Editor's note:

Agnes San­ford (18971982), born in Chi­na as the daugh­ter of a Pres­by­ter­ian mis­sion­ary, lived for years in New Jer­sey as the wife of an Epis­co­palian rec­tor. Her approach to heal­ing through prayer has been uncom­pli­cat­ed and very con­fi­dent of God’s lov­ing pow­er to heal. She does not con­cern her­self with com­plex ques­tions of creed, denom­i­na­tion, or belief struc­ture. Her approach is Christ-cen­tered and church- entered. She has taught wide­ly in many set­tings; she has been the instru­ment of many heal­ings; and her books on heal­ing prayer have sold in the mil­lions around the Eng­lish-speak­ing world.

In the fol­low­ing selec­tion, tak­en from her much-loved book, The Heal­ing Light, notice how Agnes San­ford con­cen­trates on the prac­ti­cal­i­ty of prayer. Her rec­om­men­da­tions are not ethe­re­al and fan­ci­ful but exceed­ing­ly down to earth. When she rec­om­mends that we con­duct exper­i­ments in prayer, she is not sug­gest­ing that we put God to the test. Instead, she wants us to put our own faith to the test. She knows that we are afraid to peti­tion God for spe­cif­ic things because we are afraid of being dis­ap­point­ed. There­fore, she gen­tly guides us through an order­ly process that requires us, at least for the moment, to have faith and to exer­cise that faith in a dis­ci­plined way. At the same time her approach is won­der­ful­ly child­like. Fol­low her, as she fol­lows Jesus, in the expe­ri­ence of heal­ing prayer.

—Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Spiritual Classics

Exper­i­ments in Prayer

The One who knew said, Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the King­dom of Heav­en.” Hap­py, that is, are those peo­ple who know that their spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is small, that their creeds are imper­fect, that their instruc­tion con­cern­ing God and man is incom­plete. Hap­py are those who know that they do not know all of truth. For only those who admit their spir­i­tu­al pover­ty are will­ing to learn. 

One way to under­stand a hith­er­to unex­plored force of nature is to exper­i­ment with that force intel­li­gent­ly and with an open mind. This book sug­gests, for those will­ing to learn, a method so sim­ple that it is child-like, as the more pro­found truths are apt to be. It is an exper­i­men­tal method. One decides upon a def­i­nite sub­ject for prayer, prays about it and then decides whether or not the prayer-project suc­ceeds. If it does not suc­ceed, one seeks a bet­ter adjust­ment with God and tries again. This is the method of the men who have dis­cov­ered and har­nessed the forces of God’s world — the scientists. 

Pro­duc­ing results

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inher­it the earth.” The sci­en­tif­ic atti­tude is the atti­tude of per­fect meek­ness. It con­sists in an unshak­able faith in the laws of nature com­bined with per­fect humil­i­ty toward those laws and a patient deter­mi­na­tion to learn them at what­ev­er cost. Through this meek­ness sci­en­tists have learned how to con­form to the laws of nature, and by so doing have achieved great results. Through the same meek­ness those who seek God can pro­duce results by learn­ing to con­form to His laws of faith and love. 

Four sim­ple steps into prayer

The first step in seek­ing to pro­duce results by any pow­er is to con­tact that pow­er. The first step then in seek­ing help from God is to con­tact God. Be still and know that I am God.” Let us then lay aside our wor­ries and cares, qui­et our minds and con­cen­trate upon the real­i­ty of God. We may not know who God is or what God is, but we know that there is some­thing that sus­tains this uni­verse, and that some­thing is not our­selves. So the first step is to relax and to remind our­selves that there is a source of life out­side of ourselves. 

The sec­ond step is to turn it on, by some such prayer as this Heav­en­ly Father, please increase in me at this time Your life-giv­ing pow­er.” Or if we do not know this out­side life as our Heav­en­ly Father, we can sim­ply say Who­ev­er you are — what­ev­er you are — come into me now!” 

