My mother had two sayings that she uttered when particularly exasperated with my brothers and sister and me: “God, give me strength” and “God, give me faith.” She used them interchangeably, never elaborated on them and I doubt she ever gave them much thought.
Ultimately, all prayer boils down to strengthening our faith. It refocuses us on and recommits us to what we believe God is doing. It’s not concerned with faith in the sense of ideas we might hold about God; it’s faith in the sense of living the way of Jesus. For Christians all prayer boils down to, God, let me live as Jesus lived.
Prayer is a daring activity. Every prayer, explicitly or implicitly aligns us with Jesus’ willingness to spend his life for the world of God’s promise. A bloody body dead on a cross isn’t always the best way to portray this. In our lives it’s more often an exhausted mother arguing for a just allocation of public resources for a depressed school. It’s an apprehensive employee refusing to go along with the bosses’ plan to move a faulty product through clever marketing rather than fixing its problems. It’s parents voting taxes for the common good when they know that that may decrease the advantages available to their own family. Most often it’s simply the daily care for the person next to me who needs my love.
Our faith is rooted in our confidence that the world is good but it’s a far cry from the gift that God promises. Immense natural evils obviously exist. But much worse are people willing to allow others to suffer, or even to cause them suffering, in their efforts to advance their own welfare. Such people don’t allow their power to wane without a struggle. We who are dedicated to justice, as Jesus was, will face their resistance and even hostility. In addition, we will face our own desire for unjust advantage.
Too often folks have portrayed praying as an act of tribute we perform to please God. We pray to keep hope. We pray to keep from growing depressed, exhausted and simply giving up on that hope which is, in the end, the core of our lives.