Have you ever felt that God wasn’t answering your prayers? Perhaps you have been praying for the conversion of a loved one, the physical healing of a close friend, a new job, a broken relationship, etc. Despite many prayers, the outcome wasn’t what you expected. In some cases, you may have just given up and stopped praying. You may question the validity of Jesus’ words, “Ask and you shall receive”. Does prayer really make a difference or is it just something that makes us feel good? Let’s take a look at prayer and why it is important that we not only pray, but “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).
According to St. John Damascene, a 6th century bishop and doctor of the Church, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux stated, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Christian prayer as, “a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ” (CCC 2564). While we are most familiar with prayer of petition, the above statements make it obvious that there is more to prayer than merely asking God for something.
To put it in simple terms, prayer is a means of communicating and sharing with God. The Catechism discusses several different forms of prayer, including Blessing, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving and Praise. While each of these methods of prayer uses a different approach, they all involve an encounter between God and man. Understanding that encounter will help us to better comprehend the meaning of prayer in our lives. Utilizing several of these methods will allow us to grow closer to the Lord, which is the ultimate objective of prayer. As we turn to the Lord in prayer, we’ll begin to increase our desire for the things of Heaven and focus more on letting God’s will guide our lives.
must make time for prayer. Even if it means giving up 15-30 minutes of your leisure time — some quiet time with the Lord is a necessity! Prayer doesn’t have to be formal and it doesn’t have to take place inside of a church. We can talk to Jesus like we would speak to any of our friends. He wants to know all of our worries and concerns. Conversing with the Lord should be the main foundation of our prayer life.
We can then build on that foundation by expanding our definition of prayer. Origen, one of the early Church fathers observed, “He ‘prays without ceasing’ who unites prayer to works and good works to prayer. Only in this way can we consider as realizable the principle of praying without ceasing.” In other words, we can turn all of our work into prayer simply by offering it to the Father. The traditional Morning Offering provides an excellent means of offering our work to the Lord and can be said in less than a minute! By employing this technique, we are even able to pray while we work. While this form of prayer should never replace our quiet time with God, it provides us with a means to “pray constantly” throughout the day.
According to the Catechism , “The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction” (CCC 2729). This is a problem common to all forms of prayer. Whether you’re in a church, praying the rosary in your car or praying before the Blessed Sacrament, you will encounter distractions at some point. These distractions provide us, according to the Catechism, with an idea of “what we are attached to” (CCC 2729) and give us an opportunity to choose the Lord over the distraction. When these thoughts occur, we should simply turn our minds to God and continue praying. Another common difficulty that we may encounter is dryness, which is a lack of feeling when we pray. This is something that many of the saints struggled with and is best overcome by perseverance. We need to rely on our faith during these times and struggle to continue praying, no matter how we feel. Bouts of dryness provide us with an opportunity to love God for who He is, not for the good feeling that we may experience during prayer.
As mentioned earlier, one of the most common complaints when we pray is that God doesn’t answer our prayers. This complaint usually occurs with prayers of petition and provides an honest look into the reality of our human nature. The Catechism puts things into perspective with the following comments:
In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (CCC 2735).
When we pray, are we truly lifting our hearts to Almighty God or are we looking to “get what we want”? If we really trust in His will, we should be satisfied with whatever answer we receive. Our frustration arises when we think that we know better than God. We decide how our prayers should be answered and are not pleased when the Lord’s answer may differ from ours. While Jesus does promise that we will receive an answer when we ask (Mt 7:8), He doesn’t promise that we will get what we ask for…Instead, He promises that we will get what we need . Jesus assures us of this when He states, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Mt 7:9-11) Still not convinced? Scripture gives us a very clear explanation for why we may not get what we request, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:3) We could save ourselves a lot of aggravation by accepting this advice and seeking to discern God’s will for our lives. In doing so, we would get a clearer idea of those “things” that God wants us to have.
Knowing God’s will for our lives can sometimes be difficult, but a few basic principles can be very helpful. For one thing, it would be wrong to pray for something that goes against a teaching of the Church. For example, praying for the success of in-vitro fertilization or an invalid marriage would not be examples of praying with God’s will in mind. God never wills anything that is prohibited by His Church. While He does respect our free will and permits us to do things that are not in line with the commandments, praying for sinful things is not an example of praying with God’s will in mind.
Second, we should append all of our prayer requests with, “if it is your will.” If we truly mean what we say, we’ll have no problem accepting whatever God sends…even if it wasn’t what we asked for. The ultimate example of praying in this manner was given by Our Lord as he suffered in the garden prior to His arrest and crucifixion. His prayer shows us the art of praying in union with the will of the Father. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39)
While we do not know exactly why prayer is effective, we do know that it is important. Jesus instructed us to pray and prayed Himself on many occasions. The reason that it works is known only to God and is beyond our understanding. Our main concern should be that we continue to pray as often as possible. Most importantly, the next time that you are tempted to say that God doesn’t answer your prayers, remember that He can answer in a few different ways — “Yes”, “No” or “Not yet” are all valid answers! Therefore, when we complain that God doesn’t answer our prayers, don’t we really mean, “God doesn’t answer my prayers…the way that I want”?
Lord, help me to trust in your perfect will for my life. May I always be content with your answers to my prayers, even if I don’t understand them. Amen.