming would be pointless: we might as well have all remained at home, like the Prodigal Son’s ‘good’ brother.

But at this point in the prayer, Christ is not talking about material temptations, such as food, or sex, or worldly power. He is referring to the psychological temptation to succumb to doubt, to give up, to fall back into a comfortable sleep, so as to avoid the enormous spiritual difficulties that await us on the initiatory path. Doubt is the great enemy of the certainty of faith, and sleep is the great enemy of all spiritual growth. These are the ‘evils’ for the soul. So the Prayer concludes with this final entreaty:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.