Never Stop Fighting the Battle of Prayer
‘In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer.’ (Catechism 2726)
Do prayers really matter?
Have you ever wondered about the efficacy of your prayer? When you pray for the end to war in Ukraine or for more priests, does God not only hear that but also act on those prayers?
Of course he does, and they do matter. But why? How?
We know the Bible is the inspired word of God, so the 342 times prayer is mentioned in the Bible must mean something. (Love is mentioned “only” 310 times.) The Bible is very specific about prayer. Jesus prayed. Why would he, if it didn’t matter?
Also, why in the Bible did Jesus teach us to pray if it has no value? Why does the Lord’s Prayer have us ask our Father to “give us this day our daily bread … and lead us not into temptation?”
This passage (1 John 5:1415) is a powerful statement:
We have this confidence in God, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
It can’t be much clearer than that. God wants us to participate in working out our (and our neighbor’s) salvation.
Prayer isn’t just for asking things. Prayer is communication with God. Prayer, like any communication with another, can bring us closer to that other. God created us to be in communion with him. Frequent prayer is necessary for that communion to flourish.
Prayer helps us realize our helplessness and total dependence on God. In many cases this draws us closer. But why do we even need to get there? Why do innocent people suffer and why do catastrophes happen?
The short answer: This isn’t heaven. God created the earth and put us in this world with those who love us. He has given us the ability to grow, develop, enjoy and love him and others. With all these free gifts, we are often like the 4-year-old child with mom at the grocery store. We ask for the candy and toys and cry when we don’t get all of them. We are never satisfied. We want more. So, rather than seek our happiness in worldly things, he gave us that longing to search for him.
God brings good out of everything. There are countless stories of people who prayed for one thing and it didn’t happen and in the end they were happier with the “undesirable” outcome. . He draws families together after tragedies. He brings an outpouring of love from strangers at disasters. He even helps people reflect at funerals on their behavior and choices. So, challenges, failure and misery are a part of life through which God brings us.
Never forget: Jesus suffered. He suffered and died so that we “should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In Salvifici Doloris, St. John Paul II wonderfully points out that Christ invites us to unite our suffering to his suffering on the cross. There is redemptive grace in uniting our suffering with his, to bring new love into the world.
Now you might be thinking, “Yes, I understand that I can’t have everything. I understand that I should be thankful for what I have, and I realize that sometimes my suffering might have a purpose. But do prayers matter? Are there times when God changes the outcome?”
Yes, many times. The most common change occurs in our heart when we ask God for things. We recognize that we are not in charge and then we are dependent on God’s Providence. That is not a cop-out but a massive consolation.
In addition, there are many documented cases, when things “outside of nature” happen. These miracles change things. Miracles abound.
When the friends of the paralytic lowered him from the roof, “Jesus saw their faith; he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’… ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home’” (Mark 2:5,11).
The faith of the man’s friends influenced Christ, and we still see miracles like this today. God wants us to turn toward him. He wants us to love our neighbor. He wants us to get outside of ourselves by trusting in him. Faith and trust create space for God’s loving action.
So, if this is the case, how do we approach prayer? Do we nonchalantly say to a friend in need, “I will pray for you” and then forget about it? Do we rattle off a quick Hail Mary and go back to what we were doing? Or do we take seriously this opportunity to pray and humble ourselves before God and seek his kindness and mercy?
Will God notice in us that he “saw our faith” and provide his blessing? Have faith that God wants what is best for you. Trust him and depend on him. Accept the outcome as his will and see the best in it. Love him for loving you through this situation.