March 8, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Those prayers of petition

John F. FinkIt has been said that prayers of petition are the lowest and least essential kind of prayer because they are self-centered. But aren’t they also the most human?

Was Jesus being self-centered or just completely human when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Take this cup away from me”? (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42) Of course, he prefaced that prayer with, “Father, if you are willing,” which should be the way we begin all our prayers of petition.

The greatest prayer of petition undoubtedly is for the wisdom to know God’s will for us and the courage and ability to do it.

It seems today that the whole concept of prayer is synonymous with petition. We hear, “What are you praying for?” as if we are always praying “for” something when we pray. We pray for good health, for success in school or in our profession, for a happy marriage, for all the things we believe we need to make us happy.

Perhaps such prayers are not as exalted as prayers of adoration, but so what? We are acknowledging our relationship, our dependence, upon God, and asking him confidently for what we want.

However, it can be argued, despite Jesus’ assurances that all our prayers will be heard, we don’t always get what we pray for. Everyone has probably prayed for something and believed that he or she would receive it, and then been disappointed.

My first reaction to that is amazement at the image of God that someone must have who demands that his or her prayer be heard. Is God just a servant waiting to do our bidding? Who’s the master and who’s the servant here? How dare we ask the awesome God for something, and then complain that he didn’t hear our prayer or that he heard it but ignored it!

Perhaps he heard it, but knew in his infinite wisdom that what we asked for wouldn’t be good for us. He didn’t grant our request because of his love for us. He knows far better than we do what we truly need. Or perhaps he didn’t grant our request because to do so would mean refusing to answer someone else’s prayer, such as two athletic teams both praying for victory.

Or perhaps he didn’t grant our request because it was against his will. If we pray for a big promotion at work and don’t get it, maybe that is simply God’s will, and we should accept it.

Remember that Jesus didn’t get what he asked for in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that God would take the cup away from him, but he did get the grace to carry out God’s will and accomplish his mission of redeeming the world. That’s why we must always pray to be able to know what God wants.

We should pray in faith for what we believe is best for us, but be willing to trust in God’s greater knowledge of what really is best. If he doesn’t give us exactly what we pray for, he will give us something better. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!