A few weeks ago, I experienced real frustration in prayer. I held an intention that was good, and genuine, and born out of love, yet in response to my request I heard what seemed like a big, resounding ‘no’. The plans I had envisaged didn’t eventuate, and in turn my hope resembled something more like despair.
Why wouldn’t God give me what I asked for? What happened to the whole, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7) deal? For those of us who know the very real pain of longing and desire and suffering (i.e. everyone), this question deserves answering.
The efficacy of prayer
I think each of us has had an experience of what it’s like to have an unanswered prayer; a cry of the heart which seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Especially in a time where we’re used to getting what we want, when we want it, the efficacy of prayer is oftentimes hard to fathom. If something is efficacious, it means it is successful in producing a desired or intended result. With this in mind, we must discover and understand what prayer is truly intended for.
Prayer of petition
The Catechism says that, “Paradoxically, our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of the living God. Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God” (CCC 2561).
Wait, what? Let’s break this open. Essentially, when we pray it is not merely a coming to God on our part, but a firstly response to Christ’s thirst for us. It is He who first seeks us and asks us for a drink (CCC 2560). Arising from his immense desire for us, we have the ability to respond and unite our thirst to His. So what does that mean for us, when we come before him with all our intentions, desires, struggles, failures, and dreams?
“Jesus does not say “no” to the authentic demands of the heart, but only a clear, loud “yes” to life, to love, to freedom, to peace and to hope” – John Paul ll
When we turn to prayer and petition Jesus we can be assured he never says no: not to love, nor to freedom, not to peace, or hope. When I first heard this I breathed a sigh of relief, and the agonising came to rest. We can be absolutely confident that when we ask with sincerity for the deepest desires of our hearts, Jesus’ answer is always ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’. Such comfort we can take in this!
Unfortunately, this does not mean that every wish we have will come true in this life; it is not the certainty that we will find the perfect job, house to buy, or person to marry, but instead the reality that He never leaves us wanting of Himself and that which is necessary.
The truest desires of our hearts – for love, freedom, peace, and hope – are accessible in every moment when we both raise our hearts to heaven in prayer, and are attentive to the opportunities in front of us. By Providence, we can trust completely that the way in which we are called love manifests in every single day, through the people and situations we encounter.
So then, let us pray! With hearts responding to God, trusting in the promises He has for us which are only for good.