The principle form of prayer is thanksgiving.
– Clement of Alexandria
Throughout history there have been many areas that evaded human comprehension. The secularization of the twentieth century directly corresponded to the intensity in the rise in scientific discovery and technological mastery. Prayers of request underwent serious crisis during this time; those who prayed this way became increasingly isolated from secular society because their seeking understanding was eclipsed by technological rationales. But petitionary prayer within the Christian community as a whole has made a reemergence. However, it is reasonable to question these current forms and their faithfulness to the gospel.
Petitionary prayer cannot be reduced to magical intervention or a demand. It is not God’s duty to satisfy human whim.
To be human is to be a request. Christ teaches that God already knows our needs. Therefore, to petition God is to express our acquiescence to receive again our identity…to be our true selves.
Authentic petitionary prayer is therefore unquestionably scandalous because it is an affront to all delusions of self-sufficiency. True petitionary prayer properly scandalizes both modern deluded notions of technological mastery as well as the self-interested desires of those in the church who would apply it to their own misguided notions of the church being an enterprise in need of their management.
Christians who ask something of God rightly are simply more interested in God’s presence than in any particular benefits…ever. In our correct relationship with God there is a dimension of enigma that cannot be removed. Enigma is birthed into mystery through prayers of thanksgiving. The apprenticeship of petitionary prayer is founded on the full acceptance of the words of St. Paul: We do not know how to pray. Decades need to pass in such acceptance and training. In this we learn to exercise discernment with regard to our needs…to come to know God in silence, and lectio divina, and the hours of prayer, and contemplation, and fasting.
There is a constant vigilance required – demanded – of people who ask things of God…a purification…a faithfulness to being their most basic selves and to let everything else fall away. This basic self is revealed birthed in the crisis of meeting God.
Whatever our circumstances, our entire being needs to be rightly placed before God before we ask anything.