Over the years, when people asked me to pray for them, I usually would, but within a few days I’d forget about it until the next time I saw them. And then, of course, I’d feel guilty about forgetting. So last year I finally decided to start a prayer notebook. I write down a person’s name and the reason he or she needs prayer. The vast majority of people in my notebook need prayer for healing. When you get to be my age, there is no shortage of friends and loved ones with health issues. I’m soon going to need a second notebook.
Anyway, the other day as I was praying for the people listed in my notebook, I realized many of my prayers have changed from healing requests to “repose of the soul” requests, because, sadly, they have died. Some of the people I’ve prayed for were healed, while others were not. This got me pondering once again an age-old question: Why bother to pray?
One view of prayer is portrayed in the movie “Shadowlands,” a biography of the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis. During a crisis in his life, Lewis explained to a friend why he was praying so fervently. He said, “I don’t pray for God to do my will; I pray that I do His will.”
When you think about it, God is indeed sovereign and omniscient; he is outside of time; he already knows every single event of our lives — past, present and future. Which means, I suppose, it would be futile for us to beg God to do one thing when he’s already ordained that something else is going to happen.
But is that the only purpose of prayer, to ask for the strength to accept our inevitable fate? In the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that we should ask God for what we desire, and that our prayers can change God’s mind.
For example, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus in desperation, begging him to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus completely ignored her. But she would not take no for an answer. Finally, Jesus exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And he healed her daughter.
And don’t forget the famous episode during the wedding feast at Cana. When the party ran out of wine, Jesus’ mother Mary went to him and explained the embarrassing situation. Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”
Mary just smiled at Jesus, like only a mother can. Jesus finally relented and performed the miracle of changing water into wine. It’s very clear that Jesus had no intention of performing his first miracle at that wedding feast, but because of a sincere request, Jesus changed his mind.
So, is God sovereign and omniscient? Yes. Does God already know every single event of our live — even our future? Yes. Therefore, is it futile to try to change God’s mind with prayer? Definitely no!
Jesus tells us we must have childlike faith. God is our father and we are his children. We should approach God as a child approaches a loving parent, filled with trust. Maybe our prayers should have two components: We should ask for the grace to handle the trials and tribulations of life; but even if every prayer is not answered to our liking, we should continue to pray for what we desire, knowing that God delights in answering our persistent, sincere and faithful prayers. And whichever way things turn out, we should rejoice knowing it is God’s will for our lives.
Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.