PRAY, WITHOUT CEASING
Ex 17:8-13; 2Tim 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8
Today’s readings are talking about prayer. The first step of prayer (as we saw last Sunday) is GRATITUDE. Jesus cures ten men from leprosy. Only one returns to thank him. Jesus says to that man, “Your faith has saved you.” We are saved by faith, that is, by a relationship to Christ which we express in thanksgiving. The most basic prayer is gratitude. Another word for gratitude is Eucharist, that is, what we are doing now – the Mass. This morning, we see the second element of prayer: PERSISTENCE. The Old Testament reading gives us a powerful image of persistence – Moses extending his arms to God. As long as he keeps his arms up, the Israelites win the battle. But when Moses weakens and lowers his arms, the Israelites take a beating. Jesus tells a story about widow. In the gospel of today, from Luke 18:1-8, we see an unrelenting widow who faces off a corrupt judge. The very first verse tells us the point of the story. “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Then, Jesus enjoins us to imitate her.
- WHAT PRAYER IS NOT
On first reading, the parable sounds like Jesus is saying, “If you just keep praying you will bug God enough that He will give you what you want.” Some people may come away thinking that if they become obnoxious in their praying God will give them what they want. Certainly, that is not the message of the parable! Let us think about three simple statements about prayer that come from the clear teaching of Scripture:
- a) First, prayer is not about motivating God to do something. The Bible affirms that God is good, He is compassionate, and He defends those who are afflicted. In 2 Peter 3:19 Peter explains that the reason the Second Coming of Christ is delayed is because God does not want people to perish but to come to repentance. God is not reluctanttobless, He is eager to bless. Our text is not saying God is like the unjust Judge. In fact, just the opposite is the case. The point of the parable is that if a persistent widow can gain satisfaction from an unjust and reluctant Judge, then how much more confident and diligent we should be since God desires to bless us?
- b) Second, prayer is not about telling God about needs that need to be met. God does not need us to inform Him. He knows all things. Jesus said, “do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.(Matthew 6:31-32)
- c) Third, prayer is not about getting God to change His mind. In at least three places in the Bible we read words similar to these: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”(Numbers 23:19). In Hebrews13:8 we read the Lord is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
However, we must admit that there are times in the Bible when it does seem that God determined to do one thing and then “changed His mind”. For example, God told the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh and announce his judgment. When the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, God withheld judgment. Did God change His mind? Not at all. To understand this better, let us think about it this way: God desires to teach us and lead us into a relationship with Him. That is what he wanted of the people of Nineveh. When we rebel, He erects roadblocks and barriers and sometimes allows difficulty in our lives to turn us from the wrong way. When we trust and follow Him we experience His blessing (that is sometimes something hard for our good). God’s will and purpose do not change.
We, all, say that God’s time is the best. When it comes to prayer, we often forget that. Our own time becomes the best. We want God to do it in our own time. We, even, have a tendency to look at prayer like an opinion poll. We think the more people we can marshal to prayer, the more likely God is to be swayed and give us what we want. Such a belief implies that God is wrong and needs to be convinced to turn in a different direction. But God always does what is right. His plan is perfect He does not need our advice on how to make it better.
- THE PURPOSE OF PRAYER
So, why pray? The simple answer is: because God has told us to do so. Jesus prayed when He was baptized in Jordan River and the heavens opened (Luke 3:21). He prayed in the desert after His baptism and overcame the devil’s temptations by His prayers. Even if He was very busy with His ministry, he found time to be in union with God. Luke’s Gospel further records the words of Christ, “Ask, and it will be given to you.” Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel, “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.” In today’s gospel Christ encourages us to pray. We tell God our needs in prayer because Jesus told us to. The good news is that when we pray, something happens. We change. The widow got justice, the Israelites won. For us, we keep praying, and we become people who pray. We pray to focus in on God. Prayer forces us from self-reliance to dependence on God. When we are close to God by prayer, we live a God-centered life. Jesus says the most important thing about prayer is to “pray without becoming weary.” So we must keep raising our arms to God in prayer, just as Moses did. However, if we are merely praying to get what we want, prayer will seem empty and ineffective. Here are some principles about prayer, as Jesus teaches us:
- a) We must remember that prayer is the means by which we develop our relationship with God. We do not come into prayer as equals. We come to God as the one who alone can meet our needs. He is the One who gives strength. He is the One that breaks the power of sin. He is the One who can turn the darkness into light. It is He who turns death into life. We need a relationship with Him more than we need anything else. Talking with God in prayer is essential to our relationship with Him. If we do not talk much during the week, a Sunday God is a stranger. It is in the depth of prayer we build a relationship that is alive and growing. It takes practice, a quiet place, an attitude of readiness and openness.
