In her popular book The Secret, Rhonda Byrne claims that we can get whatever we want using the “law of attraction.” Byrne writes that what we think about, we attract. To obtain anything, we need only focus on what we want.
It is the law that determines the complete order in the Universe, every moment of your life, and every single thing you experience in your life. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, the law of attraction is forming your entire life experience, and this all-powerful law is doing that through your thoughts.1
Byrne claims the law of attraction has been recognized by many religions, including Christianity. She elaborates a process for using the law of attraction that includes three steps: ask, believe, and receive. She quotes Jesus discussing those aspects of prayer.
Despite the parallel between the process Byrne provides and Christian prayer, The Secret and the Bible relate to our desires in radically different ways. The Secret focuses on conforming the universe to our will. In the Bible, we are taught that our instinctual desires can mislead us. The Bible focuses not on conforming the universe to our will, but on conforming our will to the will of God.
We see that emphasis when we examine carefully the teaching of Jesus about prayer. Among that teaching is a model for prayer known as the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matt. 6:9 – 13 ESV)
The Lord’s Prayer contains several petitions, but only one petition for the satisfaction of our instinctual desires, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Even that petition is modest. Petitioning only for the satisfaction of basic physical needs corresponds to warnings elsewhere in scripture about pursuing all instinctual desires. For example, Paul warns,
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim. 6:9 – 10 NIV)
Paul writes that we should instead be content with the satisfaction of our physical needs.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Tim. 6:6 – 8 NIV)
While the petition for bread is about satisfying our desires, the petitions that surround it are about managing them. The petition that most clearly emphasizes prioritizing the will of God precedes the petition for bread, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The petitions related to sin also address our instinctual desires. Following the petition for bread, we find, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The kind of debt addressed is made clear by the verses the follow the Lord’s Prayer,
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14 – 15 NIV)
Our attitudes guide our behavior. We sin when our instinctual desires mislead us. Indeed, Jesus clarifies that we may sin through attitude alone, even if we do not act on our desires.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…. (Matt. 5:21 – 22 NIV)
The petition for forgiveness acknowledges past damage caused by our instinctual desires. The petition that follows and concludes the prayer, “lead us not into temptation,” acknowledges the danger our instinctual desires continue to pose. Both the content and organization of the Lord’s Prayer focus attention not on getting what we want but on wanting what we should.
While The Secret promises that we can get whatever we want, the Bible describes many petitions not granted. We see one even in a prayer Jesus makes for himself. Jesus predicts that he will be killed and visits a garden with some of his disciples. He tells them that he is filled with dread, saying “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34 NIV), and begs God for deliverance.
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35 – 36 NIV)
At the garden, Jesus is seized by armed men. He is beaten and scourged, and a crown of thorns is placed on his head. He is eventually nailed to a cross, where he hangs until he dies. The Aramaic word “Abba” is an intimate synonym for father that a child would use. Jesus begs his father for deliverance, but God does not spare him.
Paul writes that “for those who love God all things work together for good…” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). However, that good is not the satisfaction of our instinctual desires. Rather, Paul continues, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….” (Rom. 8:29 NIV). The good that is promised is to become like Jesus, who was obedient even to death. To become like Jesus is to transcend rather than gratify our instinctual desires.
In the Bible, Jesus shows how through prayer we can not only present our desires to God, but also confront our desires and submit ourselves to God. The Secret claims that we can get whatever we want through a process that resembles Christian prayer. However, for Jesus, prayer is not just a way of changing our circumstances, but also a way of changing ourselves.
- Rhonda Byrne, The Secret (New York: Atria Books; Hillsboro, Oregon: Beyond Words, 2006), 5.