Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Prayer has the power to change hearts and history. We are not in control of our lives, but we do have a say. God has offered us the opportunity to shape our lives through prayer.
My high school volleyball coach turned away from the faith when his sister died young. My friend’s mother lost hope when her childhood dog became sick and passed away. When I heard of both these events the stories were prefaced with the phrase, “I was Catholic until…” Like many, these individuals lost faith when God did not intervene for them the way they so desired him to. They had prayed to him, asked him for help – but to seemingly no avail. It can be discouraging to hit our knees every night, asking God again and again for the same things. Some nights prayer feels like a one-way conversation, like we’re throwing rocks at a window, but the glass won’t break. This isn’t the case. Prayer changes things.
Know that God hears all our prayers, but the way in which he chooses to answer them may not always be what we have asked of him. This can be difficult to grapple with. If we are so faithful, so prayerful, so good to our God, why shouldn’t we get what we ask for? Because we are not in control. It is a humbling realization. We are called to total abandonment to God’s will – to truly trust in his plan. This abandonment can prove to be hardest in the face of tragedy, sickness, heartbreak, or despair. However, we can find comfort knowing that He has not and will not give us a cross to bear that we are not capable of carrying. As it is written in 1 Corinthians 10:13,
“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”
God asks us to put on his yoke and carry it with him because we need a savior. Because we cannot carry it on our own.
Our prayer is just one piece in God’s greater plan. God’s will may be for certain outcomes to come about as a result of our prayer, but we will never know if the result is a condition of our conversations with him. We can only make our requests with the hope that God wills our prayer to be the cause of the outcome. If this is not the case, then we must trust that there is a reason behind it. This is why we pray, “Thy will be done” in the Our Father. We are called to trust in our God relentlessly, to lean on him again and again, knowing that even on the days when our words feel like an echo in an empty room, he has heard us. He is listening. It is his will, not ours, that will be done.
Prayer has changed hearts and history. After its film debut in 2017, I am sure many of you are familiar with the Dunkirk Evacuation. In May 1940, Hitler had set his troops against France and Belgium, trapping the Allies on three sides with the sea behind them. German leadership was boasting that their troops were, “..proceeding to annihilate the British Army.” Meanwhile, Winston Churchill was preparing to deliver the devastating news that more than 300,000 soldiers had been captured and killed. Later that month, King George VI called the UK into a national day of prayer. The British people devoted themselves to this, gathering in their homes, the streets, and churches - fervently praying for the safe delivery of their soldiers. At the same time, the British Army decided to begin evacuating as many soldiers as they could. A cry for help went out to any vessel willing to cross the English Channel and assist in saving the trapped men. 800 vessels responded and came to their aid. As the Allies rushed to save what seemed like a hopeless cause, Hitler unexpectedly called his troops to a halt. For 3 days, Nazi soldiers and tanks stood idly by while the Allies evacuated their men. Meanwhile, poor weather grounded the Luftwaffe, the German air force, and the sea itself became unusually calm - allowing the rescue boats to reach the beach without hindrance.
To this day the evacuation is referred to as a miracle. Historians cannot explain why Hitler called a halt to his advance with victory just around the corner, and German veterans remain unaware of why they were asked to stand by. However, we do know one thing for sure - prayer is a powerful tool. This is just one example from history where we see prayer change the outcome, but there are so many more. God is listening to us. He has even sent Mary to us with the same message time and time again.
Prayer is Our Lady’s most frequent message in Medjugorje, where she has been appearing to 6 visionaries since 1981. Our Lady asks us to pray 3 hours each day and to pray with our heart, meaning, we need to pray with love, trust, total abandonment, and commitment. She says,
"Dear children! Today I call you especially now to advance against Satan by means of prayer. Satan wants to work still more now that you know he is at work. Dear children, put on the armor for battle and with the Rosary in your hand defeat him! Thank you for having responded to my call." (August 8, 1985).
Whether it is the rosary, holy mass, devotions and novenas, free-form prayer, or works of love and mercy - we are called to unite ourselves with Heaven, to grow with our God in the intimacy and vulnerability of prayer. God may know what’s on our hearts, but he wants to hear it from us. He has offered us the opportunity to shape our lives through prayer. We are not in control of our paths, but we do have a say. We must be prepared that it will not be ours, but his will that is done. However, that should not discourage us - our persistence in prayer is not only heard but has the power to change the world around us.