"[Jesus said,] 'Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven...' " -- Matthew 6:9-13
HAD A RATHER CURIOUS DISCUSSION during lunch last Thursday. A colleague L. was sharing with the rest her insights from reading John 11:1-44 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In summary, she said almost to this effect, "Through this event, Jesus moved Martha's belief in Him from mere lip service to deeper faith that He'll do just about anything for her, if only she asks for it."
She cited the incident where Abraham negotiated with God to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. i remembered however, the incident where God asked Abraham to kill his son Isaac and Abraham tried to do so without any negotiation.
While i've asked God for many favors, i was rather sceptical that God will give us almost anything if only we ask with faith. It's almost like expecting God to "do our will", contrary to a strong premise that i hold nowadays, "We are born to know, love and serve God, in other words, to do His will." On the other hand, a question persisted after the session, "When do we negotiate with God (in a way, ask God to do our will), and when do we simply accept God's will?"
"[Jesus said,] 'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven...' " -- Matthew 7:21-23
SO, I POSTED A QUERY ON my favorite online forum. Received many interesting and good replies. The most comprehensive one came from E. again. Here's an abridged version:
"I think it'll be helpful for us to get the general picture clear first. The classical definition of prayer is 'the lifting of one's heart & mind to God, or asking for good things from God'. Also, humility is the necessary requirement to prayer. (CCC 2559)
"Next, we need to understand that there are different forms of prayer: blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise (CCC 2644, 2626-2649). The important point here is that asking God for good things only form a part of prayer, so it should not be overemphasised.
"To answer your question, you are right that: we are created to know, love and serve God in this life; and to enjoy eternal happiness with Him in the next. So, on our part, we are always to accept God's will in humility. This is the supreme example of both Jesus and Mary. We are never supposed to negotiate with God, i.e. to ask Him to do our will. The incident regarding Abraham praying for Sodom (Genesis 18:22-33) you cited is not a case of Abraham asking God to do his will. He was interceding for Sodom (CCC 2635).
"The Lord's prayer is actually very helpful for our understanding of the place of discernment in prayer, because it is the summary of the entire Gospel since the Lord . . . after handing over the practice of prayer, said elsewhere, 'Ask and you will receive,' (Luke 11:1-13) and since everyone has petitions which are peculiar to his circumstances, the regular and appropriate prayer [the Lord's Prayer] is said first, as the foundation of further desires. (CCC 2761).
"... The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them. (CCC 2763)
"The rightness of our life in him will depend on the rightness of our prayer (CCC 2764). This means that our most important aim in life must be to give God glory and to do His Will before all else; that is, asking for our needs, asking for forgiveness and asking for deliverance. The problem with most of us is that we desire the items in Lord's Prayer in the wrong order. We tend to think of ourselves before we think about God.
"The main purpose of prayer therefore is to seek God's will and to ask Him for the strength to do it. In prayer we ask for what we need, and not what we want; and in a most profound way, we express our need for God. So we can rest assured that God wants to give us what we need -- Himself. By prayer, we can discern 'what is the will of God' and obtain the endurance to do it. Jesus teaches us that one enters the kingdom of heaven not by speaking words, but by doing 'the will of my Father in heaven'. (CCC 2826)
"'Daily" (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament... it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: 'super-essential'), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the 'medicine of immortality', without which we have no life within us... For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day. Its effect is then understood as unity, so that, gathered into his Body and made members of him, we may become what we receive.... This also is our daily bread: the readings you hear each day in church and the hymns you hear and sing. All these are necessities for our pilgrimage. (CCC 2837)
"Now, on to discernment. One good way to look at the issues is to compare discernment with prudence. Both are concerned with choosing the right thing to do (God's will). The main difference is that in prudence, we try to choose good over evil or the lesser evil (between two evils). In discernment, we choose the greater good (between two goods) for ourselves... So, when faced with an important decision, we must choose that option which corresponds with our deepest spiritual desire, i.e. options that give us an increase in faith, hope & love in God.
"Another aid in listening to our heart is to look out for the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. When our will corresponds with God's Will, we can be sure that God will give us signs through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us (Galatians 5:16-23). In other words, when we are not doing God's will, some of the signs are anger, jealousy, selfishness, etc. When we are doing God's will, we will experience joy, peace, generosity, etc.
"In short, with regards to what is God's will, the answers are all within us. And we can find out the answer by praying, and listening carefully to our head and heart."
Somehow, i couldn't agree with E.'s statement, "We are never supposed to negotiate with God, i.e., to ask Him to do our will."
Yes, as St Augustine had pointed out, "Man is a beggar before God." Still, almost all of us must have asked God for things that seemed to be more of our will than that of God's. And God, being a gracious Father, grants our wishes from time to time.
For example, when a loved one (or one of us) is sick, we'll pray for recovery. When a loved one (or one of us) is taking exams or applying for a job, we'll pray for success. When a loved one is (or one of us) overseas, we'll pray for safety and enjoyment. When we have to make a choice between two or more seemingly just as good options, we'll pray for the right choice.
Wouldn't it be God's will that everyone recover from sicknesses, do well in exams, find good jobs, have safe enjoyable trips overseas, and make the right choices?
If we believe that God wills all good, shouldn't we all pray with great faith and confidence that God will answer our prayers, make miracles (small and big) happen and all will be well? With faith, we could all perform miracles like the way Peter told the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate, "In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk!" This is the logic of my colleague. So she said, "a community that has experienced few miracles is lacking in faith", citing a biblical passage where Jesus could perform few miracles because of the lack of faith in a certain group of people.
To me, the answers are not so straightforward. Sometimes, it is God's will that some people recover from sicknesses, do well in exams, have a safe and enjoyable trip overseas, make the right choices, etc. Sometimes, it could be God's will (or a case of "God permits") that someone dies, fails, meets an accident, makes the wrong choice, etc. i don't know which is when, hence the question earlier. i just know that we need to discern, do and/or accept God's will.
Now it seems: We'll never know before the event. As an online friend G. pointed out earlier, "that whatever the choices we make, God will continue to love us unconditionally. He never loves us any less but does his best to work with our choices to lead us home (to Him)" because "it appears that part of God's plan is having us learn to make up our minds on our own."
Reminded me of Romans 8:28. In other words, we just have to pray with great faith and confidence that God loves us and wants the very best for us. Whatever the results, we'll trust Him enough to accept them and continue to worship Him with all our heart, mind, body and soul.
Thanks to a post by S. today, here's one of my favorite prayers from Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude:
"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
"And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."