The daytime talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, went from poverty as a child to being one of the richest women in the world. She tells the story of how, as a little girl, she would dream about the house she would one day live in. In her mind, she pictured herself in a home with four trees in the front yard. Now, with all the success she has achieved, her mansion in California boasts over one thousand trees in its front yard. Her point in telling the story is that what God has in store for us is so much greater than we could ever hope for or imagine for ourselves.
Though Oprah speaks about God's plan for us in material terms of fame and wealth, her basic point is true. God has a plan for each of us. He has a purpose for our lives which is much more wondrous than anything we could imagine for ourselves. We look at ourselves and our lives in such a limited way that we cannot see our full potential. God, however, knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we are capable of, and he fills us with his Spirit to overcome our weakness and to accomplish what we are otherwise incapable of.
The apostles are perfect examples of this power of God at work in believers. Many of them were fishermen. For the most part, they had settled down to an unremarkable, ordinary life with their families. Once they decide to follow Jesus, however, everything changes. They become the companions of the greatest man who ever lived. They witness miraculous signs and healings. After Pentecost, they receive the Holy Spirit and journey out to all the world to preach the good news. Most of them will eventually be killed for their witness to Jesus. They were simple, uneducated men. Yet because they answered Jesus' call, we regard them today as saints and heroes.
God wants the same for us - to take us to places we never could imagine going and to work wonders we never thought possible.
What is the secret to realizing God's plan for us and our lives? Jesus reveals it to us in today's gospel. It is prayer.
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, he shows them that prayer is a matter of bringing our needs to our Father in heaven. Like a good father, God wants to make sure we have whatever we need. Like a good father, he cares about us and wants to provide for us. He wants us to turn to him whenever we are in need and to rely on him for our daily bread. Because we are loved by our Father in heaven, Jesus teaches us that we can pray with confidence. If we ask with faith, God will answer our prayers.
However, like a good father, God will not give us everything we ask for. Because we have such a limited view of our lives and our potential, like children we often ask for things we do not really need or things that could be harmful to us. Every parent knows how true this is with their own children. The same is true in our relationship with God. Many times he does not give us what we ask for because it could harm us. Or God may delay in answering our prayer because, for a reason only he can know, the time is not right for us to receive it yet. God cares for us and knows our needs. But he also has a plan for our lives that is often difficult for us to see and understand. We need to approach him with trust, but we also need patience to give him the time he requires to work out his plan in our lives.
That is why Jesus teaches his disciples that they must be persistent in their prayers. We are not to give up just because we do not receive an immediate answer to our petitions. Instead we are to keep bringing our needs to him with confidence that he hears us and trust that he will answer us when the time is right.
Persevering in prayer is vital to our life of faith. It keeps us focused on our Heavenly Father as the source of every good gift. We grow in our reliance on him by lifting our petitions to him daily. We glimpse his love for us in how he provides for our needs in ways we could never hope for or imagine.
Persistence in prayer is also vital for our prayer life because it purifies and disciplines our desires. What I think I need today may seem insignificant tomorrow. With time, we get a better perspective on what is really necessary for our well-being. By bringing our prayers to God daily, we begin to sort out what is truly important and what might be insignificant or even harmful to us.
God loves us with the tenderness of a father. He wants to provide for us. However, because he has a plan for our lives that is beyond anything we could ever imagine, he wants to give us what will make his vision a reality in our lives. That means that he will not always answer our prayers in the way we expect. Or he may delay in answering us. But there can be no doubt that he hears us. He knows our needs better than we do. And he promises to meet those needs in marvelous and surprising ways if we turn to him daily asking, seeking and knocking.