The Urantia Book
THE EVOLUTION OF PRAYER
Presented by the Chief of the Urantia Midwayers.
91:0.1 PRAYER, as an agency of religion,
evolved from previous nonreligious monologue and dialogue
expressions. With the attainment of self-consciousness by
primitive man there occurred the inevitable corollary of
other-consciousness, the dual potential of social response and
91:0.2 The earliest prayer forms were not
addressed to Deity. These expressions were much like what you
would say to a friend as you entered upon some important
undertaking, "Wish me luck." Primitive man was enslaved to
magic; luck, good and bad, entered into all the affairs of life.
At first, these luck petitions were monologues -- just a kind of
thinking out loud by the magic server. Next, these believers in
luck would enlist the support of their friends and families, and
presently some form of ceremony would be performed which
included the whole clan or tribe.
91:0.3 When the concepts of ghosts and spirits
evolved, these petitions became superhuman in address, and with
the consciousness of gods, such expressions attained to the
levels of genuine prayer. As an illustration of this, among
certain Australian tribes primitive religious prayers antedated
their belief in spirits and superhuman personalities.
91:0.4 The Toda tribe of India now observes
this practice of praying to no one in particular, just as did
the early peoples before the times of religious consciousness.
Only, among the Todas, this represents a regression of their
degenerating religion to this primitive level. The present-day
rituals of the dairymen priests of the Todas do not represent a
religious ceremony since these impersonal prayers do not
contribute anything to the conservation or enhancement of any
social, moral, or spiritual values.
91:0.5 Prereligious praying was part of the
mana practices of the Melanesians, the oudah beliefs of the
African Pygmies, and the manitou superstitions of the North
American Indians. The Baganda tribes of Africa have only
recently emerged from the mana level of prayer. In this early
evolutionary confusion men pray to gods -- local and national --
to fetishes, amulets, ghosts, rulers, and to ordinary people.
1. PRIMITIVE PRAYER
91:1.1 The function of early evolutionary
religion is to conserve and augment the essential social, moral,
and spiritual values which are slowly taking form. This mission
of religion is not consciously observed by mankind, but it is
chiefly effected by the function of prayer. The practice of
prayer represents the unintended, but nonetheless personal and
collective, effort of any group to secure (to actualize) this
conservation of higher values. But for the safeguarding of
prayer, all holy days would speedily revert to the status of
91:1.2 Religion and its agencies, the chief of
which is prayer, are allied only with those values which have
general social recognition, group approval. Therefore, when
primitive man attempted to gratify his baser emotions or to
achieve unmitigated selfish ambitions, he was deprived of the
consolation of religion and the assistance of prayer. If the
individual sought to accomplish anything antisocial, he was
obliged to seek the aid of nonreligious magic, resort to
sorcerers, and thus be deprived of the assistance of prayer.
Prayer, therefore, very early became a mighty promoter of social
evolution, moral progress, and spiritual attainment.
91:1.3 But the primitive mind was neither
logical nor consistent. Early men did not perceive that material
things were not the province of prayer. These simple-minded
souls reasoned that food, shelter, rain, game, and other
material goods enhanced the social welfare, and therefore they
began to pray for these physical blessings. While this
constituted a perversion of prayer, it encouraged the effort to
realize these material objectives by social and ethical actions.
Such a prostitution of prayer, while debasing the spiritual
values of a people, nevertheless directly elevated their
economic, social, and ethical mores.
91:1.4 Prayer is only monologuous in the most
primitive type of mind. It early becomes a dialogue and rapidly
expands to the level of group worship. Prayer signifies that the
premagical incantations of primitive religion have evolved to
that level where the human mind recognizes the reality of
beneficent powers or beings who are able to enhance social
values and to augment moral ideals, and further, that these
influences are superhuman and distinct from the ego of the
self-conscious human and his fellow mortals. True prayer does
not, therefore, appear until the agency of religious ministry is
visualized as personal.
91:1.5 Prayer is little associated with
animism, but such beliefs may exist alongside emerging religious
sentiments. Many times, religion and animism have had entirely
91:1.6 With those mortals who have not been
delivered from the primitive bondage of fear, there is a real
danger that all prayer may lead to a morbid sense of sin,
unjustified convictions of guilt, real or fancied. But in modern
times it is not likely that many will spend sufficient time at
prayer to lead to this harmful brooding over their unworthiness
or sinfulness. The dangers attendant upon the distortion and
perversion of prayer consist in ignorance, superstition,
crystallization, devitalization, materialism, and fanaticism.
2. EVOLVING PRAYER
91:2.1 The first prayers were merely
verbalized wishes, the expression of sincere desires. Prayer
next became a technique of achieving spirit co-operation. And
then it attained to the higher function of assisting religion in
the conservation of all worth-while values.
91:2.2 Both prayer and magic arose as a result
of man's adjustive reactions to Urantian environment. But aside
from this generalized relationship, they have little in common.
Prayer has always indicated positive action by the praying ego;
it has been always psychic and sometimes spiritual. Magic has
usually signified an attempt to manipulate reality without
affecting the ego of the manipulator, the practitioner of magic.
Despite their independent origins, magic and prayer often have
been interrelated in their later stages of development. Magic
has sometimes ascended by goal elevation from formulas through
rituals and incantations to the threshold of true prayer. Prayer
has sometimes become so materialistic that it has degenerated
into a pseudomagical technique of avoiding the expenditure of
that effort which is requisite for the solution of Urantian
91:2.3 When man learned that prayer could not
coerce the gods, then it became more of a petition, favor
seeking. But the truest prayer is in reality a communion between
man and his Maker.
91:2.4 The appearance of the sacrifice idea in
any religion unfailingly detracts from the higher efficacy of
true prayer in that men seek to substitute the offerings of
material possessions for the offering of their own consecrated
wills to the doing of the will of God.
91:2.5 When religion is divested of a personal
God, its prayers translate to the levels of theology and
philosophy. When the highest God concept of a religion is that
of an impersonal Deity, such as in pantheistic idealism,
although affording the basis for certain forms of mystic
communion, it proves fatal to the potency of true prayer, which
always stands for man's communion with a personal and superior
91:2.6 During the earlier times of racial
evolution and even at the present time, in the day-by-day
experience of the average mortal, prayer is very much a
phenomenon of man's intercourse with his own subconscious. 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. In addition,
there is a definite spiritual phase of true prayer which
concerns its reception and recognition by the spiritual forces
of the universe, and which is entirely distinct from all human
and intellectual association.
91:2.7 Prayer contributes greatly to the
development of the religious sentiment of an evolving human
mind. It is a mighty influence working to prevent isolation of
91:2.8 Prayer represents one technique
associated with the natural religions of racial evolution which
also forms a part of the experiential values of the higher
religions of ethical excellence, the religions of revelation.
3. PRAYER AND THE ALTER EGO
91:3.1 Children, when first learning to make
use of language, are prone to think out loud, to express their
thoughts in words, even if no one is present to hear them. With
the dawn of creative imagination they evince a tendency to
converse with imaginary companions. In this way a budding ego
seeks to hold communion with a fictitious alter ego. By
this technique the child early learns to convert his monologue
conversations into pseudo dialogues in which this alter ego
makes replies to his verbal thinking and wish expression. Very
much of an adult's thinking is mentally carried on in
91:3.2 The early and primitive form of prayer
was much like the semimagical recitations of the present-day
Toda tribe, prayers that were not addressed to anyone in
particular. But such techniques of praying tend to evolve into
the dialogue type of communication by the emergence of the idea
of an alter ego. In time the alter-ego concept is exalted to a
superior status of divine dignity, and prayer as an agency of
religion has appeared. Through many phases and during long ages
this primitive type of praying is destined to evolve before
attaining the level of intelligent and truly ethical prayer.
