Why Pray? 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Why Pray? 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Why Pray?

A family was preparing to move all the way across the country. And the night before they left, their little five-year-old knelt to say her prayers: “Thank you, God, for this day, for the birds and the flowers and for all good things. God bless mommy and daddy and Jennifer and all my friends.” The child paused for a moment and then concluded, “Good-bye, God. We’re moving to California.”

California: Is that outside God’s jurisdiction? Some of us might think so.

But all kidding aside, the way we pray reveals what we think about God. First consider how you make time for prayer. We spoke quite a bit last week about how to make time for prayer and issued the 4 minute prayer challenge.

Remember we suggested that if you are having trouble finding time to pray, you try setting your phone alarm to go off 4 times per day. Once in the early morning, once mid or late morning, once mid or late afternoon and once in the evening before you go to bed. When your alarm goes off, no matter where you are or what you are doing, that’s your reminder to think about God for 1 minute. Just rest in God’s presence for 1 minute. If you want to read a brief scripture passage or say a prayer, fine, but be sure you acknowledge that you are in the holy presence of God for just one minute.

So that’s just one idea on how to make time for prayer. Let’s talk about how we pray. When we pray most of us make God too small. How much of our praying is really just a clumsy attempt at bribery: “If you’ll do this, God, I promise I’ll be good, I’ll write a big check to the church, I’ll always, I’ll never … whatever.” As if God could be bought. How much of our praying is like shopping online? Place your order and then wait for delivery.

How much of our praying and coming to church is really just an attempt to buy a little insurance against bad luck. And when bad luck comes anyway — as it always does — “Good-bye, God!” Some seats in every church are empty because God didn’t perform on cue: “What good is God, if he doesn’t deliver the goods, if he doesn’t give me what I want? That insurance policy was a waste.”

All of this thoroughly misses the point, both as to the nature of God and the purpose of praying. God is immense and good beyond all imagining, and praying is not about changing God’s mind. God already knows what we need and wants us to have it. No persuasion or manipulation is needed.

Praying is about changing US on the inside. As we open our hearts to the Lord, and listen attentively, and allow ourselves to be touched and moved within, we begin to see things as God sees them, and to want what God wants.

That’s the real gift that God always gives when we pray with open hearts: We get reshaped on the inside into his image and likeness, and as a result we get a taste of God’s peace and joy. And nothing is too big for us to face, for now we see and experience everything through God’s eyes. What a great vantage point!

This is the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us if we pray with open, trusting hearts. And it is much more precious than the stuff we ask for and think we have to have.

So ask, and you shall receive … the Holy Spirit. Seek, and you shall find … the Holy Spirit. Knock, and the Holy Spirit will be opened to you. And you will have whatever you need, no matter what. You will have what you need, not necessarily what you want, no matter what.