Whether you are thinking about committing to daily prayer for the first time, or you have been praying for years and your enthusiasm has faded, Thirsting for Prayer by Fr. Jacques-Philippe is the book for you. Based on his extensive experience giving retreats and on his discussions with people around the world, Fr. Philippe offers us a course on what prayer is, why it is important, and what we can hope to obtain when we are faithful to prayer in our lives. Thirsting for Prayer is filled with spiritual insights, examples from the lives of the saints, and scripture references; and it would be a great book to read if you would like to grow in prayer during this Lenten season.
What is prayer?
In the first chapter, Fr. Philippe begins by explaining that prayer, above all, is a response to God’s call. We read in scripture: “Pray without ceasing!” (1Thes 5:17), “Pray at all times!” (Eph 6:18). The most important reason to pray is because God Himself asks us to pray. Fr. Philippe assures us, that for prayer to be fruitful, the one thing necessary is that our prayer be a humble and trusting response to God’s call. Instead of approaching prayer as a means to get something, God simply invites us to “waste time” with Him.
Why should we pray?
Always keeping this in mind–that prayer must be given freely, generously, and without making demands, Fr. Philippe shares with us seven fruits of consistent and faithful prayer:
1. Prayer places God in the center of our lives.
If we do not pray, we will inevitably be self-centered. Conversely, with prayer, we will have the grace to give God the proper place in our lives—the center. Through prayer we realize that God is our Rock. Prayer also gives us strength to face the difficulties of life. Just as St. John the Evangelist rested on Christ’s heart during the last supper, and was then able to stay with him during his passion, when we rest with Jesus in prayer he gives us the strength to face our most difficult trials.
2. Prayer teaches us to love freely.
When we experience prayer as giving God our time without expecting anything from Him, we begin to develop an attitude of loving freely, which then helps us to love others. Fr. Philippe says that prayer trains us to love because it gets us in the habit of being with God “in a state of loving attention,” which is more important than doing things for the other person. He writes,
“People with a long-established prayer life possess a noticeable quality of attention, presence, listening, and availability, which people whose whole lives are given over to activity are often incapable of.” (p. 13)
When we have acquired the habit of attentiveness in our daily prayer time,
we have a rare gift to give to the people we meet in this life.
3. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven.
If we persevere in prayer we will be given glimpses of the peace and fulfillment of paradise. Now, that may seem like a crazy statement, but ask anyone who has prayed consistently for a significant period of time and they will tell you it’s true. As Christ himself said, “You will see heaven opened.” (Jn. 1:51) Fr. Philippe writes that through prayer:
“we learn to do what we were created for. We bring into play the best and deepest faculties with which we were endowed as human beings . . . our powers of adoration, wonder, praise, and thanksgiving. We recover the heart and eyes of a child, to wonder at the Beauty beyond all beauty, the Love that surpasses all love.”
4. Prayer gives us a deeper knowledge of God and ourselves.
In prayer we go beyond our ideas of God, the images we have of Him (which always fall short) and we arrive at a real experience of Him. Ultimately, this is a personal experience of Him as father, for this is the way He reveals Himself through Jesus. We also come to understand ourselves—namely, that there is no one else who can give to God and to the world what we can give. Prayer teaches us that God loves us each uniquely, and that we have the ability to love Him (and our brothers and sisters, the Church, and the world) in a way that no one else can. While this is a mystery and something that must be lived out in gratitude and humility, “it is real enough and sure enough to give us the inner freedom and security we need to face life confidently.” (p. 25)
5. Compassion for our neighbor is born of prayer.
Genuine prayer causes our love for others to grow. It draws us close to God, it unites us to Him, and then we begin to share his infinite love for his creatures. Prayer enlarges and softens our hearts. St. John of the Cross said that the fruit of prayer and contemplation is that a person will not be content to get to heaven, but he or she will want to take as many souls as possible with them.
6. Prayer is a path to freedom.
Fr. Philippe writes that when we pray we bring our deepest desires (for love, peace, security and happiness) to God. When, in prayer, we receive these gifts from Him we will be less likely to look to money, work, people and things to fulfill those desires. Without prayer we will almost always make gods out of these things, by expecting them to fulfill us the way only God can. Finding happiness in prayer will make us “freer in regard to that anxious search for human satisfactions that is a permanent temptation.” (p.30)
7. Prayer unifies our lives.
With time, as we develop the habit of bringing everything to God in prayer, our lives find a sense of unity. God brings good out of everything–our desires and our efforts, but also our weaknesses and sinfulness. He can use all of it when we go before him humbly and consistently in prayer. Just as Mary “pondered” the events of Jesus’ life in her heart, we can keep the graces, events and struggles of our lives in a prayerful and trusting heart, where God can unify and bring good out of all of it.
I hope and pray that this brief introduction will inspire you to read Thirsting for Prayer, and that this incredible book, the fruit of Fr. Philippe’s own deep prayer, will help you experience a renewal in your prayer life and a fulfillment of the incredible blessings prayer brings into our lives.