It is hard to imagine a greater need for prayer in our country than the need that exists today. In the past we have faced illness, famine, and attacks from without, but today we face graver assaults from within. At stake are the institutions and processes that have given the U.S. unprecedented economic and social stability that have been the envy of the world. Now more than ever, America needs our prayers.
There are, of course, numerous forms of prayer and all are both efficacious and comforting. For example, prayers of adoration that praise God and acknowledge our dependence on Him; prayers of thanksgiving that express appreciation for blessings we have received; prayers of intercession that make requests for the good of others; and prayers of petition that ask God to meet our own physical, emotional and spiritual needs. All these forms of prayer typically involve “talking to” God and often ending with the words “Thy will be done” in acknowledgement that God’s wisdom must take precedence over our wishes.
The prayers mentioned above constitute communication but not conversation, which involves both speaking and listening. But there is another form of prayer that goes beyond hoping for an answer at some future time. This form of prayer prepares us to hear God’s answer, often in that very moment. It has no formal name but may be described as reflective wondering.
At first consideration, “reflective wondering” may seem to be only a mental exercise rather than a true form of prayer. It is a thinking process to be sure. Yet it is also a genuine form of prayer because, like other forms, it asks for “God’s will” to be done. It differs from other forms in that it does not simply ask that God change the world, but more specifically that He help us be the instruments of that change. And this is completely consistent with Scripture.
Jesus commanded us to play such a role in the world. He said in Matt 5, “You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. He also emphasized, in Matt 7, the importance of doing and not just saying: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” And in John 14 He affirmed the value of such works: “Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father. (Emphasis added.)
It is necessary to explain how to approach the prayer of reflective wondering because in recent centuries Christian teaching has tended to separate prayer from the process of thought. As a result, prayer has consisted mostly of repeating memorized passages of varying lengths, from “My God and my all” and “Thanks be to God” to “Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee!” “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world,” and, of course, the even longer Rosary. The kind of prayer I am speaking of does not replace these but adds another dimension to them.
Reflective wondering begins by inviting God into our minds in this manner:
“Dear God, you have blessed me with a mind that strives for truth and wisdom. Please enter my mind and guide my efforts. Help me have the humility to put aside my preconceptions and biases, to overcome confusion, and to accept the understanding, discernment, and insight you offer. And give me the courage to act on those gifts.”
We can offer this invitation at any time or place, but it s best to do so when we are free from distractions. The next step is to call to call to mind important developments in this country and elsewhere, consider the interpretations and judgments of those developments that we have heard or read from our news sources, and then ask God relevant questions, notably Which reports are true and which are false? Which interpretations and judgments are valid and which are invalid? What response would you have me and others make to these developments?
Finally, and most importantly, listen for God’s response. Trust that it will come in God’s good time, and perhaps in numerous parts. The response may take the form of a Bible verse that suddenly comes to mind, or an unexpected comment from a friend. Don’t be surprised if it points to an idea or information source you are not familiar with—or even one you have considered unworthy of your attention. Expect that, often as not, God will lead you to consider thoughts, perspectives, and actions that make you uncomfortable. In such cases you may be inclined to think, “God couldn’t possibly be saying this because it disagrees with what I have always thought.” Recognize that reaction as putting your views above God’s wisdom, and reject it.
America surely needs our prayers now more than ever, and I believe it needs reflective wondering most of all, for that prayer puts God’s greatest gift to us—the mind that He created in His image and likeness—in the service of doing His will.
Copyright © 2021 By Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved