Saturday, June 18, 2016

Prayer: More Than a Spiritual Vending Machine

Over the years I have noticed that many people's prayer lives resemble Varuca Salt tearing through Willie Wonka's chocolate factory singing "I Want it Now!".  God as vending machine.  Prayer as inserting the cash to get the sweets that are within.  It is frustrating business.  It is frustrating because God is not a vending machine.  He is not an over indulgent parent either that wants spoiled children.  He is a Triune God; a God of 3 persons so in eternal relationship with each other that is one God.  The bonds of the internal relationship is love.  If we are to understand the function of prayer in our lives, it cannot be understood outside of the concept of self-giving love.

Prayer is conversation with God.  We are told by Jesus that the Father already knows what we need before we ask Him.  Yet, how much of our prayer is our asking God for stuff?  Asking for things is not bad.  It shows on some level we understand that God is disposed to our good and wants to give us what we need.  But because God loves, we might not get an answer we want.

God can answer with other that yes.

There is a reason that Jesus reveals the 1st person of the Trinity as Father.  He is not just a good father, but the very zenith of what being a father is.  We can extrapolate a bit from what we know good fathers do here.  A good father does not always say yes.  If he loves his children, he cannot.  If the child asks for something that would harm them, he is obligated out of love for them to say no.  If the child is asking for something that stands against his loving plan, he also will say no. Sometimes, the answer is not yet.  Sometimes a child might want a good thing but at the wrong time.   For a good dad, love of his children is the prism by which the answers are given.

In prayer, we must understand that God is disposed to our good and knows our good far better than we know our own good.  We get short-sighted.   We lose sight that there is anything beyond this life.  Sometimes our prayer for things is motivated by fear, lust, greed, anger, envy, jealousy, or wrath.  We can confuse the words 'need' and 'want' quite often.  Sometimes we can get an idea of measuring how much we are loved by how much stuff we get.  The health and wealth gospel charlatans preach a God of giving stuff; love is measured in worldly goods.  Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to fixate on the things of this world; that detachment from worldly wealth is preferable; that God's love is not measured in excessive bounty.

As God is disposed to our eternal good, we need to trust that He sees a much bigger picture than we.

A Fuller Conversation

Our communication with God, though, needs to move beyond asking for stuff.  In our own human communication, we would weary of a person who only spoke to us when they wanted something.  We would grow wearier if the person became angry with us if we didn't deliver every single time.  We would grow weary, because we are not always disposed to the good of others when we feel used.  Because God is disposed to our good, he continues to want that relationship with usWe might well see that relationship blossom if we learn that there are other forms of prayer that need to be engaged.

Adoration:  Relationships are forged through love, mutual love between the parties.  The more the two parties share that mutual love, the stronger the bond becomes.  To love God is to give ourselves over to Him.  We know He is disposed to our good; are we disposed to His? To be disposed to His good is to desire to love as He loves, whom He loves, and  grow accordingly.  We must love God and express that love for Him.  Part and parcel is our desire to be in His presence.

We Catholics believe that God is made tangibly present in the Eucharist.  What is our attitude about Mass? What is our attitude about Eucharistic Adoration?  Do we express our affection for God?  If God is love as St John reminds, can we approach Him with any other disposition than love?

Penitential: Truth will point out that our response in love is imperfect.  Our sins are offenses against the love of God.  Some of those sins damage the relationship, some sever the relationship.  Our love for God will press us to seek forgiveness for our sins.  Our love for God will make us recognize God's deep desire for mercy.  In our prayer, we must understand the idea of right relationship.  So many times in the prophets the people of Israel and Judah are told that God loathes their sacrifices and does not hear their prayer because they lack love and thus lack true penance.  True penance desires amendment of life; a desire to cease sin.  Love will press us to know the inappropriate nature of demanding without love and without expressing sorrow for that lack of love; whether it be displayed to God or to those around us.

Notice in the Mass how we pause to call to mind our sins and ask for absolution before we enter fully into God's presence in the Eucharist! We do not enter God's presence with presumption.

Thanksgiving:  No more than we enter in God's presence with presumption, do we enter into His presence empty-handed.  It takes arrogance to ask for stuff when we have not been thankful for God's presence and blessings we have already had.  So central to our faith is thanksgiving that our celebration of the Mass is called the Eucharist.  the word 'Eucharist' comes from the Greek for thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is motivated by love; it is an acknowledgement of God's love made manifest in our lives.

To grow deeper in relationship with God will necessitate our showing the discipline to be aware that we incorporate these three types of prayer daily into or lives.

In the fourth type of prayer, intercession, we seek the will of God in the lives of others.  We pray for the living. We pray for the dead.  This is the prayer life of the saints.  They glorify God, they intercede for others.  We demonstrate the love of God in our lives by showing that love in our prayerful concern for others.  We show our love of God by the love we show for others.  Intercessory prayer must be a mainstay in a Catholic's prayer life.  Intercession is not about telling God what to do, but in laying these people in God's care trusting is His providence and will for them.

A Simple Exercise

Many years ago, a spiritual director gave me a simple exercise to incorporate these prayers into my life.  It is four steps.  Sometimes it will short, sometimes longer.  Do it before bed.

STEP 1: Enter into God's presence in praise, acknowledging His love for us and my love for HIm.

STEP 2:  Reflect upon the day, looking at the positives and blessings.  Give thanks to God for each and everyone of these.

STEP 3:  Reflect upon the day again, looking at where our own actions, words, and thoughts fell short.  If we find that we have severed the relationship with mortal sin, make a commitment to get to confession as soon as possible.  Pray a sincere Act of Contrition when done with this section.

STEP 4:  Reflect upon the day one more time.  Now look for those people and situations that  need to be prayed for.  Notice to pray for them, not about them.  This is an act of love; looking out for the good of my neighbor.  Intercede for them; ask God to give them that which He knows they need.  Ask Him to help you aid this giving.

Over time you will notice patterns good and bad.  You will find examens of conscience much easier and a greater awareness of God's presence and blessings already present.  Like a maturing child, you will approach God more with what you need and not what you want.  The more we engage, the closer the relationship.  The closer the relationship, the more natural and necessary prayer become...the more comfortable we will be with all 4 forms of prayer.

Finally, we cannot let feelings nor emotions determine the efficacy of prayer.  There will be dry spells.  It happens.  We forge on.  Usually the dry spells are God's way of inviting us deeper; to do this we have to desire it and leave behind was is comfortable.  Prayer and relationship do not grow merely by feeling, but by growth in virtue.

May God bless your undertaking this effort!

1 comment:

  1. Gosh!!! Moving deep homily for a priest about to leave on vacation! You've given us at least two weeks of spiritual food to dwell upon until you get back!! ( snack included!)