The third step is to believe that this pow­er is com­ing into use and to accept it by faith. No mat­ter how much we ask for some­thing it becomes ours only as we accept it and give thanks for it. Thank You,” we can say, that Your life is now com­ing into me and increas­ing life in my spir­it and in my mind and in my body.” 

And the fourth step is to observe the oper­a­tions of that light and life. In order to do so, we must decide on some tan­gi­ble thing that we wish accom­plished by that pow­er, so that we can know with­out ques­tion whether our exper­i­ment suc­ceed­ed or failed. 

Many Chris­tians are afraid to do this. A woman once told me that she asked God to send her two pairs of rub­bers for her sons, to pro­tect their feet from rain and slush. That night, she said, the ground froze over sol­id and for two days the boys walked to school dry-shod. Upon the third day anoth­er woman gave her two pairs of rub­bers for her sons. 

The val­ue of spe­cif­ic requests

Oh, but I would nev­er dare do that!” cried a young man to whom I repeat­ed this. Because — what if the rub­bers didn’t come?” 

If the rub­bers weren’t forth­com­ing, he implied — there was no God. But if he had turned on an elec­tric light and it had failed to shine, he would not have said, There is no elec­tric­i­ty!” He would have said, There is some­thing wrong with this lamp.” 

Let us under­stand then that if our exper­i­ment fails it is not due to a lack in God, but to a nat­ur­al and under­stand­able lack in our­selves. What sci­en­tist would be dis­cour­aged if his first exper­i­ment failed? Since we intend with His help to heal our short-com­ings, to repair our wiring, we need not fear to test His pow­er by prayer. 

A pair of rub­bers might not be the sim­plest objec­tive, nor a new coat, nor a larg­er home. We might be mis­tak­en con­cern­ing our need of these things. More­over, the attain­ing of such things in prayer involves the sway­ing of more minds than ours, and is rather dif­fi­cult for a first exper­i­ment. Let us choose one of the very sim­plest of prayer-exper­i­ments, remem­ber­ing always that it must be tan­gi­ble; that is, it must be some­thing that we can put the fin­ger on and say either This has been done,” or This has not been done.” 

How strange it is that peo­ple who fear to do this do not hes­i­tate to pray for the most dif­fi­cult objec­tives of all, such as the peace of the world or the sal­va­tion of their souls! If they have so lit­tle con­fi­dence in prayer that they do not dare to test their pow­ers of con­tact­ing God by pray­ing for an easy thing, it is prob­a­ble that their cos­mic inter­ces­sions are of lit­tle force. If every­one who prayed for the peace of the world had enough prayer-pow­er to accom­plish the heal­ing of a head cold, this would be a dif­fer­ent world with­in twen­ty-four hours. 

An objec­tive that is sim­ple and personal

All the cat­tle on a thou­sand hills are His, all the rub­bers in all the world are under His con­trol and suf­fi­cient pow­er to heal the head colds of all human­i­ty flows at His com­mand. Let us not be afraid, then, to choose for our first prayer-exper­i­ment an objec­tive that is sim­ple and per­son­al. This objec­tive must of course be in accor­dance with God’s will, for it is as dif­fi­cult to make God’s pow­er oper­ate con­trary to His will as it is to make water flow uphill. A wise engi­neer stud­ies the laws of flow­ing water and builds his water sys­tem in accor­dance with those laws. A wise sci­en­tist stud­ies the laws of nature and adapts his exper­i­ments to those laws. And a wise seek­er after God had bet­ter study the laws of God and adapt his prayers to those laws. 

There is no great mys­tery con­cern­ing the will of God, in so far as it applies to our small selves. God’s will is writ­ten into His nature, and the nature of God is love. There­fore, when we pray in accor­dance with the law of love, we are pray­ing in accor­dance with the will of God.

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Excerpt­ed from Spir­i­tu­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings on the Twelve Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines. Richard Fos­ter and Emi­lie Grif­fin, Edi­tors. New York: Harper­Collins, 2000.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in San­ford’s 1947 book The Heal­ing Light.

Originally published May 2000