As Catholics, we are called to build an open door to our church, a door that both invites others to enter into our fellowship and sends us forth into a waiting world in need of Christ’s healing power. The key to building this open doorway is prayer. We need to nurture and develop our individual and corporate prayer lives so that we will live as prayerful people who are wounded, yet healers, broken, yet whole in Christ.
Every part of our lives should be an offering of worship to God. Some people think of prayer as a way to manipulate God into giving us what we want. In reality, prayer is something that frees us from bondage, connects us with God’s Spirit, and changes us and the world around us through our mountain-moving faith.
Lessons in Prayer Learned
As a boy, I learned from the old Catechism that prayer is communication with God. Over the years I have refined those beautiful words. Prayer is a love song we sing with and to God. It is a fire that God births in our hearts and a living sacrifice we offer up to God on the altar of our surrender. It is a yielding to the Spirit and an active word that empowers us to love and to serve. It can be spoken in a whisper or shouted in a mighty psalm of praise. It can come in a cry of despair or a shout of victory. It binds on earth and binds in heaven as we submit to the will of our Father until no other choice but His remains.
Personal experience has taught us that prayer is life changing. It is an integral part of our sacramental life and, as such, is transformational. Prayer is a celebration of salvation past in Baptism. It is the ongoing journey of salvation we experience at the table, in the Confessional, in our vocations, and in God’s healing grace. Finally, it is the hope of that future vision of Christ, anticipated by every sacrament, every word, and every action we take to serve. It is the inward experience of the Spirit and the outward expression of our own empty longings finding their fulfillment within the Church.
The Character of Inner Change
One Bible character who exemplified this blueprint prayer was Jacob. Jacob’s name meant “heel grabber,” a figurative way of saying he was a deceiver. From the moment he came forth from his mother’s womb, he was trying to trip up others to achieve his own goals. He manipulated his brother to take his birthright, and deceived his father to steal his brother’s blessing. He spent years being used and abused by his Uncle Laban, and experienced division and strife between his two wives who each struggled for dominance in his household as they and their servant girls bore his children. When Jacob finally left his uncle to return home, he knew he would have to face his brother and deal with his mistakes once more.
It was at the ford of the Jabbok (which means “emptying”) where Jacob experienced a divine wrestling match with the Lord. After putting everything away from him, after being wounded by the Lord and exhausting all other options, Jacob was left with nothing but his desire for the blessing. Here, the deceiver emptied himself out before God, suffering injury and receiving a new name. God used Jacob’s failures, sins, and trials in order to reshape him from the inside-out. The deceiver became Israel, the one who wrestles with the Almighty and prevails.
Eliminating the Obstacles to Prayer
The story of Jacob illustrates for us so perfectly, the main obstacle to prayer. All of us are searching for fulfillment, provision, and peace; and yet our prayers often remain unanswered because we ask wrongly. (James 4:3) We need to approach the Throne of Grace as broken people, empty of our egos, stripped of our pride, and ready to receive in humility, so God can bless us in His way, in His timing, and for His plan. This is what true prayer is all about. It joins us with creation, with God’s will, and with one another in purpose. It is part of God’s holy discipline, His divine training program for our lives. Take a look at this passage from Hebrews:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11, RSV2-CE)
God wanted to produce abundant fruit in Jacob’s life. He wants to do the same for you and me. But we have to go through the tough times so that God can get rid of the rubbish of our selfish living and mold us into the people He wants us to be.
Prayer as a Transformational Death-to-Life Experience
Many people try to carry life’s burdens in their own strength. Even some Christians try to carry their Christianity as their own load, instead of giving it to Christ who makes all our burdens light. (Matthew 11:30) Jesus calls us to die to self and embrace our sufferings in light of His purposes for our lives. Look at these passages from John’s Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25, RSV2-CE)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11, RSV2-CE)
We need to die to ourselves in order to become all that we are in Christ. We need to lose this life and its hold on us in order to gain what is eternal and unchanging. God wants us to persevere because perseverance is a transformational process that ultimately leads to hope. So many of us are living without a sense of hope in our lives; yet Paul says that if Christ’s death was sufficient to save us when we were lost, it is so much more sufficient to empower our journey of salvation until the very end.
Prayer Fashions Weapons of Righteousness
The message is clear. God wants to do so much for us, with us, and through us by the grace we receive in prayer. Prayer convicts our hearts and fashions us into instruments for the Kingdom. Consider these final passages from Romans:
Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:13-14, RSV2-CE)
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, RSV2-CE)
When we yield to God, when we let Him carry us, when we present ourselves to be conformed to His pattern and used for His purposes, we fulfill the true purpose of prayer. We seek His transforming grace within our hearts and pour forth our lives in service for the Kingdom. This is what prayer and worship is all about. This is what it means to be able to test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. We become holy weapons of God’s power and presence. We are able to experience – to test out in our lives – His perfect will. (Romans 12:2) May we continue to give ourselves over to the perfect plan, God’s divine blueprint for our lives, by our commitment to fervent, deep, and transformative prayer.