For the Christian believer, prayer is not an option. It’s not something “extra” to the Christian way of life that we can do or not do. It is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Our world is fallen and can sometimes look like a spiritual desert. In such a state-of-affairs, prayer is an oasis. It is a blessed encounter with God where he refreshes, restores, and rejuvenates us. Prayer is where the thirst of our souls is quenched. God gives us the water that gives us life again.
It is for this reason that the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls prayer “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.” Prayer is vital. It is life-giving.
While the set prayers of the Church are a necessary part of our tradition, our life of prayer cannot stop with them. If a Christian is asked, “Do you pray?” and they respond in the affirmative, but only list set prayers, then something is missing.
We are summoned to go beyond set prayers and to engage in a conversation with the living God. We are called to have mental prayer, which is an active speaking and listening to God. Our set prayers give us a foundation for this spontaneous prayer, which is a movement from our hearts to the heart of God.
In this context, we can again understand why the Catechism calls prayer both vital and personal.
If we only offer set prayers, then the personal aspect of prayer is lacking. We need to open our own hearts and speak to God from within our own relationship with him, wherever that might be or not be. When we offer truly personal prayer, we lower our guard. We bring down our shields. We speak from our own concerns, fears, hopes, and joys. We speak to God and then we pause and listen as he speaks to us. It is a conversation between intimates. It is an exchange within a personal relationship.
There are times in which people will say that they cannot speak openly to God because they’re angry with him, with his perceived inaction, or his apparent negligence. Such people think that they’re not allowed to tell God that they’re angry. But who told them such a thing?
Who tells us what we’re allowed to say or not in prayer? What would make us think that God doesn’t want to hear what’s really happening in our lives?
God does not limit what we can say in prayer. We do that to ourselves.
God is infinitely perfect and blessed in himself. He can take whatever we need to say to him. There is nothing that happens in our lives that is not willed or permitted by God’s providence. There are no surprises for him. He knows where we are and what’s happening in our lives, and he desires for us to speak openly and sincerely with him.
God wants us to freely disclose what’s in our hearts without fear or hesitation. However well-intentioned we might be, we cannot lie in prayer. We need to tell God exactly where we are and what we’re thinking and feeling.
As an example, we can turn to Abraham in the Old Testament. After doing all that the Lord God had asked of him, the patriarch was frustrated and confused. Abraham left his home region, entered a place he did not know, left his wealth and prominence. He abandoned his comfortability in order to follow what God asked of him.
God promised Abraham a son. Abraham was an old man, and his wife was barren. After years of obedience, the son had not yet been given. God tells Abraham: “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” In response, Abraham pushed back and said to God: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless.”
Abraham continues and bemoans God’s delay to God himself. He asks God when he is going to fulfill his promise of a son. Such an exchange is an example of prayer. It is a model on how to approach prayer sincerely and as a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. As with Abraham, so with us. We called to speak transparently with God and to approach prayer as a truly vital and personal relationship with him.
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