The Power of Intention

June 13th, 2011

When you fly in to Tulsa Oklahoma you can see the entrance of Oral Roberts University from the plane. At the gates there is a massive sculpture known as The Praying Hands, standing 60 feet tall and weighing 30 tons, the largest bronze monument in the world. At first glance, it appears to be a straightforward image of two hands in prayer pose. But when you look closer, you see that they are not two identical hands. You have to dig a little to find the reason for this, but Oral Roberts himself said, “The Hands represent the hand of a physician using the natural forces of God’s earth and the hand of the prayer partner offering the prayer of faith.” One hand represents prayer and the other hand represents human expertise.

Each of us has a responsibility to use our hands, and brains and skills to serve the whole. So what is the purpose of the other hand, the prayer hand?

There are things we can’t control. The role of prayer is to acknowledge that we can’t control everything in life. Prayer is an act of surrender, humility and intention. Prayer is a way of releasing the burden of control over circumstances such as natural disasters, other peoples’ choices and evolutionary forces. It includes an element of gratitude for forces that hold the universe in place beyond our efforts, and it includes a surrender of outcomes beyond our control.

It’s not so much about “ask and you shall receive.” It’s more about, “express your deepest questions and doubts and at the right time the answer will become clear.” In the meantime, get comfortable with uncertainty, stop expecting that two and two will not equal four and give up struggling for what your ego has convinced you that you need to complete you. The initiative and the power lie within you to discern between things you can control and things you need to surrender. If you can’t control or fix or change something, then change your attitude to the situation. Surrender to the flow of life, and all that you truly need will find you because it is WITHIN you. You just need to peel away some of the protective layers and pride. Prayer is one way to do this.

My own view of prayer has evolved a LOT over the years. I used to think of prayer as communication with a supernatural being external and apart from myself. Now I think of prayer as communication with the highest, most whole part of myself.

Prayer and Intention

Prayer is less about asking and more about imagining. This is where prayer merges with intention. With intentions, you have the power to imagine the future of your wildest dreams, a future that serves you and others in powerful ways. The power of intention is the ability to think from the end and work backwards. Imagination is your memory of the future.

Michelangelo once said about his masterpiece Statue of David: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” It existed first in his imagination, as if he was carving it out of his memory. It began in his unconscious mind, and then came to birth in the marble.

Some people argue that the unconscious, or most ancient, parts of the brain have no way of distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. There seems to at least be some truth to this statement. Anyone who screams out loud in a horror movie knows what I’m talking about. Our brains have the ability to feel fear about things that are not real and may never be real. We also have the ability to imagine futures that are incredibly exciting. To the extent that this is true, you could say that if you focus on imagined fear your brain will think this is real. If you focus on an exciting future, also imagined, your brain will think this is real. Either way it’s a choice.

This is how intentions work. You look out to an imagined end point and work backwards. You train your brain to believe that your future is a reality and begin to take steps to live this reality.  There is an awesome example of this from Shell Oil Company. Oil companies need to project a long way into the future, including the price of commodities, global forces and unrest in the Middle East, to name a few. In the early 1990s, when they were projecting an oil price of $20 to $30 per barrel let alone the $120 a barrel we now have, they contracted a surprising support person. Betty Sue Flowers is a PhD in English, and worked closely with Joseph Campbell on the Power of Myth. She was contracted to write stories for Shell. She participated in meetings with strategists and economists and crafted their numbers and strategies into story form. Every day she revised the stories and circulated them to the team.

Eventually they created a series of scenarios about how the future might play out. The scenarios were based on scientific predictions but included some wiggle room for uncertain forces. The team was then able to choose their preferred scenario. In an interview, Flowers said this, “when you tell stories about the future, even if you’re not claiming to forecast, there’s some sense…that actually the future is the story you choose. Now that is very un-economic in its basis. It’s not the “invisible hand” working out invisibly, like a machine. Its human beings coming in and saying “I choose Scenario A, not Scenario B.” It’s a different emphasis–it puts the human being more in the center, in very nuanced ways, instead of these huge impersonal forces. It’s very subtle. But it makes a big difference.”

They learnt some important things that relate to intentions.

1. You don’t know the future- but you can create scenarios that make sense and CHOOSE one.

2. The scenarios don’t necessarily have straight lines and fixed outcomes. You can rewrite them as you learn and experience more of life.

3. Use your preferred vision of the future to create the present that you want.


Visualization is one way of practicing the power of intention. You can actually visualize the future you want and begin to make it a reality. Try it out. Choose something that comes from your deepest sense of purpose.

Visualize a powerful intention for your life or for the world. Let it come from your highest purpose where what you want, what others need and who you are, merge as one. Picture it in your mind with as much detail and clarity as you can. Feel it in your body. Be it with all your might. Frame it in a scene that is full of blue sky and light. See yourself in the vision, looking strong and fulfilled.

Now let it become part of your present reality. Let your intention loose. Let it unfold. Let it be a path on which your dreams can travel.

Consider adding an affirmation to your visualization. Something like this-

A vibrant and exciting future is unfolding in perfect order.

