Why It’s Worth Praying
November 09, 2023
Why It’s Worth Praying
By Br. John Henry Peters, O.P.
In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus teaches us about praying. In the first few lines of that passage, He describes what our experience of prayer is like—what we imagine prayer to consist of:
“Ask, and it will be given you, Seek, and you will find, Knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7).
This is what people often think the phrase “God answers our prayers” means. I ask Him for something, and He gives it to me. And this is true, God does answer our prayers in this way. But Jesus teaches us a more important lesson about prayer later on in this passage. He poses some questions to his listeners:
“What man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” (Matt 7:9-10).
Here, Jesus is reminding us that we do have some sense of how to help one another. But His deeper purpose is to contrast the ways that we help one another with the way that God helps us:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11).
We humans are fallen, fallible creatures, and yet we know enough not to give a stone to someone who asks for bread. We know not to give someone something bad, when he’s asking for something good. God does this, and more. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He loves us with a perfect father’s love. And because of this wisdom and love, He knows how to give us bread when we ask for stones. He knows how to give us something good, even when what we’re asking for might actually be bad for us. We, imperfect human beings, know not to give someone a serpent when he asks for a fish. But God knows how to give us a fish when we ask for a serpent.
In the ancient Church, Christians used the Greek word icthys as a symbol for Jesus. The word itself means “fish,” but the letters of the word stood for the phrase: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” When Adam and Eve listened to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God responded by giving us His Son as our savior. We asked for a serpent, and God gave us a fish. God showed His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, He sent His only Son to die for us (Rom 5:8; cf. John 3:16).
God knows what we need, better than we ourselves know. And it is His desire to give us what we truly need, whether we recognize it at the moment or not. Sometimes we pray to God for something, and yet we don’t receive it. This tempts us to think that God has ignored our prayer. But our heavenly Father desires our true good, even more than we do. God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-loving. Because of this, He is trustworthy. That is certain. That’s why it’s worth praying.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. Used With Permission