Two Thoughts on Prayer

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July 25, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

July 25, 2016
Luke 11:1-13
Fr. George Smiga

A few weeks ago, we prayed that the Cavaliers would win the playoffs. Now they are the NBA champs. So God answered our prayer, right? But how about the fans in Oakland? I presume that some of them prayed that Golden State would win. Why was their prayer not answered? Did we pray harder? Were the Warriors less worthy? Is God, perhaps, a Cavaliers fan?

Just asking these questions illustrates how complex the reality of prayer is. How can we explain God’s actions when good people ask for different outcomes? How can we explain why certain prayers seem not to be answered? We don’t get the job offer. The person we wanted to take to the prom goes with someone else. The person we love does not recover from cancer. It’s no wonder some people conclude that prayer is useless. It doesn’t make any difference, they say. There’s no need to ask God for what we want. But against these objections, the Christian tradition, drawing deeply from its Jewish roots, insists that prayer is important, and that we should pray often. So how do we follow this tradition with all the questions about prayer? Let me offer you two thoughts which are related to one another.

The first is this: we will never fully understand how prayer works. When we pray, we insert our needs and our lives into the very heart of God. And God is greater than us. Because God is greater than us, we cannot fully understand how God negotiates competing requests or why some prayers go unanswered. But even though we do not understand how prayer works, we continue to hear the invitation of God to pray. God continues to ask us to place our needs and the issues of our lives into God’s hands. And God makes this invitation because God cares for us. This leads to the second point.

Prayer is not primarily about what we ask, but about who we are. Every time we turn to God in prayer we not only bring a need before God, but we remind ourselves that we belong to God. Jesus makes this clear in today’s gospel. He tells his disciples to pray and then immediately he says, “Which one of you as a father would give his son a snake when he asks for a fish, or a scorpion if he asks for an egg? If you give good things to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to you?” Prayer, then, is about a relationship. It is about who we are. We are daughters and sons of God. Prayer reminds us that we belong to God.

So two thoughts: we will never fully understand how prayer works, and prayer is primarily about who we are. Now I realize that these two insights do not answer all the questions about prayer. They certainly do not give Golden State fans any consolation! But they do show us how prayer flows from what we believe. If we believe that God is all good and powerful, if we believe that God has made us and saved us, if we believe that God cares for us and wants us to be happy, does it not make sense that we ask God for what we need? After all, if God is our Father, to whom else should we turn?

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