As Christians, we are all called to encounter and embrace God's
Word to each one of us - individually - deep within our hearts.
Personal prayer is simply the means by which we train ourselves to
be more aware of our relationship with God and his presence in the
The relationship already exists; personal prayer is what
By this, I do not mean to imply that public or liturgical prayer
is unimportant. To the contrary, it is essential; public
worship is how the Body of Christ expresses itself, transcends
time, and joins eternity in the praise of God. It cannot be
separated from personal prayer as if they were each distinct or
competing aspects of faith. They are intimately bound with one
another, just like breathing requires both inhaling
and exhaling. They feed one another. Without one, the
But the focus here, for now, is on personal prayer - and more
specifically, that silent surrender to God's movment of grace
within our hearts.
Trappist monk Michael Casey, in his book Toward God: The
Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer, says:
"Prayer is an attempt to realize the love that unites us with
God, allow it to becomemore present to us, and give it greater
scope to act upon us and change us. We do not produce prayer. We
allow prayer to act. We do not create prayer; it creates us."
In prayer, we listen for the invitation, for that "tiny
whispering sound" in our hearts that draws us toward God. And to do
this, we must surrender, let go of our preoccupations, our
preconcieved notions, our expectations, and simply be still before
the God who created us, chose us, and redeemed us - the God who
knows us better than we know ourselves. After all, "we live and
move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) in God alone.
Each of us is a member of the Body of Christ, and we relate to
the whole through each other. But each of us also has a personal
and unique invitation from God. God's Word is sown in our
hearts, and it is there that he calls us. We are
born with this desire, or spiritual hunger, to seek God, but we
must truly listen for the genuine invitation (among the myriad
false and empty ones designed to distract us). We must be willing
to follow Jesus into the dark and silent desert, and let him feed
us with the bread of heaven.
"Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find;
knock, and the door will be opened for you," Jesus tells us in the
Gospel of Matthew (7:7-8), "Everyone who asks receives, and
everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knows, the door
will be opened."
We all do well to reflect on these words and on what they really
mean. If we are willing to follow Jesus into the desert to be fed,
to seek, to knock, to ask, just what is it we truly desire - deep
down in our souls, which words cannot begin to express?
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asks a very simple question, one he
poses to each and every one of us amid our busy lives, our work,
our prayer, our failures, our successes, our joys, our sorrows:
"What do you want me to do for you?"
Actually, he asks the same question twice (see Mark 10:32-52).
First, Jesus asks two of his apostles, James and John. They ask for
power and glory. Wrong answer. Next, he asks a blind
beggar by the road, who says, "Master, I want to see." In other
words, "I want to see you, follow you." His was the correct answer
because while he asked from his deepest need, his focus was on
Jesus and not himself, nor his preconceived ideas and
What do you want me to do for you? It takes a
hungry heart to answer that question truthfully. This scares many
people because it means being vulnerable, acknowleging our need. We
don't like to feel that way. We don't
want to be hungry. We want to be full. But, too
often, we fill ourselves with the wrong things and are left
dissatisfied. Only the Bread of Life satisfies.
Personal prayer teaches us how to enter into the question. And
it must be pure prayer from the heart, arising from that personal
hunger - that need. It must be fiery prayer, beyond words,
immersed in the love of God, as the ancient monk John Cassian would
This is contemplation, and we are all called to it. In heaven,
we will spend an eternity doing it. Here, by God's grace, we are
given a foretaste if we are open to it. It is not complicated, and
it cannot be taught. It requires only a heart completely open to
Christians - especially men - tend to over-intellecualize prayer
and the spiritual life, to classify it, and systematize it. We make
it something to be studied and taught, something to produce
practical results like a good, moral life. That is all good and
necessary. Our prayer must be informed, have
structure, be communal, and make us better people. However, that is
not all that true invitation to prayer involves. God did not become
man to teach or introduce a system of moral conduct, or to inspire
our involvement in a myriad of activities and programs. Jesus came
to love us, to call us, to draw us, to invite us into his saving
action of grace. We are called Chrsitians not because of what we
do, but because of who we are. "Come to me," Jesus says, to
discover who you are truly meant to be.
In this invitation, God promises his presence. "I am with you,"
he says repeatedly in Scripture. The gift of presence is the most
valuable gift we can either receive or give. It is the gift of
self. prayer is simply being present to God, who is always present
"What do you want me to do for you? Ask and it will be given
Whatever the answer to that question might be for you, God has
accomplished it in Christ, and he reveals it through you personal
hunger. Your deepest desire will be satisfied by your greatest
--Taken from Grace in the
Wilderness: Reflections on God's Sustaining Word Along Life's
© Abbey Press, 2013