The prophets give us a profound witness to the power of prayer. The prophet Elijah is the chief among the holy group, which is why he is so highlighted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but each of the prophets give their own unique expression and testimony to prayer.
Whether it’s the temple prophet Ezekiel and the accounts he shares of his mystical visions, or the laments of the prophet Jeremiah, or the messianic insights of Isaiah, or the prayers expressed by the prophet Daniel or any of the minor prophets, each prophet – chosen and sent by God – drew close to God and his covenant. Each prophet reveals to us a different dimension of prayer and gives us a variation on how to pray.
From their personal and vital relationship with God, the prophets were able to do the work of God. Before they were heralds, defenders, and protectors, they were intercessors and people of prayer.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “In their ‘one to one’ encounters with God, the prophets draw light and strength for their mission.”
By drinking from the fount of communion with God and speaking and listening to him with open hearts, the prophets were able to do whatever God asked of them. They were able to hear him, understand his commands, initiate what he asked, persevere in the work at hand, and give praise to him in all their actions.
The prayer of the prophets was not insular or esoteric. It was not confined to their own hearts. It did not involve a doom-and-gloom perspective that abandoned the world. The prayer of the prophets summoned and compelled them to be in the world, to bring light and truth to it, to give and teach humanity love, and to labor and suffer for what is good and noble.
The prophet’s vocation is to enter into the miseries and sufferings of the human family. No prophet can be indifferent or apathetic to the hurts and sorrows of our fallen world.
The Catechism explains: “[The prayer of the prophets] is not flight from this unfaithful world, but rather attentiveness to the Word of God.”
The prophets cling to God and his living Word. They speak and listen to him. From this exchange, the prophets nurture hope and are constantly engaged in the things of the world.
Such a vocation is demanding. Sometimes it might include triumphs and joys, but most often it involves disappointments, backsliding, heartaches, brokenness and desolation. The trenches of fallen humanity are not for the fainthearted. Prophets who walk these trenches must be strong of heart and gentle of hand. Such a way of life can only be sustained and nourished by a robust life of prayer, an open and transparent conversation with God.
The prophets do not hide behind false piety, empty devotion, or lip service. The prophets speak openly with God, argue with him, wrestle with him, complain to him, debate him, negotiate with him, and express the thoughts and feelings of their innermost heart to him.
The prophets speak and then they pause and listen.
After disclosing their whole hearts to God, the prophets listen to him and offer intercession for his people. The prayer of the prophets express an eager longing for peace and restoration. Their prayers manifest a heartfelt desire for mercy and reconciliation. The prophets discern the messianic mission and await its fulfillment.
The Catechism gives this observation: “At times [the prayer of the prophets] is an argument or a complaint, but it is always an intercession that awaits and prepares for the intervention of the Savior God, the Lord of history.”
In these ways, the prophets teach us the importance of personal prayer, a prayer that holds nothing back, but is transparent before God. It is a prayer that touches the core of who we are and then cries out to God before us. The prophetic summons to prayer is a lamentation from the sufferings and sorrows of life. It carries and announces the afflictions of humanity to God and then waits and yearns for his response.
The prophets instruct us on how to grieve and spiritually bemoan the brokenness of our world. Such a posture of prayer also challenges and compels us to take action. The prophets pour out their hearts before God and then use their wounded hearts to build bridges of compassion and loving service to others. This is the life of prayer lived and modeled by the holy prophets. It’s the life of prayer that every Christian – who was anointed a prophet at their baptism – is called to live in the midst of our world today.
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