We must confess that much of the time we pray only when we need or want something. Sometimes, we act as if God should be pleased that we take time now and again to ask Him to do stuff for us! Jesus challenges us to develop an intimate, deep, and personal relationship with God. The way we do that is to continue to talk to and with God in prayer, for instance:
v By spending our time just praising God and thanking him without necessarily making requests.
v Asking God a question in prayer and then actually waiting for an answer with a willingness to take action.
v By asking God to bend our hearts to His will instead of attempting to convince Him to agree with us.
v By spending time with God reviewing the day and our behavior before Him during that day.
If we do not have any of these times, then we may be viewing God as our “genie” rather than our Lord. If we are seeking a relationship with God it will mean, then we will ask him to help us to honor Him in our infirmity rather than just asking Him to take the infirmity away. We will ask God to teach us contentment and trust rather than just asking for more money and material benefits. We will pray for wisdom and patience to trust His timing rather than demanding that God act “right now” to our favour. True prayer is concerned primarily with our relationship to God. Our goal will be to honor Him in every area of life because we know that HE is what we really need.
- b) Second, we must remember that perseverance in prayer builds character and faithfulness.Most of us are pretty short-sighted. We live in an immediate gratification culture. Our goal is to get what we want immediately and eliminate any discomfort we now experience. When Paul faced a “thorn in the flesh”(whatever it was) he asked God to remove it. God did not. Paul learned God was teaching him this simple truth: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul came to proclaim “when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul learned that when He was trusting God, He was stronger than when things were going well.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to simply “say a prayer”, he told them to “watch and pray”. He said, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. I think the point is that prayer, like any communication, involves diligence. We must wait upon the Lord. We must do more than simply pray. We must keep praying until our hearts are aligned with the heart of God. That’s exactly what we see Jesus doing in the Garden. Human as we are, we only tend to see what immediately lies before us. We forget that there is a “big picture”, and that God, because He is God, sees not only the micro and the macro of everything. It is not easy to surrender everything to God in prayer. Often, because of lack of trust or because of impatience, we do things according to our own will and according to our own time frame; and, more often than not, we find ourselves in more complications and in deeper trouble than when we first started. This often ends up in regrets on our part.
- c) Third, we must remember that persistent prayer keeps us from drifting away.Jesus warned his disciples that tough days were coming. He warned there would be false teachers and fierce persecution. Prayer gives us a chance to check our lives and make sure they remain “on track”. When we spend quality time in prayer God will alert us to danger.
For some reason we seem to think that we can live our lives however we want, and then, when we “need Him”, we can turn back to the Lord. The married couple that never really talks to each other may think that they will talk when they have something important to talk about. However, when that time comes they do not know how to talk to each. They have drifted apart and can no longer find each other. We will only be sensitive to the whispers of God’s Spirit when we talk with Him regularly.
- THE BIG QUESTION
The last verse is the important one for the disciples and for us to hear. “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Will Jesus find you and me persevering in prayer and action upon his return? This is not a story about praying until we get what we want. It is an encouragement to pray so that we might wait and watch for all of God’s comings and goings. The question is whether or not Christ’s followers will “give up” before that time comes.
