As many high school students do I frequently waited till the last minute to get serious about studying for exams. When it became obvious to me that I was in trouble, I would frequently place my hope in divine intervention and begin to pray with intensity. It was during one such week of panic that a wise and holy priest told my class, “Gentlemen, at the risk of stunting your burgeoning spirituality I want to assure you that it will do your exam performance more good to spend hours in study hall with the books than hours in chapel with the Lord. Work, not a miracle, is the key to your success.”
I remember that advice when I’m in a setting where public prayer is on the agenda. It borders on dishonesty to ask God to solve a problem that we could have avoided in the first place. It can actually be a denial of God’s loving care to ignore the power that he’s placed in us to meet our own needs.
The problem with asking for divine intervention when human commitment and sweat could meet the need is that we thwart the power and thus future that God is trying to give us. Like children asking parents to do their homework, we turn our backs on our own abilities leaving them in the shadows unappreciated. Faith in the power God places within us is crucial to realizing the future God offers us.
It is not humility nor is it praise to ask of God something God has given us the power to accomplish ourselves. How often we pray for peace when we would do better to pray to become more forgiving, more sensitive to others needs, aspirations and weaknesses, more generous with our possessions and power.
It’s challenging, even uncomfortable to look carefully at our prayers. Yet they present a valuable opportunity to examine our beliefs and ask if they make sense. Jesus said something important when, instead of intervening, he urged the disciples, “Give the people some food yourselves.”