daily biblical sermons


We should pray always for what we need and never lose heart
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, 32nd Week of the Year, November 16, 2019
Wisdom 18:14-16, 19:6-9, Psalm 104, Luke 18:1-8


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming’” (Luke 18:2-5).

 

 

Prayer is a most important part of the Christian life. There are many sayings of Jesus encouraging us to pray for what we need and assuring us that God will grant our requests. He said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name I will do it” (John 14:13-14). It is clear that Jesus wants us to pray this way. It is also clear that he tells us that our prayers will be granted.

 

 

The problem, though, is that sometimes we pray for something and don’t get it, so these texts of Jesus encouraging us to pray for what we need and assuring us that he will give it to us we tend to put into the back of our mind and never think about them. But we must realize that the Scriptures put some limits on what we should pray for and how we should pray and assure us that if we pray for those things and in that particular way, our prayers will be answered.

 

 

First of all we should pray for something that is in accord with God’s will, as he has revealed his will to us in the Scriptures, for St. John says, “And this is the confidence which we have in him [God], that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14). We know that God wills to forgive the sins of those who genuinely repent and put their faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ who died for our sins to suffer our punishment for them for us as our substitute. When we pray for the forgiveness of our sins and confess them, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23), we are clearly praying in accord with God’s will and he will hear us, for “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

 

 

Another guideline for the kinds of prayer that God will answer is that we should keep his commandments and act in a way that is pleasing to him, for St. John says, “We receive from him [God] whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22). And what are God’s commandments? They are revealed in God’s normative biblically revealed moral law (the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus). If we obey these commandments, we should be able to pray for what we really need, and if it is in accord with God’s will, we should be assured that God will hear that prayer and grant it.

 

 

So this point excludes the Modernist, who is someone who generally does not obey God’s commandments as revealed in the Scriptures, but rather falsely thinks that God reveals a personalized moral code to many people in difficult life situations, thus excusing them from keeping God’s biblically revealed moral law. They falsely believe that God in his mercy sees that it would be too hard for some people in difficult life situations to obey his biblically revealed moral law, and so God tells them to break it and doesn’t count this is sinful for them, but  as doing his will. Such people are deceiving themselves and are not living according to God’s will, as it is normatively revealed in the Scriptures, and so they have no assurance that their prayers will be answered, for “we receive from him [God] whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:22).

 

 

Another qualification for our prayers to be answered is that we should abide in Christ, and his words, as we read them in the inspired Scriptures, should abide in us, and if we do that, our prayers will be answered, for Jesus assures us that “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7). We abide in Jesus through contemplative prayer, through the prayer of petition, through offering the sacrifice of the Mass, through the reception of Holy Communion, and through confessing our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23). These are means that God has given to us to abide in him, and those that do so are assured that whatever they ask will be done for them, so long as it is in accord with God’s will and so long as we live according to his biblically revealed commandments.

 

 

Another prerequisite for the way we should pray if we want our prayers to be answered is that we should pray with unshakable faith that God will answer our prayers. So we should pray with unshakable faith, truly believing that since we are abiding in Christ and since we are asking for something according to his will and since we are keeping his commandments that he will grant our request, for Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will” (Mark 11:22-24).

 

 

This is a truly important point, and it is good that we explicitly bring this point to mind as we pray for something. So we may say something like this, “Lord, I pray now with unshakable faith that you will answer my request, that such and such thing happen.” I have been doing this for some months now and have been delighted at the remarkably good results, and then I always make sure to thank God profusely for granting my humble and simple but important request.

 

 

St. James makes it very clear how important it is to pray with unshakable faith and without doubting, for if we doubt, our request will not be answered. He says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:5-8).

 

 

Have we covered all the bases here of how we should pray if we want to receive a positive answer? There are still two more points that we need to note. The first is that we should not expect the whole world to become fervent, faithful, orthodox Christian believers, for this is not according to the Scriptures, and to pray for this and expect to happen is not to pray in accord with God’s will, for Jesus says today in a question form expecting a negative answer, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). The answer is that there will only be a remnant that remains fully faithful to God, for many will have lost their faith and no longer be orthodox, believing Christians.

 

 

Just yesterday we read about final days and the second coming of Christ, that when he comes again, it will be like the days of Noah, when the whole world was wiped out for its wickedness, and only one family was saved (Luke 17:26-27). All will not be converted at the second coming of Christ, for it will be as it was in Noah’s day. The final days will also be like the time of Lot, when Sodom was destroyed for its wickedness, for its homosexual predation and homosexual rape, and only Lot and his family were saved. This is what Jesus says it will be like when he comes again, “So will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17:30).

 

 

On that day, “there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-35). So I should not bang my head against the wall and become frustrated and give up praying if I pray that the whole world be converted to orthodox Christianity and then find that my prayers are not answered. We should not expect such prayers to be answered, because God himself has revealed in the Scriptures that this is not how things will be. Yes, we should pray for the conversion of the world, but we should not expect it to happen and then be frustrated and give up praying when we see that it doesn’t happen. Our prayers will help it to partially happen, in accordance with God’s will.

 

 

There is one final characteristic of our prayer and that is the one emphasized in today’s gospel, namely importunity and persistence – that is how we should pray, not just mentioning it once or twice, but constantly badgering God for what we need. The example given is the poor widow who keeps pestering an unjust judge to grant her justice, and he keeps refusing. She didn’t get what she prayed for because of the justice of her case, but simply by her persistence in bothering the judge until he granted her request just to get rid of her.

 

 

“Thus she got justice done her by continual craving; she begged it at his door, followed him in the streets, solicited him in open court, and still her cry was, Avenge me of mine adversary, which he was forced to do, to get rid of her” (Matthew Henry 1662-1714).

 

 

This is how we should pray, constantly asking God for what we need, and we should pray with unshakable faith that we will receive it if we are praying in accordance with his will and if we are keeping his commandments and abiding in him.

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