You have everything you need, right within you, to both create the reality you desire and surrender the parts of life that you can’t control. It’s all within you, waiting to be liberated like Michelangelo’s angel in marble. Carve the life of your wildest dreams out of the raw material of your humanity; your memory which has more knowledge of past, present and future than you could imagine, your strength that is shaped by life’s challenges, your skill that is honed by years of practice and your wisdom that knows what to change and what to surrender.

You are connected to the source and power of intentions, your own and others. It is a power that no single religion possesses. It can’t be possessed. Religions can hint at this power with stories and metaphors, but this is far bigger than any religion. This is an inner awakening. Imagine the revolution when people unite their loving intentions for the good of all. There is no limit to what can be achieved.

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  1. Priscila Leal says:

    I believe the best way to help others is by example.
    I think you did that with this article. It’s a prayer talking about prayer!

    Thank you again and always


  2. ian says:

    thank you Pri. You are very kind, and PERFECT English.

  3. Pam Picard says:

    Brillian Ian. One of your best yet. I especially appreciate your discussion of the relationship between prayer and forces beyond our control. As I am learning, that’s almost everything except that which I choose to believe, see and do. Very powerful and empowering.

  4. ian says:

    thanks Pam. I’m glad it connected. Namaste

  5. flipperthedolphin says:

    Great post, Ian, and very poignant for me, as, for a number of years, now, one of the duties in my Anglican Church congregation(we recently moved to our beautifully restored church, which was initally, and tragically, destroyed by fire in about 2004), has been prayers of the people, and,  as passionate as I am about both preparing, and delivering them, even I have to be careful with regard to the wording, as the danger with prayer, is when the pray-er words the prayers in such a way, that implies that it’s seemingly up to an external deity to fix up the world’s problems. To the contrary, as you said yourself “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for”. Prayer is not so much as expecting a God “up there” or “out there” to do things, but rather what the Spirit within us and others can do. Thanks once again, Ian!

  6. ian says:

    good to hear from you Phillip and congratulations on being back in your building.

  7. Jen Zins says:

    I’m so thankful for Rick Perry; humble enough to invite God into our mess.
    It’s whats in us Ian that has created this chaos to begin with…wisdom and  light are available for us if we #1 ASK! #2 lay aside our pride, our intentions, our arrogance #3 repent . He is so willing to direct us, if we are willing to live his will…instead of ours.

    Who’s will is best?

    Interesting post.

  8. Ian Phillips says:

    I was really moved by your comment in the June 15 post about “Jesus won’t be solving any of them” (problems)  and particularly the phrase, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” I’m a Licensed Lay Worship Leader in Essex Presbytery (Ont) and I’d like your permission to quote you in a message I’m preparing for our church on July 24th as I believe this is something that so many congregations have lost sight of.  I can send you an (unfinished) draft if you like before you decide.  After July 24 I will be posting my message on our website,
    Thanks for your consideration.
    Ian (also)

  9. ian says:

    Sure Ian. Go for it. How could I not trust a fellow Ian? I will check your site.
    Keep in touch Ian

  10. Ian Phillips says:

    Keep up the great work!

  11. Thanks so much for this great post. I have been reading and thinking a lot about prayer vs.visualization. Intention  and attention are powerful spiritual concepts.

  12. RadhiKa Sridhar says:

    The seeds being sown by you through your websitearea bound to bear fruit in the heart and head of whomsoever browses/shares  the site. Keep up your good work. Thanks

  13. Anne says:

    Truly a beautiful piece.  Thank You.  A keeper … to read often!  

  14. Dave Hampton says:

    Dear IanBeaming love to youJust spotted this piece via a tweet.  It’s great.And I love your intentionSpiritual teacher of inner wisdom, universal love, mindfulness, oneness, peace, and abundance I need some advice.You see you lost me with the very first three words of what you wrote:”When you fly…”I don’t fly – it kinda goes with my chosen territory as the carbon coachAny thoughts how I might graciously interact with you with the intention of asking you to blend a smidgeon of carbon consciousness into your healthy mix….Every passenger hour in the air results in an unseen unremarked unobserved 150kg of greenhouse gas pollution dumped into our common atmosphere, and it ain’t going away….I’m all for enlightenment – truly – but i’d like to include mindfulness for the spaceship Earth our bodies currently fly on

  15. ian says:

    Fair point Dave, but a bit of a challenge for those of us with family in Australia. The boat takes 6 months 🙂

  16. Art says:

    Great Article, “the shortest distance between two things is an intention” I agree, we have the power of the creator inside of us.. and when we blend our heart felt dessires with the Art of Allowing ( divine flow ) we are truly unstoppable beings, walking in the name of Love and light.. Thank you for this inspiring piece.. it touched the heart. and im sure many many more.  1Love

  17. drmohamedalgohr says:

    Yes..It’s very good art. … you had mentioned a lots.. and also messed alots! we must look for wide thoughts of our world..

  18. […] aware of the role of ego. This is part 4 in a series of articles on intentions. First I described the power of visualizing an end that excites you and then working backwards to make it happen. Then I wrote about […]

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