“In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. 27 And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” (Romans 8:26-27)
All too often in the Christian walk, we are tempted to get “ahead of our skis” when it comes to prayer. Natural reasoning would seem to indicate the more words we use, and the more time we spend in prayer, the better the “results”. When we approach God, especially with prayers of petition, the “ask” is all important. We want to be clear with our requests, so as not to be misunderstood and possibly not get what we hoped for. Asking God for what we need or even want is perfectly appropriate and is encouraged as a way of acknowledging God’s divine providence. The following pericope from the Gospel According to Matthew explains:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Mt 7:7-11)
Even if we are “crystal clear” in our requests, we must keep in mind that God’s ways are not our ways. Just as Jesus in the garden, we should end our prayers of petition with “not my will, but yours be done” The following prayer, attributed to a battle-weary confederate soldier nearing death, underscores the fact that God answers our prayers in a way that is best for us:
Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier
I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered,
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
Let us pray for the grace to persist in prayer, confident that God will act on our behalf in the most loving way possible according to His riches and glory. Saint Paul, in chapter three of his letter to the Ephesians, expresses the dynamism of God’s providence this way: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.