Editor’s note: This is the last of a series of columns Father Jeff Kirby has written for Lent.
Eighth truth: Christian prayer.
We have a lot of different definitions of prayer in our society. In a world dominated by a consumer spirit, it shouldn’t surprise us that many of these definitions are about what we can get or how we can manipulate God. It’s a shocking realization that many disciples of Christ do not understand what prayer is and what its place is in our life with Christ.
Before petitions and intercession, prayer is mainly about relationship. First and foremost, it is about God seeking us and initiating a friendship with us. God shows his desire for us. In seeing this desire, we are encouraged to desire him in return. In prayer, we turn to him and make a response of faith. We express our desire and thirst for God. We encounter him and give him our lives and needs. We approach God with humility realizing that we are not where we should be, and we ask him for help.
Our life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the all-holy God and living in communion with him. We have the possibility of this communion because, through baptism, we have already been united with Christ and dwell in him.
In prayer, we come to better understand the workings of God. We allow him to teach us and give us his world view. Authentic prayer purifies and edifies us. It expands our minds and hearts, and opens the way for greater insights into God’s goodness and providence.
Within this relationship with God, we offer him various petitions and needs. These petitions have an important place in our prayer life. They show our dependency on him.
In offering intercessions, however, we always pray that God’s will be done. Our prayer should not be seen as a means to change, manipulate, or bargain with God’s will. When we offer petitions, we make our request and we ask that it be in conformity with God’s will. If it is not and things go differently than we had hoped, then we ask for the strength to understand and accept his will.
It’s always a bit disturbing when I receive prayer chain e-mails or peculiar novenas and devotions which assure us that if we only do this prayer or that task then our prayer will be answered as we desire. This approach does not reflect the Christian understanding of prayer. Nor is it an accurate summary of God’s providence.
The truth of the matter is that our prayer doesn’t change God. Our prayer allows God to change us, and to see his goodness in a better light.
Our prayer life is not about what can be bargained for or bought by words and deeds. Our life of prayer is about God and our relationship with him. It is knowing that, in him, all our needs and petitions will be answered according to his plan and goodness.
Father Kirby is the parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians parish in Aiken. Visit www.jeffrey-kirby.com.