Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Faith and (Unanswered) Prayer

Wednesday: 6 February, 2013 –– 4th Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 12:4–7, 11–15 / Mark 6:1–6
Faith and (Unanswered) Prayer

How often do we fret about some hardship and question God’s love and care for us? “Lord, I’ve asked your help.... why don’t you answer me?” Maybe we know a couple of the key promises Jesus gave: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (Mk 11:24) or Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:13,14).

It should be obvious these are not unqualified, blanket statements. St Paul himself tells this story:

....a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Cor 12:7b–9a).

And as he introduces this confession, Paul gives the reason: to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations (12:7a).  The Lord was using St Paul in mighty ways, but Paul was also a “regular man.”  The Lord knew that if Paul was exalted with no humiliations, it would be a distortion of life in this world –– even for a “great” Christian, so the Lord allowed Paul to suffer a bit to “keep his feet on the ground.”

This is just one example of what the Hebrews writer says: 

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (vs. 7, 11).

If we are trusting and obeying the Lord, and he does not answer our prayers, we need to trust that  there is a higher purpose being worked out, even if we can’t see it. God’s primary intent is not to keep us “happy” in this life, but to make us holy forever.

The Gospel gives another reason our expectations may be frustrated. When we want God to do something merely for our convenience (rather than desiring God’s purpose and honor), or if our expectation is actually cynical unbelief (“Well, we can pray, but I don’t think it will make any difference”), then there is a reason that our prayers may not be answered.

God does the most amazing things when we surrender our own agendas and pray with Mary: let it be to me according to your word (Lu 1:38).  It is then that unanswered prayer becomes answered prayer.

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