91:3.3 As it is conceived by successive
generations of praying mortals, the alter ego evolves up through
ghosts, fetishes, and spirits to polytheistic gods, and
eventually to the One God, a divine being embodying the highest
ideals and the loftiest aspirations of the praying ego. And thus
does prayer function as the most potent agency of religion in
the conservation of the highest values and ideals of those who
pray. From the moment of the conceiving of an alter ego to the
appearance of the concept of a divine and heavenly Father,
prayer is always a socializing, moralizing, and spiritualizing
91:3.4 The simple prayer of faith evidences a
mighty evolution in human experience whereby the ancient
conversations with the fictitious symbol of the alter ego of
primitive religion have become exalted to the level of communion
with the spirit of the Infinite and to that of a bona fide
consciousness of the reality of the eternal God and Paradise
Father of all intelligent creation.
91:3.5 Aside from all that is superself in the
experience of praying, it should be remembered that ethical
prayer is a splendid way to elevate one's ego and reinforce the
self for better living and higher attainment. Prayer induces the
human ego to look both ways for help: for material aid to the
subconscious reservoir of mortal experience, for inspiration and
guidance to the superconscious borders of the contact of the
material with the spiritual, with the Mystery Monitor.
91:3.6 Prayer ever has been and ever will be a
twofold human experience: a psychologic procedure
interassociated with a spiritual technique. And these two
functions of prayer can never be fully separated.
91:3.7 Enlightened prayer must recognize not
only an external and personal God but also an internal and
impersonal Divinity, the indwelling Adjuster. It is altogether
fitting that man, when he prays, should strive to grasp the
concept of the Universal Father on Paradise; but the more
effective technique for most practical purposes will be to
revert to the concept of a near-by alter ego, just as the
primitive mind was wont to do, and then to recognize that the
idea of this alter ego has evolved from a mere fiction to the
truth of God's indwelling mortal man in the factual presence of
the Adjuster so that man can talk face to face, as it were, with
a real and genuine and divine alter ego that indwells him and is
the very presence and essence of the living God, the Universal
4. ETHICAL PRAYING
91:4.1 No prayer can be ethical when the
petitioner seeks for selfish advantage over his fellows. Selfish
and materialistic praying is incompatible with the ethical
religions which are predicated on unselfish and divine love. All
such unethical praying reverts to the primitive levels of pseudo
magic and is unworthy of advancing civilizations and enlightened
religions. Selfish praying transgresses the spirit of all ethics
founded on loving justice.
91:4.2 Prayer must never be so prostituted as
to become a substitute for action. All ethical prayer is a
stimulus to action and a guide to the progressive striving for
idealistic goals of superself-attainment.
91:4.3 In all your praying be fair; do
not expect God to show partiality, to love you more than his
other children, your friends, neighbors, even enemies. But the
prayer of the natural or evolved religions is not at first
ethical, as it is in the later revealed religions. All praying,
whether individual or communal, may be either egoistic or
altruistic. That is, the prayer may be centered upon the self or
upon others. When the prayer seeks nothing for the one who prays
nor anything for his fellows, then such attitudes of the soul
tend to the levels of true worship. Egoistic prayers involve
confessions and petitions and often consist in requests for
material favors. Prayer is somewhat more ethical when it deals
with forgiveness and seeks wisdom for enhanced self-control.
91:4.4 While the nonselfish type of prayer is
strengthening and comforting, materialistic praying is destined
to bring disappointment and disillusionment as advancing
scientific discoveries demonstrate that man lives in a physical
universe of law and order. The childhood of an individual or a
race is characterized by primitive, selfish, and materialistic
praying. And, to a certain extent, all such petitions are
efficacious in that they unvaryingly lead to those efforts and
exertions which are contributory to achieving the answers to
such prayers. The real prayer of faith always contributes to the
augmentation of the technique of living, even if such petitions
are not worthy of spiritual recognition. But the spiritually
advanced person should exercise great caution in attempting to
discourage the primitive or immature mind regarding such
91:4.5 Remember, even if prayer does not
change God, it very often effects great and lasting changes in
the one who prays in faith and confident expectation. Prayer has
been the ancestor of much peace of mind, cheerfulness, calmness,
courage, self-mastery, and fair-mindedness in the men and women
of the evolving races.
