Lord, teach us to pray . . . (Luke 11:1).
The prayer of Abraham and Jacob is presented as a battle of faith marked by trust in God's faithfulness and by certitude in the victory promised to perseverance (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2592).
In the battle of prayer we . . . must respond with humility, trust, and perseverance to these temptations which cast doubt on the usefulness . . . of prayer (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2753).
I’ve lost count how often I’ve nearly given up hope that some of my prayers would ever be answered. And I admit it’s difficult to keep asking the same thing year after year after year, when it seems my prayers get no higher than the ceiling.
Then one morning during a particularly disquieting lack-of-faith time in prayer, the Lord reminded me of the “Our Father” Jesus taught His disciples.
“Pray this way,” He said. “ . . . Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And I mused on those words awhile. For two thousand years Christians all over the world have prayed the “Our Father.” Many, every day. Two thousand years. That’s close to a bazillion prayers over time. Nonetheless, God’s kingdom is still not come to earth, nor is His will perfectly done on earth – especially the salvation of humanity (2 Peter 3:9) – as it is in heaven.
So why did Jesus command us to pray for things that would not see fulfillment in nearly 2000 years? Perhaps – and I’m only guessing here – perhaps it was to teach us something about perseverance. Like He illustrates in this parable in Luke 11:Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
And then Jesus added:
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.
I think it important to note the Greek verbs here for ‘ask’, ‘seek’ and ‘knock’ can also be translated, “keep asking,” “keep seeking,” “keep knocking” – which makes better sense considering the context of the passage.
Persist. Persevere. Don’t give up. Keep asking. Keep seeking.
Why? I guess because, well – because God says to.
I don’t understand why sick people don’t get better, why children go astray, why families shatter, why finances fail, why . . . why . . . why. I don’t understand why heaven sometimes seems like brass, or why Christians sometimes die without ever seeing their most fervent prayers answered.
But I do know this:
God is God, and I am not. His ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts higher than my thoughts. And when tempted to question His love because of delays to my prayers – or flat out, “No” – I like to stare at the crucifix on the wall across from my couch and remind myself it was on such a cross that God demonstrated His profound love for me, and that I need to get control of my doubts – and just trust Him. Trust Him. Even as the prophet Habakkuk trusted Him:
For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.