This week we recognize the importance of prayer in the various seasons of life.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
“Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14)
Poor Aaron was in a bind. This Moses, as the people said, had been up on the mountain for a long time. Almost forty days! They had grown tired of waiting for him. So they approached Aaron and asked him to soothe their impatience. Taking all their gold, he put it in the fire and – behold! – out came the golden calf. What was taking Moses forever to accomplish he had delivered quite quickly. Then they cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” The next day they celebrated their newly minted gods with much eating, drinking, and reveling (cf. Ex 32).
The failure of Aaron and the Israelites was a failure of patience – the refusal to wait for the Lord. It is hardly the only example from Scripture. Abram wearied of waiting for his promised son and so made his own arrangements (Gen 16). King Saul grows impatient with the Prophet Samuel’s seeming delay and takes things into his own hands (cf. 1 Sam 13). We can even see the sin of our first parents as impatience. Refusing to wait on God’s gifts, they grasp for what they want.
Anyone with experience in prayer must have some degree of sympathy for Abram, Aaron, Saul, and the others. One of the great frustrations in prayer is God’s delay and seeming inaction. “How long?” the psalmist repeatedly cries out to the Lord. Indeed, how long must we wait before He answers our prayers – for health…for a spouse…for a job…for mercy…for marriages. Why does He treat us this way?
Contrary to what we may at times feel, He does not do this in order to torture or discourage us. Rather, like a good father, He wants to teach us and form us in essential truths.
God is not a vending machine. Although God can and sometimes does answer prayers immediately, there is usually a waiting period. And, let’s be honest, if we received an immediate response to every prayer, we would take God for granted. He would become for us a vending machine, in which we drop the necessary prayers and automatically get our goodies. Waiting forces us to greater dialogue with Him, to the pleading and cajoling of children. It compels us to think of prayer not as a mere quid-pro-quo but as part of a relationship.
He keeps us from “buyer’s remorse.” Have you ever realized that you were praying for the wrong thing? In such cases, thank God He did not answer immediately! The delay gave you a chance to reconsider. His “delay” and our waiting could be directed to the purification of intention.
He knows time better than we do. When we are in the midst of things, we do not see them clearly. We are in the midst of time; God is outside of it. He does not feel bound by anyone’s schedule and He alone knows what “the fullness of time” means (cf. Gal 4:4). What appears to us as delay is really the Lord preparing for the right moment. Israel waited for centuries for the Messiah. Through those many years, God was not delaying: He was preparing for His coming.
True love waits. Prayer is not just waiting for what we want. It is waiting for the Lord Himself. Surely, I wait for the Lord; who bends down to me and hears my cry (Ps 40:2). We wait because we love Him and not just what He can give us. Again, the relationship with the Lord emerges as the most important aspect of prayer. Without it we become like pagans who have a mercantile relationship with their gods.
To wait is to watch. Waiting in prayer does not mean just drumming our fingers, taping our feet, twiddling our thumbs, and watching the clock. We are looking for Him, scanning the horizon for His coming. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak (Ps 130:5-6). Waiting in prayer is an active, not a passive thing. It requires the daily effort of shaking off the sleepiness of the world, ridding ourselves of distractions, and training our eyes on the horizon.
To wait is to be stretched. Consider Jesus’ curious response to the message about Lazarus’s impending death: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was (Jn 11:5-6). Read that again. He loved them so much He stayed where He was? He did not hasten to them? No, He made them wait. He made them wait in order to stretch their trust in Him. Strong medicine, indeed. But it worked: Martha and Mary persevered in their trust. The pain of waiting comes from the soul being stretched in trust. Clearly, the more we wait, the more we are stretched…and the greater our trust becomes.
We wait with Him. The most sobering exhortation to watchful waiting comes in our Lord’s gravest hour, in the Garden of Gethsemane: He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus waited first and then asked them to keep watch – that is, to wait – with Him. He waited for the Father’s answer and deliverance. We should do our prayerful waiting not on our own but in union with Him. And if the prayer of our hearts is one with His, then we do wait with Him…and He with us.
He stretches us to the ultimate purpose of prayer. In Luke’s Gospel, our Lord’s instruction on prayer (cf. Lk 11:1-13) concludes with this odd line: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” He does not say the Father will give them whatever they ask for…or whatever they want…or everything they desire. He gives them the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the purpose of prayer is not to get the answer we want. It is to be in union with the Lord through His Spirit. The painful waiting we experience thus becomes a time of purification of our intentions – to desire not this or that thing but the Spirit Himself.
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