5. SOCIAL REPERCUSSIONS OF PRAYER
91:5.1 In ancestor worship, prayer leads to
the cultivation of ancestral ideals. But prayer, as a feature of
Deity worship, transcends all other such practices since it
leads to the cultivation of divine ideals. As the concept of the
alter ego of prayer becomes supreme and divine, so are man's
ideals accordingly elevated from mere human toward supernal and
divine levels, and the result of all such praying is the
enhancement of human character and the profound unification of
91:5.2 But prayer need not always be
individual. Group or congregational praying is very effective in
that it is highly socializing in its repercussions. When a group
engages in community prayer for moral enhancement and spiritual
uplift, such devotions are reactive upon the individuals
composing the group; they are all made better because of
participation. Even a whole city or an entire nation can be
helped by such prayer devotions. Confession, repentance, and
prayer have led individuals, cities, nations, and whole races to
mighty efforts of reform and courageous deeds of valorous
91:5.3 If you truly desire to overcome the
habit of criticizing some friend, the quickest and surest way of
achieving such a change of attitude is to establish the habit of
praying for that person every day of your life. But the social
repercussions of such prayers are dependent largely on two
91:5.4 1. The person who is prayed for should
know that he is being prayed for.
91:5.5 2. The person who prays should come
into intimate social contact with the person for whom he is
91:5.6 Prayer is the technique whereby, sooner
or later, every religion becomes institutionalized. And in time
prayer becomes associated with numerous secondary agencies, some
helpful, others decidedly deleterious, such as priests, holy
books, worship rituals, and ceremonials.
91:5.7 But the minds of greater spiritual
illumination should be patient with, and tolerant of, those less
endowed intellects that crave symbolism for the mobilization of
their feeble spiritual insight. The strong must not look with
disdain upon the weak. Those who are God-conscious without
symbolism must not deny the grace-ministry of the symbol to
those who find it difficult to worship Deity and to revere
truth, beauty, and goodness without form and ritual. In
prayerful worship, most mortals envision some symbol of the
object-goal of their devotions.
6. THE PROVINCE OF PRAYER
91:6.1 Prayer, unless in liaison with the will
and actions of the personal spiritual forces and material
supervisors of a realm, can have no direct effect upon one's
physical environment. While there is a very definite limit to
the province of the petitions of prayer, such limits do not
equally apply to the faith of those who pray.
91:6.2 Prayer is not a technique for curing
real and organic diseases, but it has contributed enormously to
the enjoyment of abundant health and to the cure of numerous
mental, emotional, and nervous ailments. And even in actual
bacterial disease, prayer has many times added to the efficacy
of other remedial procedures. Prayer has turned many an
irritable and complaining invalid into a paragon of patience and
made him an inspiration to all other human sufferers.
91:6.3 No matter how difficult it may be to
reconcile the scientific doubtings regarding the efficacy of
prayer with the ever-present urge to seek help and guidance from
divine sources, never forget that the sincere prayer of faith is
a mighty force for the promotion of personal happiness,
individual self-control, social harmony, moral progress, and
91:6.4 Prayer, even as a purely human
practice, a dialogue with one's alter ego, constitutes a
technique of the most efficient approach to the realization of
those reserve powers of human nature which are stored and
conserved in the unconscious realms of the human mind. Prayer is
a sound psychologic practice, aside from its religious
implications and its spiritual significance. It is a fact of
human experience that most persons, if sufficiently hard
pressed, will pray in some way to some source of help.
