Is Prayer Worthwhile?

Rev. Stephen P. Trzecieski, C.M.
Associate Pastor

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples asked him, "Lord, teach us how to pray as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins for we too forgive all who do us wrong; and subject us not to the trial.'" (Luke 11: 1-4)

If I asked Jesus today to teach me how to pray, would he answer me in the same way in which he answered that disciple? Perhaps he would. What is interesting about the Lord's prayer is that Jesus encourages me to ask for what I need; daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from temptation. Jesus encourages me to ask because he knows how generous the Father is. If this is true then why don't I receive what I ask for? The answer to this question may lie in the process of asking rather than in the lack of generosity on the part of the Father.

Three Gospel stories exemplify the attitudes I need which will guarantee a response to my prayer. These three attitudes are: first, the awareness of my real need not apparent or imaginary; the second, the sincere desire to receive that which I ask for; and third, the expectation that God is going to answer what I ask for.

The first attitude, the awareness of my real need, is indicated in Matthew's account of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matt 9:20-22). She recognized she had a real need, she was suffering from the illness for twelve years and there was no relief in sight. Her need was real, not imaginary. A cure was imperative if she was to lead a normal life.

The sincere desire to receive is exemplified in Luke's account of the blind man near Jericho (Luke 18: 35-43). When he calls out to Jesus, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord," he answered, "I want to see."

Mark exemplifies the third attitude, the expectation that God will answer what I ask for. There is no hesitation whatsoever. This third attitude is powerfully narrated in the story of the Daughter of Jairus, an official of the synagogue, who "seeing Jesus, fell at his feet and made this earnest appeal: 'My daughter is critically ill. Please come and lay your hands on her so that she may get well and live'" (Mark 5:22-23). Jairus asked for and clearly expected an answer to his prayer.

Jesus was so impressed by Jairus that even after some people had arrived from the official's house saying that the daughter had died, "Jesus disregarded the report that had been brought and said to the official: "Fear is useless. What is needed is trust" (Mark 5: 36).

These three Gospel stories are expressions of an honest faith. The three characters in the story are aware of their needs, sincerely desire to receive, and firmly expect a positive response to their prayer from the Lord.

Rereading the stories I see some more lessons. Although God will only give if I come to him with these attitudes, I must also approach Him with honesty. Each of these three characters approach Jesus as they really are; there is no attempt on their part to be something they are not. They do not try to make a deal with Jesus nor do they try to impress Him.

I also see another powerful lesson. Their prayer is short. They are not long-winded. They come to the point. They express themselves simply, clearly, and without extra adjectives. They teach me to pray in public but they do not "show off."

Each of the Gospel characters come to Jesus in critical moments of their lives. He is their first recourse. They know how to cut to the heart of the matter. They go to Jesus. They come to Him in the negative moments of their lives, when the presence of God is not apparent but seems distant. With these attitudes they find that the Lord is not only present, but active in their lives.

Maybe the original question I asked in the title, "Is Prayer Worthwhile?" is valid when I read, reflect, pray over, and apply the Gospel stories to myself. If I do that, then prayer is worthwhile. 

Read other Homilies by Father Stephen P. Trzecieski, C.M.