As I sat in the dark the other night, asking God to bless His people, it occurred to me: “Who am I to ask God, the Source of all grace and blessing, to do what He already does?”
Certainly, God does bless everyone without my help or intercession. And He knows perfectly what blessings each of His creatures needs – much more perfectly than I can even imagine.
He does not need me to tell Him what to do.
As indicated in my recent post, Broken promises, prayer is one of the ways in which God teaches us His holy Way. As we pray to Him for each other, bonds of love are formed that fulfill the greatest of all commandments – to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and to love our neighbors as our selves.
Hence, praying for others is life-giving for me. And God delights in answering my prayers so that I experience Him more completely as loving Father.
But, the other night, as I sat in prayer, it occurred to me that there is yet another dimension to this glorious gift of prayer.
Researchers have tried to use controlled studies to determine whether prayer “works”. And they have received mixed results.
In some studies, where the positive effects of prayer were reportedly shown in improved recovery times from surgery, the patients did not even know they were being prayed for. And, interestingly, the praying people were from a number of different religions.
Yet other studies, claiming to improve upon this study, demonstrated no difference in recovery – or perhaps even a slight disadvantage for those prayed for.
These results should not surprise us – for a number of reasons.
As we discussed before, we, as human beings know what we want but are incapable of knowing what is best. Who are we to say that experiencing a “complication” is a bad outcome for a given individual? Perhaps that event was to be key in their sanctification.
God is not a vending machine that must give us what we ask for. And the more tightly scientists tried to control the various factors, the more they created a vending-machine expectation. Here are the people who are to pray, this is what they are to pray for – and this is the measure of “efficacy”.
Science, while a good and valuable tool, will never be able to understand God. A good many of His gifts, yes, but never all of them and certainly not Him and His Way.
There is, I believe, something else that occurs when people pray for one another. Something beyond the consolation of feeling loved and the grace of learning how to love.
We know that the history of the Church, from the earliest times of the apostles to the current day, is replete with accounts of miraculous healings in response to prayer.
This is true in both the East and the West. And many of these have been subjected to scientific scrutiny. In the Catholic Church, when a miracle is attributed to someone being considered for canonization, the inquiry is quite rigorous, lest the faithful be misled by hoaxes or histrionics. Often the data are examined by non-believing physicians for greater objectivity.
And they cannot explain it. How could a tumor (a chronic illness, etc.) simply disappear overnight?
Adding to the quandary, miraculous healings such as these are not limited to Christian prayer. What are we to make of this?
The thoughts that came to me the other night reminded me of the teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, published in his book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. He writes:
Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts.
We, however, have Divine power, Divine life and Divine energy. On the day of the Final Judgment we shall have to give an answer for the way we have used this Divine power, life and energy which have been given to us: whether we have contributed to the harmony in the universe, or have sown disharmony.
Made in the image and likeness of God, given His Divine power, life and energy, we ourselves have built into us the ability to bless others. But as the Elder notes, “we do not realize it”.
Of course, God’s love is not limited to Christians and so He naturally allows this Divine capacity to sometimes be made manifest in those outside of the Faith. How and when and with whom He does this is part of His inscrutable plan. We are unable figure it out – but we know it is for the good.
And so, when we pray with this Divine power, life and energy living in us, we may become “co-creators” or “co-healers” with the Almighty God. But “we hardly understand that” and so we seldom make full use of this capacity we have been given.
We may wonder, how could I possibly make full (or even partial) use of this capacity?
Certainly not without the help of the Lord Jesus. If we were to try such a thing, it would not only fail but, worse, cause great damage to our souls. To try to use God’s gifts apart from God is at the heart of the temptation to do “good” for my glory rather than His.
And so we pray. We pray, not just to “get” what we want. We pray to grown in union with Christ our Savior.
As we grow closer to Christ, through our prayer, our struggle and our works, His life within us grows stronger, more powerful.
The seed planted in us at conception, this tiny seed of blessing-ability, grows, blossoms and bears fruit.
It is not for us to choose how it will bear fruit. God’s blessings come forth from us in whatever manner He chooses – for He knows what is best: whether it be to heal, prophesy, teach or console.
That seed He placed within our hearts develops and radiates His love – oftentimes without our saying a word.
It may radiate to those we know, but also to the stranger sitting next to us on the bus or to the refugee on the other side of the planet.
It may even heal the earth and its atmosphere, polluted and defiled as they are by our sin.
We do not know. It is only for God to know how it will all come together for the good. But come together for the good, it will.
It is Love that creates. It is Love that heals. It is Love that casts Divine mercy upon us all.
So we pray and we enter the Way, entering the eternal Christ Who is Love Incarnate.
And in so doing, we and those around us become fully alive at last.
To Him be Glory forever. Amen.