Prayer is powerful. When we humbly present ourselves before God and lay our needs out before Him, He answers us. He knows our thoughts and hears us. He knows our needs and wants to provide for us.
Each of us here today probably has a story of a time when, out of desperation, we cried out to God, and He provided us what we needed. It may have been for a loved one who was sick, for a friend who was in trouble or for our own needs. God surprised us by making what seemed impossible, possible. In a way that we could never have otherwise hoped for or imagined, a solution to our problem became evident. And there was no other explanation than that God heard and answered us. We became convinced of the power of prayer.
However, for every such story we may have, we most likely also have many others about prayers which were not answered. At the time, we may have wondered why it took Jesus so long to hear and answer us. We may have doubted that our prayers were even being heard at all. Looking back, we are probably glad that most of those prayers went unanswered. Mostly likely with time, better things came along or our perspective on life changed so that we no longer wanted what we had previously begged God to give us. We came to learn that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows when to say “no” to us as well as when to say “yes.” And we learned that “no” can sometimes be a more appropriate answer to our prayers.
Saint Augustine calls prayer an "exercise in desire". Prayer trains our heart to desire what God desires. When we pray, we are calibrating our thoughts along the lines of God’s mercy and love. The power of prayer is not in getting God to give us what we want, but in transforming our hearts to love and desire what He loves and desires. Prayer trains us to think and to love as God does. As we become more like Jesus through the time we spend silently pondering his love, the things we pray for will be more in keeping with His will. Then we will see Him answer our petitions in powerful ways.
It is for this reason that incorporating the Bible into our prayer is so important. As Saint Paul teaches us in today’s second reading, all Scripture is inspired by God. The Bible reveals to us God’s plan for the world. When we read the Bible, it is the voice of God Himself that we are hearing. As we take each word in and reflect on the stories, we come to understand His love and mercy. The truth of the Scriptures corrects the falsehoods, misconceptions and prejudices that so often darken our minds. As we memorize verses that have special meaning to us and call them to mind during the day, we are given strength against the temptations to look the other way when someone needs us or to talk behind another person’s back. It immerses our minds and hearts into the mind and heart of God, and we begin to think, to act and to pray as He would.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches us that we must persevere in bringing our prayers to God if we want them to be answered. Jesus tells the parable of a widow who seeks justice from a corrupt judge. The judge is not inclined to rule in her favor, but because she will not leave him alone, he eventually does what she asks. God, on the other hand, does want to provide for our needs. However, he also requires that we wait to receive an answer. First of all, He knows the proper time to answer our prayer. If it is something we truly need, we will get it when we need it and not a moment sooner. Secondly, if it is something that we do not need or that would be harmful to us, He wants to give us the time to realize that what we are seeking is not in accordance with His will and to lead us to find another way to solve our problem. Thirdly, by making us wait, God is often trying to strengthen our faith. By not giving up when our prayers go unanswered, we will face life’s other difficulties with that much more resolve and confidence.
It is true that, no matter how seemingly insignificant or daunting our challenges are, God cares about them even more than we do. But it is also true that God has a greater plan unfolding through history which we are just a small but important part of. It is by locating our place in that unfolding plan and committing ourselves to participating in it, that our prayers make any sense. Simply put, if what we want is contrary to what God wants, then our prayers will not be answered in the way we expect. I imagine that many good and pious people in Jesus' day prayed that He would be shown to be an impostor, or that they could come up with answers to the challenges he posed. Jesus himself prayed that the cup of suffering pass him by - but only if it be according to God's will. Just like the millions of other unanswered prayers, are we not glad those were not answered!
Persistence in prayer is necessary because God's plan takes time to unfold and our hearts and minds are slow to grasp His work in our lives. We so often want an instant response, but that is not how our Heavenly Father operates. He takes whatever time necessary to make sure His plan is executed perfectly.
God is more like a crock pot than a microwave.
For that reason, like Moses in today’s first reading who grew weary holding his arms up during the battle, we need each other’s help to persist in prayer both for our personal needs and in our struggle to make God's justice and peace real in our world. That is why we gather every Sunday as a community of faith. We pray for each other and strengthen each other through our witness of faith. Together we lift our hands up in praise and thanksgiving seeking the power that can only come from God. Our lives are transformed, our prayers are answered and we know the peace that comes from resting in God’s will.