“What does God want me to pray for?”
Or, Why God seems to answer saintly people’s prayers more than mine
She knew a family that needed tens of thousands of dollars to save their house from going into foreclosure. Though none of their efforts to get the money together had borne any fruit, the wife, a very Spirit-filled person, remained unflustered. She was certain that the Lord would save their house. And then, at the last minute, an anonymous stepped in and gave them all the money they needed.
I was equally baffled. We traded tales of some of the other amazing answered prayer stories: like how George Mueller once ran out of food at his orphanage, but he sat down at the table with a knife and fork anyway, certain that the Lord would provide…and an unexpected truck full of food pulled up outside. Or the time Mother Angelica needed $600,000 for a satellite dish that had just been delivered to her door (a summary wouldn’t do that amazing story justice — read the whole thing here, under the section Mother Angelica and the Satellite Dish, just before the ad in the middle of the article). Or the story I heard on Relevant Radio about how some folks went around to bring food and gifts to the needy one Christmas. They made an unplanned visit to one woman’s home, and she actually had tea ready for them — she’d prayed for God to send someone, and had been that certain that he would.
“So how does that work?” I mused aloud. (Though the real thought that flashed through my mind was, “I need to figure out how to become a saintly person so that I can control the universe with my SUPER PRAYER POWERS! MWA-HA-HAAAA!”)
(This is why I have a spiritual director.)
My friend and I went back and forth for a while, wondering why very holy people tend to have these astounding answered prayer moments more often than the rest of us. I kept looking at it from the angle of How do they get God to listen to them so well?! And then, finally, I clued in and realized:
Maybe it’s that they’re listening to God so well.
Far too often, my prayer life is a monologue. I tell God what I want, what I need, what’s stressing me out. I meditate on myself and what I feel like doing, then ask God to make it so. It’s good to turn to God with all my needs, and it’s certainly better than not praying at all, but it’s missing a critical component of a thriving prayer life: listening.
Imposing my own way of praying on the situations like that of George Mueller and Mother Angelica and the lady with the tea, I assumed that these people randomly came up with some stuff they wanted, sent their order off to God, and went back to doing their own thing. What I now think is more likely is that these are people who spent a lot of time listening to God. Their certainty that God would arrange very specific outcomes to situations stemmed from the fact that it was his idea in the first place. Their requests arose not so much from self-focused self-interest, but from the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, who was able to be heard in a prayerfully silent heart.
It’s good to ask for whatever we need in prayer, of course, even if our prayer lives haven’t been great lately. But what I understand more and more as my conversion continues is just how much prayer is truly about building a relationship; that the goal is to grow closer and closer to Christ until his mind is your mind, your will is his. And the closer you get to that point, the less distinction there is between the questions of “What do I want from God?” and “What does God want for me?”
- Granularity of prayer
- How your prayers worked
- Prayer as “putting on the mind of Christ” (St. Andrew’s Parish blog)