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The Christian approach to prayer is vast in its richness and depth. Drawing from the spiritual tradition, prayer is understood as the dynamic interaction of God thirsting for us and we, in turn, thirsting for him.
Prayer is about living in a vital relationship with the living God. It is about being with God, knowing that we are loved and wanting to love him in return.
The Church’s teachings on prayer are majestic and radically relational. In the hearts of most Christians, however, prayer is relegated to a type of “Santa’s list,” in which we make our lists, check them twice, and tell God what we want from him. We promise to be good. We implore, negotiate, plead, and expect God to do what we tell him.
In such an approach, prayer is an extension of our selfishness. We want God to do what we tell him because we want it, or we think it’s what’s best. When God doesn’t do what we want, we conclude that there must be something wrong with prayer (or even with God). Such notions of prayer are veiled versions of self-worship.
Rather than allow ourselves to learn and engage in the highest forms of prayer, which are relational and selfless, we allow ourselves to wallow in the lowest form of prayer with all the wrong spirits filling our hearts.
Prayer isn’t about demanding things of God. It’s about seeking his thirst for us, realizing that he wants us and desires friendship with us. Prayer is about seeing how God makes himself a beggar before us, so that we might accept his invitation to be with him, walk with him, and opening our hearts and allowing ourselves to thirst for him.
In such a way, prayer is about being comfortable with God. It’s desiring to be with him for himself, with no demands, expectations, and no requests. Prayer is being with God with empty hands, wanting and demanding nothing other than to be in his presence. It’s wanting to be with God because we know how much he wants to be with us.
Understanding this height of prayer humbles our sinful pride. It exposes the mercantile approach we can bring to prayer, as we expect a quid-pro-quo from God. But God is terrible at business. He doesn’t play by the rules of Wall Street or Madison Avenue. God will not allow us to mock him, use him, or fall deeper into a self-centered love. He will teach us the right understanding of prayer, either through an open heart or through the school of hard knocks.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly instructs us that the beginning of prayer is humility. It is loving God for himself. It is about discarding misplaced entitlement, arrogance, and false demands of a God who owes us nothing and is not bound to give us anything.
In such humility, we don’t find a vengeful judge, but a loving Father who desires to love and embrace us. It is the face of a good Father who calls us to himself, desires to be with us, and wishes to enter into a relationship with us.
It’s for this reason that the Catechism calls prayer both a covenant and a communion.
Prayer is a covenant and communion because we are bound to God. Through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are members of his family. The Catechism explains: “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.”
No matter what we do, we cannot break our bond with God. We can neglect prayer or turn it into something it’s not. We can turn away from his moral truth. We can deny him. But we cannot break our bond with him. He will not let go.
Russian spirituality goes so far as to assert that the real hell of the souls that are damned is their realization that the God they hate and have rebelled against, will never let go. They eternally deny love to the God who continues to love them.
We are in a covenant with God. We are in communion with him and he does not approach this bond lightly or treat it cheaply. Such a bond is the foundation and source of prayer as a living and vital relationship with God.
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