Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Some will say: “regardless of whether I pray, God has his plan. And so, I will not pray.”
This is an example of being lead from a truth into a falsehood. That God has his plan for each of us is true. That we should throw up our arms and not pray to him, when he stands outside our door knocking, hoping that we invite him into our lives, does not follow from the fact that he has his plan for each of us. For his plan is supreme, but in his respect for us, it also rests at times on his hope that we invite him in to let him do his work for us, to complete his plan with us in our lives. When we shut the door to him, we also shut the door to his grace, which he wants to offer us at every moment in accordance with his divine will.
If we do not pray to God the Father in the name of his Holy Son, then we will never get our wish if it is God’s will that we ask him by praying to him. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, says the Lord (Matthew 7:7).
In the very act of asking and knocking is the will to faith. For believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace (Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa Theolgica, II-II, 2, 9). And what if our faith and our hope and our prayers were the keys by which we opened the door to God, the hope our Lord holds for us, out of respect for us his holy creatures, before interceding in our lives?
In the face of God and the question whether to have faith and pray to him to fulfill our needs, we face the following possibilities.
First is the possibility that God’s plan will not be moved by our prayers, for reasons known only to him. Under this possibility is the possibility that we pray to him, and receive what we ask for but not on account of our prayers alone; as well as the possibility that we do not receive what we ask for. Such is the case for example by those who pray to God for healing yet who are not healed. The purpose God has set before us may be holiness in suffering, or our death, through which we are joined closer to him. We must never question God’s intentions, but must accept them with the same grace he shows us. By having faith in these, the more difficult instances, we may have faith when it can make the difference, as in the second possibility.
The second possibility is that God’s plan for us is that we ask and receive from him by our prayers. Under this possibility, our prayers may be answered, for God was waiting for us to let him in, and to heal us. Why not just heal us without the power of prayer? The answer is simple. Because God seeks an authentic relationship with us, and so gave us the free will the connect with him. God may by his grace intervene and help us even when we do not ask, for example, by the prayers of others or by his own free grace. God hopes we call out to him, for there is value in faith in him by our own free will. Who wants to marry a spouse who does not willingly take him as her husband, or her as his wife? What value is there in such an inauthentic “I do”? What value would there have been in our relationship to God in which we had no say in the matter? Our relationship with him would have been as it is between God and the animals. How much value would there have been in God’s creation had his glorious plan for us not have included a bridge we have to willingly cross in order to reach him? How authentic would our union with Christ really have been, we whom God has created to join back to him in friendship? What value would there have been if faith was not freely chosen, and if God’s noblest creature did not out of his own free will reach out for the grace and the healing of God? I tell you it would have been of much less value in such a world than in the world we have, despite the suffering that is made possible because of our lack of faith.
Pessimism narrows our possibilities, for it is a negative hope; an expectation of negativity. It is the anthem of the broken-hearted, who have chosen pessimism instead of hope, for the foretelling of bad outcomes in a paradoxical way helps to soothe the heart. The pessimistic heart protects itself against higher expectations so that its pain is tempered by falling a little less further than it would if it held more hopeful expectations for the future. But by protecting itself so, it closes out the possibility of a more joyful life, one in which prayer is worth it, and in which miracles are always possible. In this way, pessimism enables survival but prevents flourishing, for it enables a person to continue on in the humdrum of their little bit of faith, and to carry their heavy load. Blessed are these, who weep. They shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save (Psalm 33(34)).
But optimism and hope, these are the song of possibility and of those who flourish in God’s tenacious sight. For the hopeful let God in to work his wonders, meeting Him halfway, hearing him in faith, knowing in trust that he calls them, and trusting in faithful knowledge that he awaits just outside their door, always knocking.