Diu desiderata, dulcius obtinentur: cito autem data, vilescunt. Pete, quaere, insta. Petendo et quaerendo crescis, ut capias. Servat tibi Deus, quod non vult cito dare; ut et tu discas magna magne desiderare. Inde oportet semper orare, et non deficere Augustine Sermo 61
In this portion of the sermon Saint Agustine addresses what I would like to call the ineffective prayer. I say this from the perspective of the Christian in prayer. He does not receive what he asks for. And since it is impossible to put the blame on God’s lack of generosity, the only conclusion must be that one’s prayers are not effective.
Here is the good news. God’s perspective is not our perspective. God’s plans are eternal. God is not bound by the finite parameters of human chronology. When assessing the incarnation, Paul is able to say that it was incredible timing. But that is a human judgment based on a human understanding of history. It is right timing not because of the day in history it happened, it is right because God did it.
Augustine provides a conventional response to unanswered prayer: the longer you desire a thing the sweeter it becomes when you obtain it; something given quickly, becomes cheap. That may be cold comfort unless we read on. This is not Augustine performing Hallmark card psychology. This is Augustine describing a relationship between Father and children. The purpose in prayer is not to receive things; the purpose of prayer is to describe and perpetuate a meaningful father-child relationship. It is by seeking and by asking, he asserts, that the Christian son of God grows in order that he or she may take what is given. Prayer is not the do ut det (I give so that the god may give) kind of consumer religion practiced by t eh ancient Romans and Greek, devoid of orthodoxy, ethics, or meaning short of a inherent socio-cultural convention. Interestingly, the pagan would completely understand a conception of Christian prayer that asks and expects to receive. It is what shoppers do. Of course, the ancients provided payment for the gods’ benevolence in the form of a sacrifice. Most of us skip that portion in our anticipation that we should get what we ask for just because. But prayer is a relationship. In is ongoing dialogue. It is expressing needs and wants. It is confessing sins. It is giving praise. And it is expressing gratitude. It is sometimes saying nothing at all. Meditating on the word of God. Allowing the Holy Spirit to speak on your behalf in groaning that cannot be uttered. What does a petition mean in the context of a pray-filled life, in this long-term relationship? Augustine concludes that because God does not give quickly, he is saving you in order that you may learn greatly to desire great thing. Our desires our being shaped by and in this relationship of which prayer in the biggest element.
I do not think that we should not cry out to God for the desires of our heart. I do not believe that there is anything too small to deliver up to God. He wants to hear from us. We are his children. In fact, if Christ’s parable of the annoying friend has validity, God our Father wants us to annoy him. How so? In the same way as a man or woman forgoes etiquette to gain immediate access to a friend’s help. There is a level of intimacy between true friends that permits a phone call in the middle of the night for a importune request or the ear in which to sound off in a monologue of curses or tears. That is what God seeks from us– that level of intimacy. He wants us to reveal ourselves to him not so that he who already knows even the number of hairs on our heads may get to know us better, but so that we might get to know ourselves better and to grow toward a more sanctified existence.
Ask God whatever you will. Shout at him. Cry out to him. He not only is able to bear our words and thoughts, he desires our thought s and words. Know that God is giving us daily something greater than that for which we asked; he is giving us our growth into more perfect, more Christlike Christians. And we will trust that the timing is in His hands, either to answer immediately or to answer differently and more impressively.
Now unto him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all hat we ask or think accord to the power that worth in us unto him be glory and honor by the church through Jesus Christ now and forever world without end AMEN.