Prayer: An Opportunity to Listen to God.

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And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mark 1:34)

Today, we continue the story of Hannah. God eventually blessed her with a child just as the Priest Eli had assured her. Hannah could have decided to stop praying altogether as some of us do when we are blessed but she remembered her vow and kept her word. She literally donated the boy Samuel to God. Having been offered to God, Samuel had nowhere else to lay his head other than the place where the Ark of God was kept. It was here that God called him. Samuel was quiet enough to hear the voice of God clearly so much so that three times he ran to Eli thinking he called. Eli then understood what was happening and gave spiritual guidance to Samuel. When next he calls, say: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Two lessons we learn from this encounter are:

1. The importance of listening to God especially during prayer. Prayer should not be all about talking to God. Prayer should not just be all about informing God of our needs and problems as if He does not already know. Prayer is a relationship. It is a conversation. As we talk, we must listen.

2. The need to have a Spiritual Director. You may be a very talented artist but without a good manager, your talents may not get you far. Be the best singer in the world, without a director, no one might hear you sing. We have no problem consulting professionals for almost everything but when it comes to our spiritual life, we assume we can handle it alone. Like a good coach, your spiritual director challenges you, monitors your progress, motivates you and journeys with you until you become the best you can ever be.

In our Gospel passage, we see Jesus curing Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with fever. News of this went fast across the community and that night the whole town gathered about Simon’s door to receive their share of the healing bonanza. Jesus rose up very early the next morning and went to a lonely place to pray. Why did Jesus prefer a lonely place? He wanted a place quiet enough to hear God’s voice. What Jesus did is what we refer to as a retreat; leaving everything else behind to focus on the one thing necessary – God. Again, there are two lessons we learn from Jesus in this passage:

1. The importance of personal prayer. You may pray in Church or with others. (Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there. Matthew 18:20). However, it is very important to create time to be alone with God. Switch off the phone, switch off the television. There will be time to respond to your calls or social media later.

2. For effective prayer, location matters. Jesus warned us against praying in street corners or in market places to attract the attention of others or give the impression of holiness. Find a place where you would not be distracted easily. Find a chapel you can visit regularly or create a lonely place in your home, your office or your store. Even if it is your closet, make out a clean spot where you can be alone with God.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, strengthen my prayer life. Amen.  Bible Study: 1 Samuel 3:1-20, Psalm 40 and Mark 1:29-39).

Prayer is The Opposite of Magic

“So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” (1 Samuel 4:4) Today’s readings juxtapose two examples of God’s intervention in human life. One in which God allowed the enemy to prevail over his children and the other in which God showed his power and might over nature by bringing healing to a leper. The Israelite nation was in a battle against the Philistines who were obviously gaining the upper arm. In just one day, the Philistines slew four thousand men. Out of desperation, the Israeli army “ordered” for the Ark of God. Without any prior acts of begging, they commanded God into battleground. They forgot that prayer is not magic.

Mind you, the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas who were directly responsible for the care of the ark did not show any respect at all for God. As we read in 1 Samuel 2:12 onwards: “The sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD or for the duties of the priests to the people…. Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD; for they treated the offerings of the LORD with contempt…” Even the women who served at the entrance of the tent (the altar girls) were not spared of their gross immorality (1 Samuel 2:22) Eli did his best to caution Hopni and Phineas, but they ignored him. They did not listen to the voice of their father, yet when it was time to carry the Ark to battleground, they did not think twice.

Prayer is the opposite of Magic. While prayer requires the will of God to work, magic entirely depends on the magician. Magic is all about performance, it is a show, it is for the glory of the magician. Prayer on the other hand, requires prostrating ourselves before God. It involves bending the knee, bowing and begging God and it is always to the glory of God. As we see in today’s Gospel passage, a leper approached Jesus beseeching Him and kneeling saying, “If you will, you can make me clean.” The leper displayed faith and humility before Jesus. He prayed for healing, but was careful to add “If you will” knowing that his healing depends entirely on God. The leper did not display a sense of entitlement. He did not shout or command God.

In teaching us to pray, Jesus deliberately added the phrase “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” to teach us that prayer is not magic. After curing the leper, Jesus told him to “say nothing to people” because Jesus did not want attention on Himself. Even when the leper disobeyed this instruction, Jesus went into hiding. “He could no longer openly enter a town but was out in the country.” Jesus wanted all the glory to go to God and not Himself. Today, it is rather disheartening to see our ministers act like magicians boasting and doing everything to make themselves popular. Prayer is not magic, learn to give God the glory He deserves. Let it not be that you only remember God when you need something from Him. Worship God in season and out of season, do not make the mistake of Hophni and Phineas.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me that there is something called humility. May I be poor in spirit. Amen. Bible Study: 1 Samuel 4;1-11, Psalm 44 and Mark 1:40-45).

Fr. Abu