It occurred to me that yesterday’s post about how God answers prayer may have made it appear that prayer for what we need (specifically virtue, but this applies to anything we need from God) is ineffective and pointless since God has already made attaining these things possible and won’t give them to us should we pray for them anyways.
That would be, as they say, an epic missing of the point but I’ll address it anyway. Please read yesterday’s post before this one because we’re going to use the same analogies.
The idea that prayer is ineffective assumes that “God doesn’t do it for me” means “God doesn’t do anything”. In other words, when my three-year-old asks for a juice box and I tell her she can get one in the fridge, she may as well not have asked in the first place.
Consider three situations. What if she doesn’t know she can get something to drink all by herself? What if she doesn’t know where to find it? In this case, asking me would be a pretty effective thing to do.
What if she can’t reach it because it’s on the top shelf and her arms aren’t long enough? If she asked me I could point out the stool nearby and suggest she use that. With her eye on the end goal, she may miss intermediate steps. Again, her asking helps her get what she needs.
Maybe the juice box is out of reach because she’s already had five this morning and she should have some milk or water if she’s still thirsty. Having a three-year-old mind, she’s not likely to understand that unless she asks and I explain my reasoning to her.
These certainly aren’t all the reasons why she would ask for my help; but they give a good variety of situations. The three situations above can be summed up in that my daughter may need something that I want her to have but she can’t find it she may need something I want her to have but she needs to do something else first, and she may want something I don’t want her to have right now and I need to explain why.
Let’s pretend that I lack patience (that’s very easy to imagine if you know me). Let’s further pretend that I actually know I lack patience and that I have the desire to be more patient.
First, I may not know where to find practical advice on how to grow in patience. I may be missing what I need to know. Prayer opens communication with God that can lead to direct information like happening to read something or hear something on the radio (this has happened way too often to be coincidence) or will at least get me on the path.
Second, it’s very possible that my idea of patience is too much for me; that I simply am not mature or disciplined enough to be as patient as I think I should be. Prayer in this case opens me to the intermediate steps required (getting a stool to reach the top shelf). Growing in virtue is a process and prayer helps me see not only the end goal but the next step that will get me closer to that goal.
Finally, there may be a legitimate reason why I’m not growing in patience. Maybe my current lack of patience leads to an explosion of my temper. Not only is this more motivation to become more patient but it also exposes that I don’t deal with anger well; which I may not have known if I was more patient. Maybe it exposes that something’s bothering me, something that needs to be resolved, and I would have just kept stuffing it down and bottling it up if I was more patient.
It’s not that God doesn’t want me to be patient, that would be a silly thing to say, it’s that I may not be called to be patient right now so that more good can be brought out. Only through prayer can I be directed to understand this process and see what’s going on so I don’t give up and despair of ever attaining virtue.
Anyway, these are just three examples of the positive effect of prayer for what we need. I hope they show that “God doesn’t do it for me” does not mean “God doesn’t do anything”.