On Persevering in Prayer
Persevere in prayer? Why?
This first observation is the most obvious: If our prayers are immediately answered, the result is that we will come closer to God. It is in our nature to move closer to what works, and away from what fails. If our prayers are answered, even if it takes a while, you will ultimately come closer to God because God answered your petition. If you pray to win the lottery, and you do, I know the winner just got closer to God. This is a given. It is so easy to reconcile answered prayers and drawing closer to God that no further explanation is required.
The real challenge is when it appears our prayers were not answered. To be even more specific, the more critical or crucial the subjects of our prayer, the farther from God we can become when it appears our prayers were not answered.
If we pray to win the lottery, and we do not, we are no further from God than when we started. First of all, everyone knows the odds of winning the lottery are extreme. Losing is already expected. Winning would be a surprise. Secondly, and more importantly, we are taught that God hears all prayers, but only gives us what is best for us. We quickly assume God thought winning the lottery was not best for us at this time. There is no crisis of faith if you don’t win the lottery after praying to do so.
But what if you pray for a very serious matter. This is where the confusion begins. This is where our challenge begins. This is where our faith is tested. How do you come closer to God when you pray hard, and it appears He did not listen to your prayers? God can’t give us a deaf ear, but how can we tell the difference?
Italy is predominately a Catholic country. During World War II Italy was allied with Nazi Germany and Hitler. But I am totally certain that the Nazi alliance did not stop Italian Catholic mothers and fathers from praying to our God for the safety of their sons in battle. In battle against whom? Americans, with mothers and fathers praying for the safety of their sons, to the very same God. Where? In Church, at the very same Mass attended by Italian mothers. There are some irreconcilable differences here that nevertheless, have to be reckoned with.
When the parents buried their dead son, whether they were Italian or American parents, I’m certain it appeared to some parents their prayers were not answered. Both sets of parents asked for the same result: Bring our son home alive. When that son came home dead, it would appear God was not listening.
Many a Christian has walked away from God when it appeared to them their prayers were not answered. In fact, ironically in these cases prayer did not bring the petitioner closer to God, it brought them farther apart. Because God’s response to prayer is often misunderstood as “No response,” prayer becomes the catalyst for pushing people away from God, not closer.
It becomes apparent that the answer to the question, “How has prayer helped you come closer to God?” can be found by looking closer at the toughest times in our lives, not the easiest. The times when it appears our prayers were not answered. The times when, despite your prayers, a loved one loses their battle to an illness. Despite your prayers, you can’t find a job. Despite your prayers, your children remain away from the church. Despite your prayers, members of your family fail to reconcile. Despite your prayers, there is war, and misery, and famine.
Prayer helps all of us come closer to God by challenging our faith in God. Are we fair weather friends of God? Do we quit on God? Do we only come closer to God when He gives us a miracle, or do we look for the deeper reasons our prayer is not answered in the exact manner we want, when we want, where we want? Do we quit praying, or keep praying in faith through the tough times? Do we severe our relationship with God, or do we persevere in the pain while trying to know God’s plan for us? Do we look to the Saints for inspiration?
If you continue to pray in the face of adversity, that is how prayer will help you come closer to God. Not the good times, but the bad times. And make no mistake, He simultaneously has the subject of your prayers in his loving hands.
A priest friend of mine always tells me to pray that he prays for himself. Our prayer is almost as simple: We should pray that we pray through the tough times in our lives, because that is the time when we will be brought closer to God through prayer. Harder said than done, but trust that God knows what He’s doing. After all, He created the cosmos.
But this is easier said than done. Nevertheless, when your father or mother dies, despite your prayers, persevere in prayer. When you do not get the promotion you prayed for, persevere in prayer. If you live next door to a bad neighbor, persevere in prayer. In hindsight, I have never failed to understand God’s action or inaction in my life, even though I may not have understood at the time.
How do you persevere? Try and focus on the nature of God, that God is love, and He always does what is best for us, even if we can not understand His actions or decisions in the present moment. Try and remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “But deliver us from evil.” So much pain in the world originates from evil, not God. And evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the evil one, the angel who opposes God.
To summarize, I certainly don’t mind if you pray that I win the lottery, but my faith will not crumble if I do not. Always remember it is in the toughest times of our lives that prayer brings us closer to our God, and perhaps sometimes that is the message to be learned. God has it under control. Our only job is to persevere.
To never quit.