Friday, July 26, 2013

The Significance of Prayer

Reflections on the Readings
July 28, 2013 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C

The Significance of Prayer

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."

Praying Through - Don't Stop Too Soon!

We've been house hunting for about 2 years. Everybody says it's a buyer's market. Not until this past week did we find one that we are really interested in. The interest rates have been at historic lows so, good for us, right? Well, wouldn't you know it, as of this writing we are waiting to see if our offer is accepted just as our previous interest rate rose 1 percentage point! One thing we've learned in this process is that it doesn't hurt to ask. Asking for it, or about it, or just because is not only reasonable, it's important and may save you from a bad decision or help you know it's a good decision.

Ask. Just ask. You won't know until you ask. That's good when buying a house or looking for a college or deciding to say I do. In the Pentecostal church I learned this axiom: "You are not through praying until you've prayed through." That was the spirituality that surrounded my impressionable heart when I was growing up. It intrigued me then and still does. This kind of importunity was an encouragement to me. It instilled in me the knowledge that I could hold on to God in prayer. When we press on in prayer it sends a message to the deceiver that one with God is a majority. 

A God of Love or the Divine Santa?

God does for us more than what we can actually ask for or think about. However, this doesn't mean that God is a divine Santa Clause who doles out answers to prayer like candy. What it does mean is that through prayer we have Him as our ally. Going to God in prayer we approach the throne of grace. At that throne we obtain the help of grace we need at just the right time. That grace comes when praying for a wayward son or daughter. In times of sickness and uncertainty that grace often comes in the awareness of a presence of peace of no earthly origin. 

Answers to prayer sometimes are direct and precise. Sometimes it's a matter of watching in prayer when we are not certain of the outcome or how to proceed. In those moments we may simply have a knowledge in our heart that God is. You can always believe that He is aware of our every weakness; he is acquainted with all of our grief for God is and he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Bargaining with the Love of God !  

In prayer we encounter the love of God. Abraham bargained with that Love when he asked for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared. 

"Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?" Abraham pleaded. "If you find fifty righteous people in that wayward place, will you not spare everybody for the sake of the fifty?" Abraham then persists. In a dynamic dialogue Abraham entreats the Lord to spare the sinful cities for the sake of 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous souls. Every time I read this passage I keep expecting to hear Abraham to ask, "How about if there is just one righteous soul left in those godless cities? Will you not withhold your fiery judgement for the sake of one faithful heart?"

Audacious. Persistent. There is a holy tenacity and a fearless persistence that is common to the exercise of prayer. It is similar to Jacob holding on to the visiting angel and refusing to let him go until the he blesses him. He came out of that experience limping, but a limp well worth the wrestling with an angel all night even though he landed a holy punch in Jacob's thigh. 

Then the angel said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." 

But Jacob persisted: "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." Then the angel said, "Your name shall no more be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."  

Prayer unites us with God

Prayer is foremost an act of uniting ourselves with God. It is a desire to see with the eyes of God. When that vision of things happens we see with the eyes of our heart; enlightened with an awareness of the nearness of Him who made us and all that is and said, "It is good." 

Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father. He is the Father of lights, the very creator of the heavenly bodies. These lights in the heavens continue to reveal the beginnings of their existence and power. Such is the mystery of the Love of the Father whose brightness comes to us in prayer. In those moments of divine encounters we do not find ourselves among shadows or variables of God's love as if he could change. He is not diminished as if we could ask too much, or pray too often. He is not depleted by our constant pleading. The only thing that keeps us from knowing him as he wishes us to know him is when we do not believe in his benevolence - that he is good and able to do exceedingly above all that we could ever ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) 

Surely it was this union with the Father the disciples noticed when they saw and heard Jesus praying.What they witnessed in Jesus praying was as profound as the Transfiguration of our Lord. You will notice that the Transfiguration occurred as Jesus prayed at which time there came a voice of affirmation from heaven saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Luke 9:28-35) The followers of Jesus saw Him in the act of praying. What they noticed in that hour of prayer as they would at the Transfiguration was the Son of God in union with his Father. It is this closeness with the Father we seek when we pray, "Not my will, but thy will be done."

Letting Go and Letting God Have His Way

There are no limitations imposed on our coming to the Father. Prayer is a path of union with him. That union with him is why Jesus invites us to ask for the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit we were sealed with in baptism. If we have faith in God's power at work in our baptism then won't the Holy Spirit also help us to pray if we will but ask him to lead us in prayer. When we do not know how we ought to pray, we can ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. He will help us to pray. He will help us to pray the prayers of the Church in a way that sounds like we mean it. He will also open our prayer language up to create prayers with words we may not have ever thought about saying. 

There's nothing like praying in the Holy Spirit in the mighty name of Jesus. So let us not grieve the Holy Spirit or ever resist his strength and energy to help us pray. He will help us to pray always and without ceasing and fervently for the fervent prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects. (James 5:16) 

The admonition I heard all of my life growing up around fervent Pentecostal praying was just let go and let God have his way. I remember encountering that same fervor and wonder praying the Rosary for the first time. Initially I thought it was dry and borderline dead until somehow a momentary window into understanding it left me knowing that that prayer as are all prayers, like your prayers, are significant beyond our imagination. Amen.   

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail him at:   Visit him at:


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