You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. … humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up. – James 4:3, 10
The first and foremost function of prayer is to connect our hearts, minds, and souls to God. We may intercede on behalf of others who are ill or in danger. We can offer up our petitions of practical need. We may even give God the praise and thanksgiving because He is who He is. These other purposes for prayer are useful and are based on scripture and tradition. There is nothing wrong with and we very well should speak to God of these things.
But, I have heard a bit of wisdom that stems from higher education. One should not major in minors. It is important that we seek the Lord to change a drug addicted friend, heal an illness, and give him the glory. But compared to the first and foremost function of prayer, all other reasons we have for going to the throne of grace are not as significant. To place one of these lesser purposes ahead of the true point is to corrupt the spiritual communication. Such corruption can only lead to dangerous and deadly consequences.
In our most sincere prayers for the recovery of someone’s health, what if God does not allow the person to recover? What if that person either lives for many years uncured or dies? If one has a prayer life founded and rooted in being connected with the Lord, such suffering can not only be endured. One can even find great spiritual meaning in the struggle. The Apostle Paul was denied relief of his thorn as the Lord revealed to him the greater truth of grace. The faithful increase in faith because of a prayer life that majors in its true purpose.
Unfortunately, too many people do not have such a prayer life. Prayer is treated only as an infrequent exercise to be done only as a need arises. A quick mutter of thanks for a meal or getting through some task or another. It is certainly to be done at church. When the minor (yet important) prayers go (seemingly) unanswered, what becomes of those who are not founded and rooted in communication with God? Hopefully, someone who is more spiritual will guide them in the direction of true faith and they will heal and become stronger. But with the decline of church attendance, most become more skeptical of the existence of a compassionate and loving God.
To make matters worse, too many clergy sell prayer as a means for people to get what they want. Gospel artist sing of such encouraging people to “believe it and receive it.” Tele-evangelist market “breakthroughs” for a “seed offering” of $273.00 (yes, I heard one of these hucksters say this amount). The person who majors a the minor purpose of prayer buy the sales pitch, often with great sincerity. The minor purpose goes (seemingly) unfulfilled. The unfortunate soul that does not find someone of sound spiritual practice will either continue to wander mindlessly through the marketplace of false doctrines, or become a greater atheist than Darwin’s theory of evolution could produce.
Do not major in the minors. Offer up intercessions, petitions, and thanksgivings and scripture and tradition encourages us to do. But, let us constantly seek a prayer life that keeps us in constant communion with God. This is the first and essential purpose and goal of prayer. Not sporatic mutterings, but a constant way of being for the soul.
Your Brother In Christ,
Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene