Man's Difficulty with Prayer

—and not to faint.

— St. Luke 18:1

A prayer for another will react upon the mind that prays, its light will grow, will shine the brighter. And, prayer in its perfect idea being a rising up into the will of the Eternal, may not the help of the Father become one with the prayer of the child, and for the prayer of him he holds in his arms, go forth for him who does not yet will to be lifted to his embrace? To his bosom God himself cannot bring his children at once, and not at all except through his own suffering and theirs. But will not any good parent find some way of granting the prayer of the child who comes to him, saying, “Papa, this is my brother’s birthday; I have nothing to give him, and I do love him so! Could you give me something to give him, or give him something for me?”

It may be asked: Could not God have given the gift without the prayer? Why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only answer with the return question, why should my love be powerless to help another? If in God we live and move and have our being; if the very possibility of loving lies in this, that we exist in and by God himself, we must then be nearer to each other, we must by prayer come closer to each other, than by any bodily proximity or interchange of help. Surely, in the Eternal, hearts are never parted! Surely, through the Eternal, a heart that loves and seeks the good of another, must hold that other within reach!

Commentary

Does It Do Any Good to Pray?

by Stephen Carney

Often people will ask me the question, based upon the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:8, “If God already knowswhat I need, then why bother to pray?”

 Any father may know what his child needs, but he also knows that if he grants the need without the request then nothing is gained.  A child must come to know the one who provides, and the relationship of father and child is one of bonding and learning.  A child must grow to understand the heart of his or her father.  To not come to an understanding of your father's heart is to leave your soul adrift and troubled.  How many troubled youth have we seen that had a poor relationship with their father which caused them untold amounts of emotional and spiritual pain.  An absent father, though only slightly better than an abusive one, leaves a child always wondering and searching for that face in which they can recognize themselves and know that they belong to someone.  The horrors of an abusive father canleave untold damage upon the child.  All of this confirms what MacDonald is often quoted as saying that, “Fatherhood lies at the heart of the universe.”

But a good and kind father sets boundaries for his children, and though he loves them with all his heart, he knows they must stay within boundaries if they are to be safe and therefore all requests cannot be granted.  The child will test the boundaries, but a wise father will require that the lines be held in place for the safety of his children.  Some requests then are denied, because our lives would be left in danger.  Secondly, a wise father understands that a growing child does not yet understand him and that all requests are part of trying to figure out who father is and what he will do.  Therefore all requests the child makes have an aspect of discovery connected to them.  The child may perceive the father to be mean or unloving if he doesn't answer the request, which tells us the child is only focused upon what he or she wants and not yet upon the heart of the father.  Growth comes when the child realizes the request he or she is making is to someone who cares for them and is trying to provide what is best. 

Now, not all requests are life or death, nor does the human soul's salvation depend upon every request.  Our Father in heaven knows what we need, before we ask, but that doesn't mean he will not bless us with something we don't necessarily need, simply because he wishes to bring us some simple pleasure or happiness.  Here is where we often misunderstand prayer, while we don't need to worry over our needs, for the Lord will provide them for us, by this I mean, he cares for us as he does the sparrows, therefore, we are “to be anxious for nothing.” It is the confusing of our wants with our needs that causes us this misunderstanding.  Many times the thing we want is the thing we believe we need, and though we may be convince of it's essentialness to our well being, our lives can and will go on without it.  Sometimes these wants can sound like genuine needs.  For instance, one may have been given only a few months to live and as a result prays for healing.  Most people would count that a real need, but on the other hand any healing is nothing more than an extension of life for sooner or later we will get sick again, suffer and die.  I know that doesn't sound very hopeful, but will a few more years here really be that important when we know that we will have eternity to spend with our family and friends before the glorious face of God? 

But the object of prayer is to be in the presence of God, to be close to him and to experience his love and joy for us.  God is not a vending machine that says, put the money in and pull the lever and you can have whatever you want.  It is about building a relationship where we grow to know God in a deeper way and we begin to realize how known we are by God.  We are commanded to “Rejoice in the Lord always,...”  This is prayer at it's highest.  It is the soul experiencing God at a level of glory.  That is finding in the presence of God the joy we were searching for.  All requests for things is a little child’s belief that the things they are asking for will make her or him happy, not realizing that being in the presence of their father and sharing in the love of that relationship is the true joy.  C.S. Lewis put it this way in Surprised by Joy: “In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... The quality common to the three experiences...is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.  I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure.  Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again..I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if bother were in his power exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”  To rejoice is to make the first act of prayer a gratefulness for what has been already given, with the ending result that being grateful to God births in us a greater Joy. 

 As MacDonald says, “Could not God have given the gift without the prayer?  Why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another?  I can only answer with the return question, why should my love be powerless to help another?  If in God we live and move and have our being; if the very possibility of loving lies in this, that we exist in and by God himself, we must then be near to each other, we must by prayer come closer to each other, than by any bodily proximity or interchange of help.  Surely, in the Eternal, hearts are never parted! Surely, through the Eternal, a heart that loves and seeks the good of another, must hold that other within reach.”