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.
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 problems.
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.
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.
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 being.
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.
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 personality.
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.