91:6.5 Do not be so slothful as to ask God to
solve your difficulties, but never hesitate to ask him for
wisdom and spiritual strength to guide and sustain you while you
yourself resolutely and courageously attack the problems at
91:6.6 Prayer has been an indispensable factor
in the progress and preservation of religious civilization, and
it still has mighty contributions to make to the further
enhancement and spiritualization of society if those who pray
will only do so in the light of scientific facts, philosophic
wisdom, intellectual sincerity, and spiritual faith. Pray as
Jesus taught his disciples -- honestly, unselfishly, with
fairness, and without doubting.
91:6.7 But the efficacy of prayer in the
personal spiritual experience of the one who prays is in no way
dependent on such a worshiper's intellectual understanding,
philosophic acumen, social level, cultural status, or other
mortal acquirements. The psychic and spiritual concomitants of
the prayer of faith are immediate, personal, and experiential.
There is no other technique whereby every man, regardless of all
other mortal accomplishments, can so effectively and immediately
approach the threshold of that realm wherein he can communicate
with his Maker, where the creature contacts with the reality of
the Creator, with the indwelling Thought Adjuster.
7. MYSTICISM, ECSTASY, AND INSPIRATION
91:7.1 Mysticism, as the technique of the
cultivation of the consciousness of the presence of God, is
altogether praiseworthy, but when such practices lead to social
isolation and culminate in religious fanaticism, they are all
but reprehensible. Altogether too frequently that which the
overwrought mystic evaluates as divine inspiration is the
uprisings of his own deep mind.
The contact of the mortal mind
with its indwelling Adjuster, while often favored by devoted
meditation, is more frequently facilitated by wholehearted and
loving service in unselfish ministry to one's fellow creatures.
91:7.2 The great religious teachers and the
prophets of past ages were not extreme mystics. They were
God-knowing men and women who best served their God by unselfish
ministry to their fellow mortals. Jesus often took his apostles
away by themselves for short periods to engage in meditation and
prayer, but for the most part he kept them in service-contact
with the multitudes. The soul of man requires spiritual exercise
as well as spiritual nourishment.
91:7.3 Religious ecstasy is permissible when
resulting from sane antecedents, but such experiences are more
often the outgrowth of purely emotional influences than a
manifestation of deep spiritual character. Religious persons
must not regard every vivid psychologic presentiment and every
intense emotional experience as a divine revelation or a
spiritual communication. Genuine spiritual ecstasy is usually
associated with great outward calmness and almost perfect
emotional control. But true prophetic vision is a
superpsychologic presentiment. Such visitations are not pseudo
hallucinations, neither are they trancelike ecstasies.
91:7.4 The human mind may perform in response
to so-called inspiration when it is sensitive either to the
uprisings of the subconscious or to the stimulus of the
superconscious. In either case it appears to the individual that
such augmentations of the content of consciousness are more or
less foreign. Unrestrained mystical enthusiasm and rampant
religious ecstasy are not the credentials of inspiration,
supposedly divine credentials.
91:7.5 The practical test of all these strange
religious experiences of mysticism, ecstasy, and inspiration is
to observe whether these phenomena cause an individual:
1. To enjoy better and more complete
2. To function more efficiently and
practically in his mental life.
3. More fully and joyfully to
socialize his religious experience.
4. More completely to spiritualize
his day-by-day living while faithfully discharging the
commonplace duties of routine mortal existence.
5. To enhance his love for, and
appreciation of, truth, beauty, and goodness.
6. To conserve currently recognized
social, moral, ethical, and spiritual values.
7. To increase his spiritual insight
But prayer has no real association with these exceptional
religious experiences. When prayer becomes overmuch aesthetic,
when it consists almost exclusively in beautiful and blissful
contemplation of paradisiacal divinity, it loses much of its
socializing influence and tends toward mysticism and the
isolation of its devotees. There is a certain danger associated
with overmuch private praying which is corrected and prevented
by group praying, community devotions.
8. PRAYING AS A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
91:8.1 There is a truly spontaneous aspect to
prayer, for primitive man found himself praying long before he
had any clear concept of a God. Early man was wont to pray in
two diverse situations: When in dire need, he experienced the
impulse to reach out for help; and when jubilant, he indulged
the impulsive expression of joy.
