Luke chapter 18 verses 1 to 8
One could very easily have a problem with Jesus saying that we should pray continually and never give up. To many, it probably sounds like trying to reach your favourite airline on the phone and being addressed by a disembodied voice..."All of our agents are currently busy serving other customers. Please be patient and an agent will be with you shortly...your call is very important to us." This may be followed by a translation which is, in turn, followed by Mantovani played slightly off speed. It takes all of your patience not to hang up...especially after the 5th or 6th time round. But, finally persistence pays off and a real, live voice expresses a willingness to help.
Is that what praying is like? When Jesus says that we should pray always and not lose heart or give up, ...is He suggesting that He can only handle so many of us at one time, but that if we hang in there, He will be sure to get to us sooner or later?
It is so easy for us to confuse God with Santa Claus and, in the process, give up on both of them. If prayer is not answered when and how we like it, we back off...we hang up! But prayer is not like that at all.
Prayer is supposed to be a maturing process during which God reveals Himself to us and wherein what we want gradually falls into step with what He wants. It is only through long and regular habit that we learn to recognize God's will and to seek His strength in accomplishing it. This, of course, does require persistence...not for us to finally get through to God, but for us to finally get attuned to God.
Keeping this last point in mind should help us to discipline ourselves into speaking less and listening more.
In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verse 14, Paul tells his student assistant, Timothy, to carefully read what we know as the Old Testament which only pointed to Jesus. We have that but we also have the full richness of the New Testament wherein Jesus lives and speaks. Clearly if we are to be serious listeners, prayer and the Bible must go hand in hand.
There are other supports which are important to our ongoing prayer life, one of which is the mutual support that derives from our worshipping in community. In the 17th Chapter of Exodus, verse 8 to 13, we are presented with a graphic example of the need that Moses and you and I have for mutual spiritual support.
Israel was under attack...Joshua was going to lead the defending army...Moses would remain behind and pray for the persecuted Israelites. In this way he would be a support for his people and an inspiration for the soldiers who would be able to see him, arms outstretched, on the hilltop. As the scene unfolded it became clear that he too needed the support of others in order for him to persist in his prayer and not lose heart. Moses, his brother Aaron and Hur went up the hill overlooking the battleground and there Moses raised his arms in prayer. So far so good...but the battle went on and on and Moses grew tired standing there with his arms outstretched. Can't you just hear him? "Lord. Lord put an end to it! ...I can't pray like this much longer!" Hurting though he was, he could not quit because the soldiers would see his arms come down and would think that he had stopped praying for them.
The other two steered him over to a large flat rock. There he sat down and each of the others took hold of and supported one of his arms. The battle was won!
This, somewhat humorous tableaux, has, I believe, as its principle purpose, the dramatizing of our mutual need to be supported in our prayer life.
I can tell you, for example, that it is much easier for me to celebrate Mass with some sense of devotion and community when the church or chapel is nearly full as opposed to a few people scattered about. We need "to support each other's arms in prayer" and to pray with and for each other. We need to turn frequently to the Bible for inspiration and affirmation and, above all, we need to pray regularly, confidently and attentively with praise, petition and thanksgiving. But remember... Stop to listen. Hearing is believing!