- PRAYER WORKS
There were researches and studies since the mid 1990’s made by scientists in some universities of U.S.A. on the effects of prayer on health. The results of the research are very interesting. In May 1999 the Demography magazine published the findings of studies about the effects of prayer. The study was carried out on 22,000 people over nine years. Those who attend church weekly live 10% longer than those who do not. Recently Duke University released the results of a study on 4,000 people over the age of 65. Those who prayed regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. Those who attended religious services had healthier immune systems. More findings from Duke University and from Dartmouth and Yale Universities show that people in hospital who never attend church regularly have an average stay in hospital three times longer than those who do attend church regularly. Elderly people who never or rarely attend church have a stroke rate almost double that of those who do go to church. Studies in Israel show that religious people have a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer. So the data is there, the secret is out of the bag, prayer works.
Often you would hear sick people who went to places where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, like Lourdes and Fatima, say that although they did not receive physical healing they received the grace of acceptance. St. Monica, she prayed always for the conversion of her son St. Augustine until his conversion and even until her death
- PRAYER BRINGS HAPPINESS
Not only is prayer good for your health, not only did Jesus ask us to pray, but we actually need to pray for our happiness. If we do not pray, we will not be happy because the deepest part of our being will be starving for God. A beautiful Psalm, Psalm 63 describes our longing for God like this, “O God, you are my God, for you I long; For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you Like a dry weary land without water.” Therefore, just as a desert is thirsty for water we are thirsty for God and we satisfy that thirst in prayer. So let us pray, it is good for our health, Jesus asked us to pray and prayer satisfies our thirst for God.
- a) First, we need to work at prayer. By this we mean more than just setting aside a time and place for prayer (even though that is a good start). We must pursue the right heart and attitude in prayer. We must learn to pursue prayer for relationship withGod rather than for stuff from Rather than pray that our problems disappear we should pray that we will be faithful even in the midst of the trial.
- b) Second, we should pray honestly. There is no need to pretend with God, no reason to hide. Rather than trying to sound pious, we should pursue genuineness and honesty before the Father. It is OK to tell God that you are uncertain, that you are scared, that you are frustrated, that you are having trouble doing what He wants you to do and that you don’t know what to do.
- c) Third, when we pray in request for something, we should do so with the understanding that sometimes God is doing something more wonderful than we understand and something different from what we expect. This is the real reason for our frustration at “unanswered prayer”. The problem is that we decide what the answer should be. We are trusting our own understanding rather than trusting the Lord of life.
- d) We must never give up. Adverts work on the principle of persistence and never giving up. Sometimes people buy stuff, not because they intend to but because of the persistence of the seller and the power of advertisement. Jesus wants us to see that the battle for the Kingdom of God is a battle worth fighting. He calls us to never, ever, ever, give up. We are to enter into relationship with God in prayer and hold on tight, confident that God is a judge who is eager to do what is good, right, and excellent.
- e) Today is Mission Sunday, the 93rd Mission Sunday. The universal theme for the celebration given by Pope Francis is: “Baptized and sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the world”. Primarily, this celebration is intended to re-awaken the right attitude towards the missionary activity of the Church among the particular Churches, the Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Societies of Apostolic Life and among association, movements, communities, other ecclesial bodies and the people of God. Mission is for both clergy and laity. Through our baptism, each Christian has been sent, first to ourselves and them to others.
We are reminded that the Church is missionary. Jesus sends us to proclaim the healing, liberating message, to be the leaven of the world. We share our faith in Jesus Christ with other persons and thus bring them to Christ through his Good News. Sharing one’s faith with others is the privilege and responsibility of every believer. We can carry out this responsibility by prayer, sacrifice, and offerings. This is what St. Monica did. Her unceasing prayers brought her husband and son to Jesus. This is what St. Teresa of the Child Jesus did. Even though St. Teresa never left her convent for mission work, she is proclaimed by the Church, along with St. Francis Xavier, as the patron saint of the missions. Her special task, she felt, was to assist the priests and missionaries with prayers and sacrifices. “To love Jesus, and to save souls”, was her life ambition. Prayer brings people to Christ. Prayer is a force that brings people to conversion of heart and mind. It is the prayer that gains victory over the evil forces of the world. This is the message we find in today’s Word of God.