"Devote yourselves to prayer…" (Col 4:2)
"Devote yourselves to prayer…" (Col 4:2)
Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed that in this Year of Faith, "the Holy Spirit will hover near the faithful." The Year of Faith has been designated to "strengthen the faith of Catholics as we set the world on fire with our love of God." If you notice, it is our individual love for God that will be used by Him to set the world on fire for Christ, not necessarily any work that we will do for Him. Our work for God is important, but our love for Him is even more important because it is our love for Him that will spur us on to carry out those good works and keep us going when Satan opposes us in that work. Therefore, it is our love for God that must be cultivated and focused on before we can consider what work the Spirit may be calling us to do in this Year of Faith.
One person in love with Christ can do more for His Kingdom than 100 million people who only love Him with half a heart.
If we are going to accomplish great things for God in this Year of Faith, we must be people of prayer. Our gifts, talents, skills, and abilities aren't going to go anywhere unless we get our priorities straight and put our love relationship with Christ before them. Christ Himself will see to this because you mean more to Him than any work you will ever do for Him.
One of the biggest traps well-meaning people tend to fall into is that of putting one's works before one's love relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. In our zeal to do great works for Jesus we can end up ignoring Jesus in an effort to get everything done that needs to be done. This, of course, is a trap set by Satan. Ministry can never serve as a substitute for an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think of your ministry as a kite. A kite can have two destinies. Sometimes, when we watch it go up into the air, the kite ends up getting snarled and entangled in a tree and ends up going nowhere. But there are other times - glorious times - when the kite soars high up into the air and goes exactly where we want it to go. The same can be said of any work that we do for Christ. When we neglect our time with God in prayer, whatever it is that we attempt to do for Him isn't going to get very far. But when we put our love relationship with Him first, then we position our ministry into a place where God can anoint it and use it mightily.
Whenever I hear someone teach or preach, I am able to discern whether or not that individual has spent much time with God in prayer that week. When a person has neglected his or her prayer life, their words are dry, uninspiring and just fall flat. There's no life, fire, or passion to their message. I don't sense the Holy Spirit taking up those words and using them to powerfully pierce the hearts of the listeners. But when a person has spent much time with Jesus in prayer, it is no longer that individual who speaks, but the Holy Spirit of God, who powerfully speaks through them.
When Saint Peter preached to the multitudes on the day of Pentecost, the Bible says that the people were "cut to the heart when they heard his words." They were moved mightily by God to repent and to be baptized. Do you think that Peter's teaching ministry would have been powerfully anointed by God on the day of Pentecost if he had spent the week before that moment fishing and doing other things instead of crying out to God in the upper room with the other disciples? Prayer makes the difference in a man or woman's ministry! We must be filled with the Holy Spirit before we can attempt to be used mightily by Him.
Jesus instructed His disciples as follows: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5). This is why the disciples returned to the upper room in Jerusalem, where they had celebrated the Passover with Christ. Your time with Jesus in prayer is your "upper room." It's where Christ calls you to remain until you have been "filled with power from on high."
As important as being filled with the Holy Spirit is, there is something that must come before even this, and that is your love for Christ. After Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He appeared to His disciples. His goal was to give them further instructions before He returned to His Father, and also, to reinstate Peter who had failed Him in a moment of weakness. After they had all finished eating breakfast, Jesus turned to Peter. It was time to have a discussion. Listen closely to the conversation between Christ and Peter: "Simon Peter, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon, do you truly love me?" Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" Peter said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." (Jn 21:15-17).
Notice what did not take place. Jesus did not turn to Peter and simply say, "Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep." Before Peter was commissioned by Christ to serve as a shepherd over His Church, he was first asked about his personal love for Christ. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. After this, then the work that Peter was assigned to carry out for Christ's kingdom was given to him. Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Take care of my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep. Jesus didn't ask Peter if he was all set to carry out the ministry of preaching the Gospel as soon as He returned to His Father. What was uppermost on Christ's mind was Peter's personal love for Him.
Brothers and sisters, what goes for Saint Peter goes for us. Before Christ calls us to serve, He calls us to love Him above all others and to put nothing before that love, including any work that we may carry out for Him.
This is why prayer is so important in our daily lives. It is prayer, more than anything, that will cultivate an intimate, loving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. Reading the Bible, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, reading about the lives of the Saints and other good Catholic books are essential in our lives if we want to grow in the knowledge of our faith. But prayer is the one, single element that will cause us to grow in our love for God. One helps us to grow in our knowledge of God, and the other helps us to grow in our love for God.
Your love for God is what will ignite you in ministry for Him more than anything else. But without a deep prayer life, your love for Him will grow cold and start to fizzle out. When this happens, any work that you carry out for Him will reflect that coldness and dryness.
Two of my favorite Saints are St. Rose of Lima and St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Both of these individuals were used mightily by God because both of them spent most of their time in prayer. I have a statue of St. Rose of Lima on my dresser in my bedroom because she serves as a reminder to me of what matters most to the heart of God. Even as a young child, Rose was holy. Like a hermit, she took herself away from other people in order to be alone with God. She made a hut in her backyard and spent many hours there alone in prayer. When she grew up, she entered the convent of St. Dominic in Lima. While there, she met St. Martin de Porres who also lived and worked in Lima. While Martin worked to help the poor of the city, Rose prayed for his success. Her life in the convent was one of simple prayer and sacrifice, but the Lord used her mightily. She had influenced many people by her acts of kindness. From St. Rose, we learn the importance of a quiet life of prayer and penance. Some people think that to do important things, one must be overly busy for Christ or become famous for Christ. Prayer and fasting are more important. St. Rose teaches us that greater things are accomplished by a person in constant prayer than by any powerful, wealthy, or famous person.
The same can be said of St. Pio of Pietrelcina. When Padre Pio wasn't saying Mass or hearing Confessions, most of his waking hours were spent in prayer. He slept very little. Because he was such a man of prayer, God used him mightily, not only in preaching and bringing people back to genuine repentance in the confessional, but through the performance of many miracles. The supernatural gifts that were bestowed upon this simple man of prayer boggles the mind and leaves one in awe of the power of God.
Here you have an example of two people who were tucked away and hidden from men – one in a convent and the other in a monastery. Yet, because they were such prayer warriors, God used them in a mighty and powerful way. Those who learn how to shut themselves in with God will be used mightily by God to carry out whatever work He has called them to do.
You and I may not be called to a religious vocation, but the principle of prayer goes for us as well. it's just as necessary in our lives if we want to establish a love relationship with Christ as it was in the lives of His greatest Saints. Only when we give this to God first will our works for Him be the force in this world that He desires them to be.
Most of those who know me well know that I live what I call a semi-cloistered life. Friends joke with me and call me "The Hermit." This lifestyle is something that Christ called me to many, many years ago. It's not that I don't enjoy being around people, but the Holy Spirit directed me many years ago to remove myself from other people as much as possible in order to devote my spare time to prayer. I am a married woman. I have children. My oldest is getting ready to graduate from college this May, but I'm still home schooling my youngest, who is getting ready to turn thirteen years old. My commitment to my vocation as a wife and mother is something that I have always taken seriously, which is why I gave up my career from the very beginning in order to devote myself completely to this sacred work.
At this season in
my life, because of my responsibilities to my husband and children, I don't have as much spare time
as does a woman who is not married with children. But what I have, I give to my Lord. It belongs
to Him. When the home schooling is done for the
day, dinner has been cooked, and the last dish has been washed and put away, I go into a back room
in my house, cover my head in a veil, and shut myself in with God for many hours into the
night. I don't watch television. I don't go out with friends, and I don't take phone calls
unless they are an absolute emergency. In my personal
life, Christ has called me to separate myself from everything and everyone in order to devote myself
to prayer. I've lost friendships with
people because they did not understand my commitment to prayer and my determination to cultivate an
intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Women who spend but five minutes a day in prayer with Christ would become offended if I couldn't take their phone call or go out with them because I wanted to spend my free time with Christ in prayer. I've been accused of being "rude" and "unfriendly" by some. Others have accused me of "not wanting people in my life," when nothing could be further from the truth. I do want people in my life, but I desire Christ more. When I would try to explain to people the life of prayer to which Christ was calling me to, they would not listen or even try to understand. Some would keep calling anyway. In anger, others have written me off. As difficult as it was, I had to let them go. I will not allow anything or anyone to be used by Satan to distract me and pull me away from my devotion to Christ and my commitment to a life of prayer. If it's a choice between God and man, the One who will have me is God.
On my deathbed, it is not the memory of many hours with friends at a coffee shop, a movie theater, or a bowling alley that will comfort and sustain me. It is the many hours that I spent keeping vigil at the feet of my Lord that will be my consolation at that hour.
If we are going to cultivate a deep prayer life, we are going to have to make many sacrifices in our lives. It's as simple as that. Christ must come first. Our time with Him must come first. Developing a loving relationship through many hours spent at His feet in prayer must come first. This means that there are many things in our lives that are going to have to be eliminated. The bottom line is that we are as close to Jesus as we want to be.
Do you know that if I don't spend most of my spare time with
Christ in prayer I can’t write or teach? People don't believe me but it's absolutely true. I remember going away on vacation many years ago. During that time, I spent no time with Jesus in prayer. When I came back, I turned on my computer and attempted to write, but
nothing would come to me. Absolutely
nothing. If I don't spend much time with
Christ in prayer, I will not have the mind of Christ and His message will not burn in my heart. When I write, I am merely typing out the
message which His Spirit burns into my heart in prayer. No prayer – no message. It's as simple as that.
People think that Jesus was just speaking empty words into the air when He said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing," but when He said this, He meant it. Try preaching or teaching without spending many hours with Christ in prayer and see how far your message will go. Try glorifying Christ in your nursing home or prison ministry without spending much time with Christ in prayer and see if any impact for Him will be made. Try sharing the Catholic Faith with a co-worker or a fallen-away Catholic without having a deep prayer life and see if your words will contain the fire necessary to penetrate a human heart and persuade it for Christ.
Without a deep prayer life, will people see a love for Christ radiating from your face while you attempt to minister to them? I can assure you they will not. It is your love for Christ, more than anything else, that will persuade men that what you possess and profess is genuine and worth pursuing – a love that can only be cultivated through prayer.
Without prayer, anything we attempt to do for Christ won't get very far. Let this Year of Faith, therefore, also become for us the Year of Prayer…
…and then watch what the incomparable power of God will do!
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