Have you ever felt like your prayers are not being heard? It could be a case of waiting for God’s timing when the answer is “no” or “not yet.” However, it could also be because the prayers are imperfect, lacking certain constitutive elements or dispositions.
While we tend to focus on prayers of petition, there are several main types of prayer: adoration, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving. Prayer, even prayer of petition, is about submitting our will to the will of God rather than vainly trying to conform God’s will to our wishes. Yet we are assured that God hears our petitions: “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).
Fr. Michael Müller (1825 – 1899) addresses the nature and necessity of prayer in his 1868 treatise Prayer: the Key of Salvation. His chapter “On the Conditions and Qualities of Prayer” considers how we can make our prayers of petition more efficacious by rendering them more pleasing to God. He lays out eight specific criteria that make our prayer worthy in the eyes of God:
- The Object of Our Prayer Must Be Lawful
There is no use praying for something that is contrary to God’s law. God does not hear prayers that seek the harm of others, or would cause, even indirectly, spiritual harm. Eternal salvation is the ultimate end of each prayer. God will grant the temporal goods only when they serve this end, even when the connection or contingency is not clear to us. We need not fear those praying for our destruction: such evil requests are contrary to the very nature of prayer. Fr. Müller explains that God will not grant prayers for things that are vain, detrimental to our salvation, motivated by personal ambition alone, or ill-considered.
So, firstly, we must ensure that we are praying for something that is objectively good. Fr. Müller goes a step further, explaining that when we pray for an object, we must also pray for the graces to obtain that object. For example, if we pray for the virtue of patience, we must pray to accept the graces of trials that are occasions for developing patience.
2. Our Prayer Must Be Humble
Humility and prayer are inseparable. Prayer is an implicit admission that we can do nothing on our own and rely completely on God for our existence. Our supplication is itself an acknowledgment of the proper supernatural order, in which we recognize how small and powerless we are when compared to God. Prayerful humility must also acknowledge our sinfulness and God’s goodness—our judgment is clouded, but He always knows what is best for us. Fr. Müller cites the cases of the Pharisee and the Publican and the Good Thief as exemplars of humble prayer. He also points out the humility that Christ Himself exhibited in His own prayer, culminating in His total submission to the will of the Father at Gethsemane.
3. Our Prayer Must Be Fervent
Fervency in prayer testifies that we believe in God’s omnipotence and trust in His promises: we believe He can do anything, and that He will provide perfectly for our greatest needs.
Fervor, as the opposite of lukewarmness, is often produced in the fire of adversity. Therefore, Fr. Müller states: “In order to produce this holy fervor in our hearts, God often sends us troubles, crosses, sickness, and adversities of every description, nothing being better calculated to make us pray with fervor than afflictions, tribulations and crosses.”
These challenges are not a sign to give up, but rather that God is purifying you and strengthening your resolve to have recourse to Him.
4. Our Prayer Must Be Followed by an Amendment of Life
Like the substance of a good confession, purpose of amendment is a constituent element of truly efficacious prayer. Fr. Müller emphasizes the importance of praying first and foremost for our salvation, of praying to be restored to God’s friendship after we have sinned, of guarding the state of grace, and of sincerely rooting out our faults and imperfections. These are ultimately the primary ends of prayer—secondary ends must be subordinated to progress in faith and virtue.
5. Our Prayer Must Be United with Forgiveness of Injuries
Fr. Muller reminds us of Our Lord’s constant admonitions to forgive our debtors. Everyone who sins offends God, and yet He still loves each of us perfectly and wishes our good. Why then should we be any different? If God commands us to forgive, then we know God’s justice is not harmed by our forgiveness.
Fr. Müller illustrates how our forgiveness greatly pleases God, and disposes Him to more readily grant our requests:
“Now, by imitating His goodness in a point most averse to our nature, we give Him the greatest glory, and do such violence to His tender and meek Heart as to cause it not only to forgive the sin of our enemies, but even to force it to grant all our prayers. He does so because He wishes to be far more indulgent, far more merciful, and far more liberal than it is possible for us ever to be. Holy Scripture, and the lives of the Saints, furnish us with most striking examples in proof of this great and most consoling truth.”
6. Our Prayer Must Be United with Good Works
Doctrine on justification insists that good works are essential to salvation, and are an integral part of comprehensive spiritual progress. “Faith without works is dead.” It is important to remember that prayers of intercession for others, especially for the conversion of sinners and for the souls in Purgatory, are considered good works. The corporal and spiritual acts of mercy should accompany petitionary prayer as we strive to live out the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
7. Our Prayer Must Be Confident
8. Our Prayer Must Be Persevering
As with fervent prayer, confidence and perseverance are testimonies of our faith in God and His promises. We acknowledge that God is Who He says He is. Furthermore, Fr. Müller points out that God gives the confident penitent more than what is asked for, quoting Saint Ambrose: “grace is always more abundant than prayer.”
“Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).
Ask for the miracle!
God is unchangeable; we are the variables. Prayer does not change God’s nature, but He does want us to be involved in our own salvation and to earnestly approach Him through constant pious petitions.
So confident is Fr. Müller in this sublime power of prayer that he concludes:
My dear reader, were I to ask you: ‘Is there any power in the world to which God Himself submits ?’ Most undoubtedly you would answer: ‘No; there is none, and to maintain the contrary is to incur the guilt of heresy and blasphemy.’ Nevertheless, in spite of all this, I dare assert, without the slightest fear of committing the sin either of heresy or of blasphemy, that there is a power to which Almighty God feels Himself obliged to yield. ‘And what is this power?’ you will eagerly ask. ‘It is the power of the prayer of the just.’
Fittingly, all eight of these elements of prayer are perfectly encapsulated in the Our Father, in which Jesus teaches us exactly how we are to pray. A good place to start would be to fervently pray this prayer with the commitment to truly understand and mean what we say.
Prayer: the Key of Salvation is available to read free of charge at archive.org.