Monday, July 17, 2017

Contemplating God in Prayer: Prayer and the Will of God

by Dom Hubert van Zeller

This is one of the best books on prayer I've ever read.

This book is divided into two parts. Part 1 addresses prayer and Part 2 is focused on the will of God.

Right from the beginning, this book is an encouragement to prayer.
If we can honestly say we are trying, we can just as honestly say we are praying. So long as I am really trying to please God in my prayer (or in anything else, for that matter), I am pleasing Him. All He asks is that I should try to serve Him. The moment I try, I am in fact succeeding. I do not have to feel that I am doing it well, and that my prayer is pleasing God, because feelings are likely to be quite wrong about the goodness or badness of our prayers. All I have to be clear about is that I am making an effort.
Prayer does not have to be something complicated or intense. Early in the book, van Zeller compares prayer to gazing at a work of art.
Say you were to stand in front of a painting, a masterpiece. If you were ready to take in what you saw, you would gain in knowledge. Your knowledge would make you like the picture. Your liking for the picture would make you understand a little about the artist who painted it. So, altogether you would be a lot better off, in regard to art, from having stood for a while in front of a masterpiece and gazed at it. The perfection of the work would have revealed itself to you.
In the same way, spending time in prayer, regardless of what you think is accomplished, allows you to receive something of God, which can nurture a love of God within you.

Some of the advice is quite solid and practical, especially in Part 1. Why we pray, how we pray, when we pray, distracted prayer, and unanswered prayer. There are also three simple questions (on p. 15 for those who care to look them up) to contemplate when reading Scripture.
The purpose of prayer is not to bring God's will down to your level so that you may get what you want. The purpose of prayer is to lift your will to God's level so that you may get what He wants.
Evaluating prayer is almost impossible this side of heaven. We simply do not understand enough about God to determine our prayer is unfruitful.
You may not see much during your prayer, but afterward and because of your prayer, you come to see more and more of God's light wherever you look.
Of course, such results may take years or decades to become apparent to us.
What happens is that our faith is strengthened by every prayer we make, and with faith we view the world differently and the whole of life differently. There is nothing miraculous or exciting about it. It is simply the result of having been nearer to God for a bit.
The second part of the book, on God's will, is not so easily quoted. Many of the arguments and explanations go on for a few pages, but they are worthwhile. The author is not afraid to confront the dilemmas of prayers like the truly consuming work of struggling to know God's will, to align our own will with His in trust that it is best.

This is a Catholic book. There are probably many chapters that would appeal to non-Catholic Christians, but the author does draw on liturgy and tradition in addition to Scripture.

I usually read a chapter or half a chapter each day, with sometimes many days in between to consider what I had read. This would be an excellent book to bring to Adoration, inviting an honest conversation about its words with the Lord.

There are plenty of books on prayer I have read and passed on to others, but this is one I intend to keep and read again. Highly recommended.

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