“You believed because you have seen Me; blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed” (Jn. 20:29).
Faith is the key that unlocks all of God’s promises. He wants to give good gifts to us, His children, so He gives us Faith as an unmerited gift that we might then turn to Him in our every need. Since God is a perfect father, He is eager to help His children succeed by providing all that is necessary. The Bible calls the Father’s eagerness zeal. “The zeal of the Lord will do this” (Is. 9:6).
Prayer, then, comes about when we believe enough in our Father’s zealous love for us that we TURN to Him. See, the opposite of turning to Him is turning inwards towards our self. It is a choice to be fearful and isolated, in short, unbelieving. How sorrowful Jesus was when He went to His hometown of Nazareth but “could work no miracle there, such was their lack of faith” (Mt. 13:58). He had the same sorrow over Jerusalem because of its lack of faith. The two places closest to Jesus’ heart were the two places most closed to His divine love!
Now it’s our turn. We, too, have been given a Savior. We have been given the faith, as the ten lepers were given the faith – that is, the body of knowledge about God, about His love and power, about His presence close by us, and about His mercy and forgiveness. But as James says, “Faith without works is as dead as a body without breath” (Jas. 2:26). This means that the work of faith is PRAYER! Without prayer, our faith is a dead faith – just a skeleton of intellectually believed facts about a divinity somewhere “out there” without any interior, spiritual conviction, passion and obedience. Without the practice of prayer from our heart, we are literally and practically atheists who basically trust in our own power to get through the problems and obstacles of our daily life!! Let not Jesus be sad as He looks upon us; rather let’s heed Paul’s call in Eph. 4:30, “Do nothing to sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption,” and stir into flame the gifts of prayer that we were given when hands were laid on us (cf. 2 Tm 1:6).
“Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for” (Heb. 11:1). I remember getting a word from the Lord a few years ago in which He said, “Mike, your problem is that you just don’t believe enough yet how much I love you.” Jesus characterized His apostles as “weak in faith” (Lk. 12:28). His apostles, in turn, begged Him in another setting, “Lord, increase our faith!” (Lk. 17:5).
As I’ve grown in faith, more and more of my prayers are answered. Somewhere around two or three years ago I kind of “woke up” and realized that I could make the statement, “God answers ALL my prayers!” The more I thought about God’s love for me, the more I realized how true it is! And I think most of us could really say that. Because we are so beloved of God, He gives us as we ask. Our asking and trusting in our Father in heaven is “spiritual worship” (cf. Rom. 12:1); it is what pleases God! Therefore, OF COURSE He will respond generously to us His children! More prayer leads to more trust and that leads to more prayer of adoration, dependence and cries for help.
Because I see this and believe this so much more clearly now than ever before, I’m praying more. In fact, when some people have asked me what I do in retirement now, I say, “I can sum it up in one word: Pray. I’m always praying.” But the beautiful part is that when prayer begins with asking, it always ends with thanksgiving! St. Paul teaches this “prayer economics” by describing the holy exchange between us and God as resulting in Thanksgiving and Praise. “Indeed, everything is ordered to your benefit, so that the grace bestowed in abundance may bring greater glory to God because they who give thanks are many” (2 Cor. 4:15). This is the regular business, the very way of life, of heaven. When Jesus taught His disciples – and us – how to pray, didn’t He say, “…Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” God’s will and glory are already perfectly accomplished in heaven; our prayer, then, literally brings heaven to earth! We are privileged as God’s beloved children to taste, in and through prayer, the glory of God!
Once we pray, and then receive, we give thanks. My gratitude doesn’t just complete the circle, so to speak. Rather, thankfulness gives God permission to bless me again. My gratitude pushes me closer to my destiny of heaven and prepares the ground of my heart for the next phase of God’s loving plan for me. Thanksgiving really is our way of loving God. It is me turning outward from myself; it is the taking of my heart and soul and thrusting them upward to God. Surrendering one’s whole self in thanksgiving to God is the only way we, His children, can truly love Him. He gives, He never tires and He waits for you and for me!