The odd thing is that if at the time - I was only 16, I think - anyone had asked me whether I believed in God, I would have laughed and said "of course not!" - so natural is it to ask for help when we have passed the hope of human efforts.
When I first believed in Christ, at the very end of 1969, and began to receive advice from mature Christians to dedicate a time each morning that my Campus Crusade for Christ called my 'quiet time,' and that I should spend that time in Bible reading and prayer.
The Bible reading part I understood. I began then a regime which I have continued pretty continuously of reading the Bible through once a year. That is not my only Bible-reading, but it is a basic background to the rest - of study, meditation, reading books about the Bible. I have ever been glad that I have done this.
The prayer part I really did not. I thought, I suppose, the same thing about prayer as I had at age 16: prayer is the way we ask for things from God that we cannot do ourselves. I began a routine of praying for the conversion of persons. At one point - I have abandoned this since - I had a large set of 5" x 3" file cards with names on them, and I prayed through these regularly. I did not, it is true, have a very clear idea what such prayer should consist of - but I did pray for the salvation of others; I still do, of course.
Nevertheless, the whole business seemed, in a way, artificial. God knows, surely, that men need to be saved. The Father knows, Jesus tells us, what we have need of.
As I understood more of Christianity, I read that the reason for prayer is for us - the ones praying - to be changed. This, I am sure, is so. Yet I really didn't think that my prayer was changing me very much.
When I became a Catholic, what I heard about prayer began to change - ultimately to change pretty fundamentally. Prayer, I was told, was a way for me to get to know God - as a man gets to know his friend, I was often told.
I am a slow learner. Only this week-end did I reflect on what to know God means and implies:
...then shall I know even as also I am known (I Cor 13:12)
...we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)and above all:
...this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3)I cannot say that any of this has made prayer any easier. In a way, it makes it harder. The number of ways I have of deceiving myself in prayer is legion. I think, "I want to know God." Well, there is the Bible. I read the Bible - but find I am actually more involved in theologising - or historicising - or even doing linguistic analysis - then finding God there. I can talk to God - so readily I am talking to an idol of my own creation, a sort of idea of God. I can listen to God - oh, the temptations there! Feelings? Are these God? Thoughts? Are they from God or just from me (or from a lower source!)? Often, what I call listening to God is just being in kind of revery - the state that Ste Teresa warned her readers against, sitting there in silence como unus estupidos - which I think means, rather than like stupid people, something akin to like stunned mullets, if I may use a New Zealand colloquialism.
I must not rest in seeking. Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you. But I know what I am looking for now - or, rather, Whom. Prayer is not, in a way, the means to an end; if prayer is knowing God, then prayer is the end. It is what we are made for.