In today’s First Reading Abraham gives us an example of perseverance in prayer and teaches us how we should pray. It should not be a vending machine attitude, but one that seeks to understand God instead: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” It should be persistent, but respectful. As in the Gospel, Hallowed be the Name of Our Father in Heaven. Not making demands. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Abraham seeks to understand more and more the depth of God’s justice: 50 just souls, 45, 30, etc. Not haggling or making deals. In the end his prayer is heard, and God does justice for even fewer than Abraham dared to ask.
Our Lord teaches us his prayer in today’s Gospel to help us remember how to pray and for what we should pray. When we pray we must always seek to know God more deeply. Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us. We try to be the happy beneficiaries of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: “… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:17-19). As we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well. So we strive to be just, and to show mercy as a way of expressing our appreciation for the mercy shown to us every day.
Often it is that perseverance in prayer that helps us understand ourselves and our motivations for which we are praying. Our Lord gives the example of the friend showing up in the middle of the night and nagging for some bread to feed a friend who has come late from a journey. The friend at the doorstep was not just persisting for himself. He was persisting on behalf of someone else. Our prayer must be for others as well as for ourselves. Jesus tells us that the friend in bed does it due to the persistence: he does it to get his friend off his porch. He gives that example to show how much more God answers our prayers when we persist, because we can ask a million times and God never stops loving us. He always listens to our prayers.
We pray for what we want, and God in the end always gives us what we really need, even when it is not necessarily what we wanted. When that becomes hard to accept, the recipe for accepting and thanking God is to see how others have benefited as well from us not getting exactly what we want. Many times when we see the needs of others we realize that those things we thought we couldn’t live without are not that important after all. At other times we pray for the right things in the right way, but our prayers don’t seem to be answered. In those moments we have to ask God to help us see the bigger picture: someone out there needs the suffering we endure when our prayers are not answered, and God does reward us in those moments.
I invite you to make the resolution today in a moment of silence to ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify the one intention that is nearest and dearest to your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you explore your motivations for asking for that intention, and don’t be afraid to change it if that is what God is calling you to do and you know it will benefit others. Remember that Jesus teaches us that everyone who asks will receive, and everyone who seeks will find. When we keep that in mind, we will always persevere in our prayer.
Readings: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138:1–3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13. See also First Week of Lent, Tuesday and Thursday; 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday; and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.