Prayer does not change God's will. As the apostles teach, it is the way to test and approve His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2). With prayer, we enter a conversation with the Creator to partake of His infinite love, eternity and immortality. We do not pray to fulfil our wishes arising from the present circumstances of our lives but to come closer to God. Soren Kierkegaard, the forerunner of European existentialism, wrote, "Prayer cannot change the will of God, but it can change the one who prays." His contemporary, a Russian theologian, ascetic and bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov, expressed the same idea differently: "God does not need our prayers! He already knows our needs before we even begin; In His infinite mercy, he sheds His abundant gifts even on those who do not ask Him for anything. We need prayer: it attunes us to the Lord. Without praying, one will remain is a stranger to God, but the more one prays, the closer one becomes to Him.
The ultimate kind of prayer is one of thanksgiving. Not coincidentally, the central sacrament of the Church is called the Eucharist, which translates as thanksgiving. Our gratitude is our sacrifice to God for His goodness. Out of goodness, He created our world, redeemed our sins and brought salvation to mankind. The sacrament of the Eucharist not only brings us closer to God, as Saint Ignatius wrote. We commune with Him in the body and spirit by taking into ourselves His blood and His body. It makes good sense to model our daily prayer on the Eucharistic prayer and put our gratitude to God at its centre. Incidentally, one of the first prayers of the morning prayer rule begins with the words, "As I rise from sleep, I thank you, Holy Trinity."
At times, however, we may feel like we have no particular reason to thank God. Or we may forget, overwhelmed with our everyday problems and concerns. At these moments, our sorrowful and aching hearts raise to God the pleas for help, deliverance, or healing. Prayers of supplication, or litanies, are prominent in church worship. In a litany, the priest makes a supplication, and the choir chants, "Lord have mercy," or "Lord grant us". The supplications are for good weather, an abundant crop, a quiet life, and the health and well-being of the living. During the Litany, we pray for good weather, crops, tranquil life, health and well-being of the living, and that the souls of our departed may rest in peace.
Yet even when we raise a prayer of supplication, we still do not manipulate the will of God or try to raise his pity for us. It is more like a heart-to-heart conversation between a child and his parent, in which the child shares his hardships, hopes and desires, and gets from his parent that which he genuinely needs. Asked why one needs to pray even though God knows our wants without any words, Saint Nicholas Velimirovich replied, "Parents also know what their children need, but they wait until the child asks them. Parents know that asking teaches their children goodness, humility, grace and gratitude. Can you imagine how many sparkles of grace a heartfelt prayer can strike from heaven!" Like children, we bring to the Lord our hopes and pleas without knowing if that is what we genuinely need. We ask Him to help us understand if the fulfilment of supplications will bring us closer to achieving the ultimate goal of our lives - salvation for our souls and our eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Prayers of supplication are a way for us to know and accept the will of God.
God's will is always the same. He wants to lead him to eternal life in heaven. To regret not being able to change His will is like wanting to do evil to oneself. In this sense, prayer becomes to us a source of life. It attunes us to God and makes us open to understanding His providence. The goal of a Christian's life is not to obtain from God the goods of this world, but to know God and find eternal joy in a conversation with Him.
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