I collect quotes. Quotes of all sorts. A lot of quotes (34 pages so far). I collect quotes with which I disagree if the statement is profound and well said. Several years ago, I came across a comment by Steve Allen (1921-2000), the television host, musician, actor, comedian and writer. His thoughts on prayer are worth hearing:
“If you pray for rain long enough, it eventually does fall. If you pray for floodwaters to abate, they eventually do. The same happens in the absence of prayers.”
Allen was apparently raised Irish Catholic and become a “secular humanist” later in life. His comments on prayer are likely shared by many. In fact, I suspect many Christians share those same thoughts. Or, at least, like Allen, they think that prayer is about the “results.” After all, isn’t the point to obtain an affirmative answer from God? Isn’t the point for the rain to fall or the flood to recede? Isn’t the point to get what you want?
Throughout this year we will pray. Most of the time, our prayers are just rank selfishness—we ask and expect to get what we want. I am among the worst of sinners here. Sometimes, it is truly for others. A few times, it is actually honest. Rarely, if ever, do we say out loud that God has disappointed us. That God could have and should have given us the answer we wanted: a child’s repentance, a wife’s healing, or the overcoming in ourselves of persistent sin. Genuine prayers. Good prayers, in fact. But few, very few.
But there is, in fact, something better than even an affirmative answer to these noble prayers. Hear Evagrius the Solitary (AD 345-399):
“Often when I have prayed I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly importuning the will of God, and not leaving to Him to arrange things as he knows is best for me. But when I have obtained what I asked for, I have been very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; because the thing turned out not to be as I had thought….. Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask. He wishes to give you something better—to make you persevere in your prayer. For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with Him?”
Really? Better than the great job? Better than the receding flood, the new home, the healed child, the latest mission trip? Your ongoing and persistent prayers to God are better than these?
For your persistence keeps you in communion with God, and there is nothing better at all.