A man was recently shopping on a Saturday morning and finding it difficult to get a car park. He turned to prayer. “Please God he said help me find a car park. If you help me find a car park I will come home straight after work. I will stop going out late and drinking. I’ll give up the horses. I’ll remember my wife’s birthday”. Then before his very eye he saw an empty car park space. “It’s alright God,” he said, “I’ve found one”.
Prayer can be a funny thing. That story highlights the danger that we can fall into in prayer. Complete self interest and bargaining. In fact the practice of prayer is much more subtle and sophisticated than that. Prayer is the art of opening oneself to the (an) other and to internal change.
Interestingly, the English word prayer derives from a Latin root, precari, from which also derives the word precarious. In its fundamental sense—but not, of course, its only sense—prayer is an appeal to the divine in the face of uncertain circumstances, a situation not in our control.
Glen Argan, Editor of Canada’s Western Catholic Reporter reminds us that “asking for God to give us what we want seems like a tawdry/cheap form of prayer. It may be me-centred, rather than God-centred. Distorted, it can turn into superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, points out that in prayers of petition, “we express awareness of our relationship with God. . . . Our petition is already a turning back to him” (no. 2629),” acknowledging that we are not masters of our own destinies.
This can be true. Our prayers of petition and intercession are usually something other than an expression of selfish desires. They can be cries of desperation. A loved one has an unexpected serious illness. My business is headed for bankruptcy. A relationship is on the rocks or has broken down. In times like these, we are more likely to cry out in grief and desperation. We feel powerless to change a bad situation and can only call out to God to halt the devastation.
In these times we don’t care what anyone thinks. We would howl from the rooftop if it would make things better. But we don’t need to wait till we’ve reached the end of our rope before turning to God. Prayers of intercession and petition need not be reserved for situations we can’t control. We need to ask God’s help even when we do have some control. To pray, to sit in silence, to open ourselves to being refashioned by the Scriptural Word of God, the mysterious presence of the Spirit who stirs our hearts can change our minds our hearts and ultimately our actions
So we should pray for relationships that are going well or which have minor problems well within our power to rectify; we should pray for peace, for justice and for growth. Such prayer acknowledges that everything depends on God and that aligning our hearts with Gods desire can bring about the kingdom we pray for.
Let’s have the courage to bring before the Lord our prayers and heartfelt desires this week.