91:8.2 Prayer is not an evolution of magic;
they each arose independently. Magic was an attempt to adjust
Deity to conditions; prayer is the effort to adjust the
personality to the will of Deity. True prayer is both moral and
religious; magic is neither.
91:8.3 Prayer may become an established
custom; many pray because others do. Still others pray because
they fear something direful may happen if they do not offer
their regular supplications.
91:8.4 To some individuals prayer is the calm
expression of gratitude; to others, a group expression of
praise, social devotions; sometimes it is the imitation of
another's religion, while in true praying it is the sincere and
trusting communication of the spiritual nature of the creature
with the anywhere presence of the spirit of the Creator.
91:8.5 Prayer may be a spontaneous expression
of God-consciousness or a meaningless recitation of theologic
formulas. It may be the ecstatic praise of a God-knowing soul or
the slavish obeisance of a fear-ridden mortal. It is sometimes
the pathetic expression of spiritual craving and sometimes the
blatant shouting of pious phrases. Prayer may be joyous praise
or a humble plea for forgiveness.
91:8.6 Prayer may be the childlike plea for
the impossible or the mature entreaty for moral growth and
spiritual power. A petition may be for daily bread or may embody
a wholehearted yearning to find God and to do his will. It may
be a wholly selfish request or a true and magnificent gesture
toward the realization of unselfish brotherhood.
91:8.7 Prayer may be an angry cry for
vengeance or a merciful intercession for one's enemies. It may
be the expression of a hope of changing God or the powerful
technique of changing one's self. It may be the cringing plea of
a lost sinner before a supposedly stern Judge or the joyful
expression of a liberated son of the living and merciful
91:8.8 Modern man is perplexed by the thought
of talking things over with God in a purely personal way. Many
have abandoned regular praying; they only pray when under
unusual pressure -- in emergencies. Man should be unafraid to
talk to God, but only a spiritual child would undertake to
persuade, or presume to change, God.
91:8.9 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.
91:8.10 Genuine prayer adds to spiritual
growth, modifies attitudes, and yields that satisfaction which
comes from communion with divinity. It is a spontaneous outburst
91:8.11 God answers man's prayer by giving him
an increased revelation of truth, an enhanced appreciation of
beauty, and an augmented concept of goodness. Prayer is a
subjective gesture, but it contacts with mighty objective
realities on the spiritual levels of human experience; it is a
meaningful reach by the human for superhuman values. It is the
most potent spiritual-growth stimulus.
91:8.12 Words are irrelevant to prayer; they
are merely the intellectual channel in which the river of
spiritual supplication may chance to flow. The word value of a
prayer is purely autosuggestive in private devotions and
sociosuggestive in group devotions. God answers the soul's
attitude, not the words.
91:8.13 Prayer is not a technique of escape
from conflict but rather a stimulus to growth in the very face
of conflict. Pray only for values, not things; for growth, not
9. CONDITIONS OF EFFECTIVE PRAYER
91:9.1 If you would engage in effective
praying, you should bear in mind the laws of prevailing
91:9.2 1. You must qualify as a potent prayer
by sincerely and courageously facing the problems of universe
reality. You must possess cosmic stamina.
91:9.3 2. You must have honestly exhausted the
human capacity for human adjustment. You must have been
91:9.4 3. You must surrender every wish of
mind and every craving of soul to the transforming embrace of
spiritual growth. You must have experienced an enhancement of
meanings and an elevation of values.
91:9.5 4. You must make a wholehearted choice
of the divine will. You must obliterate the dead center of
91:9.6 5. You not only recognize the Father's
will and choose to do it, but you have effected an unqualified
consecration, and a dynamic dedication, to the actual doing of
the Father's will.
91:9.7 6. Your prayer will be directed
exclusively for divine wisdom to solve the specific human
problems encountered in the Paradise ascension -- the attainment
of divine perfection.
91:9.8 7. And you must have faith -- living
Presented by the Chief of the Urantia Midwayers.