Effective vs. Ineffective Prayer
By Jim J. McCrea
I have had experiences in my life of unanswered prayers and bitterness towards God over certain serious situations.
But at other times, I have had the most wonderful answers to prayer and have seen God's power work in the most striking way.
What is the difference?
To know the difference between prayer that does not work and prayer that does work, we have to understand what prayer is. I have learned this from experience and God's grace.
First of all, prayer is not a formula to get God to do what you want - to say so many Hail Marys and you will get such and such a result. Forget all those publications that say that if you say this novena in such and such a way, and then publish the success of your prayer, you will get an answer to what you want infallibly.
Prayer is in essence an opening of our hearts to God. The essence of prayer is heart to heart commune with God. All our rituals and formal prayers are only a means to that end. Real prayer is to become so united with God that we know what His will is, so that we can so much more effectively pray.
Of course we ask that God grant us our needs in prayers of petition. God has specifically instructed us to do that. That type of prayer is not a "force" we apply to God to make Him change His mind. People make this mistake in praying Rosary after Rosary in an attitude of applying sufficient "prayer power" to get God to do what they want. Such prayer is generally not answered. Such prayer can actually lead to greater problems in life.
If that is not the prayer of petition, then what is?
The prayer of petition is an opening of our hearts to God so that He can give us what He desires to give us. That may involve prayer in our own words, or something more formal like the Rosary. But the most important thing in such a prayer is not the words we say or the rituals we act out (apart from our duties as Catholics in obedience to the Church or other lawful superiors), but the attitude of heart we adopt. We must adopt the attitude: "I seem to need this Lord, but you know what is best, so answer the prayer in the way you see fit." Such prayer is done quietly and confident in the Lord's power and love, rather than rattling it off quickly and fretfully as if the Lord is deaf and reluctant (arm twisting prayer).
"Arm twisting" prayer can make things worse in a person's life because it is but another way of asserting one's own will over God's. Even thought it seems to be prayer, it can actually shut God out. Correct words alone do not make for real prayer. Prayer is a matter of the heart. If the lips are saying "thy will be done" but the heart is saying "my will be done," it is not real prayer and is not pleasing to God.
Even though the Lord can give us anything without asking and He knows all of our needs, He still wants us to ask Him for what we need. This is because doing that instills a sense of dependence on His providence thus facilitating union with Him. Union with God is the end of all prayer.
Of course, we can never get all that we want in life and cannot be relieved of all suffering in this life. The prayer of petition can never be directed to that end, but only to the carrying out of God's will - a will that leads to peace in this life, the supplying of all of our real needs, and perfect and eternal happiness in heaven.