Q: If you’re living gratefully, is it proper to pray for concrete results? — Terry Jones, Kansas City

A: +Personally i think so. And the mainstream Christian tradition definitely thinks so. But we are taught, even in The Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, to pray first: “Your will be done,” and then, “Give us…” It’s very important to maintain that sequence. Most people are inclined to pray, “Give us this, and give us that…and if it’s absolutely impossible, then all right, your will be done.” But right from the start we can pray, “Your will be done.” If you’re really attuned to the Divine Life within you and around you, you know that nothing better could happen to the world than the Divine Will.

Yet prayer for results is just basically human. In a wonderful little passage, D.T. Suzuki writes about praying when you are in trouble. He explains, “It doesn’t fit into our Buddhist psychology at all. But everybody pleas for help when they’re in trouble. So just go ahead and do it.”

Even the atheist cries out, “My God!” when something goes wrong. If you’re really daring and imaginative, you will not only say, “Thy will be done,” but very specifically add, “And I think Your will can best be done if such and such happens.” You spell it out and then you go right after it. But then, if it doesn’t happen the way you hoped, you say to yourself, “Well, the joke was on me. The Divine Will was done. My prayer was heard. But I didn’t really understand what I was praying for.”

The Divine Spirit is always the One who prays in us anyway, in authentic prayer. So it’s just our misunderstanding that we shouldn’t pray for things. What is not legitimate is to pray for something and do nothing about it: for instance, pray that you pass the exam and then go to a beer party instead of studying. If you pray for peace, then – rather than work in a weapons factory – go out and make peace in all the ways closest to your heart.

–Your Brother David

Br. David Steindl-RastTrust