Why do we pray? It’s a fairly basic question that someone with no knowledge of our faith might well be prompted to ask. Even if we are rather slack in our practise of it, for us as Christians the concept of prayer is so familiar that we sometimes lose sight of its wonder.
At the simplest level it is, of course, a basic part of our calling. We profess a love of God and neighbour as the heart of that call; and it’s a bit hard to say we love someone if we aren’t speaking to them! But it is also a statement about our belief. There is no point asking anyone for something if you don’t believe they are in a position to provide it. In our first reading Moses recognises that only God’s help will make victory possible and so he makes that his whole focus rather than military strategy or fighting.
It’s also the point of the Gospel. The judge may be unjust, but he is the only one who can give the widow what she needs. So, unpromising as the situation seems, she commits herself to the task of engaging with him and asking, again and again, until she gets what she needs. Jesus then asks us to consider that in the light of our relationship with God – with the challenge “(W)hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.”
Do we, who would continue to engage with a sinful fellow human being, feel the same commitment to engage with the God we proclaim loves us and cares for us? To have the confidence that whether it is some personal, immediate need, or the final coming of the Lord, that the Lord can and desires to come to our aid, to be with us.
This is what we call petitionary prayer – prayer that asks for something definite. But the confidence and trust which makes us ask for those things should also bring us to desire a closer relationship with God. That leads us to the sorts of prayer which are more about our desire to become what God wants us to be. The prayer that brings us closer to God and his plan for us, helps us to see his vision for us.
That is a form of petitionary prayer too, when you think about it. All prayer in some way or another is really asking something of God. But the prayer we are drawn to as we become more confident in God’s care ends up as being: “Please love me, and help me to love you.” If that is where our prayer ends up, then indeed there is faith on earth!
Fr Chris Denham