Prayer Preference—and Its Limits

Posted July 9, 2012

John H. Hampsch, cmf

Just as each person favors a certain lifestyle, preferred types of food, or choice of entertainment, so also every praying Christian has his or her own “personalized” modality of non-liturgical private prayer. It is morally imperative that we recognize that —every authentic prayer is good in the eyes of God.

Yet many of these “prayerful” Christians look with disdain on others whose prayer forms differ from their own—somewhat like the Pharisee  belittling and denigrating the publican, in the parable of Jesus (Luke 18:11). Such arrogance negates the effectiveness of their own prayer when they deride the prayer that others find appropriate for them in their relationship with God.

Peter’s advice is timely: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (I Pet. 4: 10). Such gifts include various forms of prayer, such as levels of the gift of praying in tongues, meditation, contemplation, rosary prayer, etc.  Peter addressed those “xenophobic” Christians who isolated themselves from others whose prayer or lifestyle differed from their own, when he wrote, “Live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers and sisters, be compassionate and humble…that you may inherit a blessing”(1 Pet. 3:8-9).

The scriptural basis for this “individualism” in prayer is fourfold: First, Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases…So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Second, St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 2: 15 states that “The Spirit-filled man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any other man’s judgment.” Third, Paul says in Galatians 6:4, “Each one should test his own behavior… without comparing himself to somebody else.” Fourth, this “individualism in prayer” is limited, not absolute; it requires variety, says Paul, in its expression. “Pray as the Spirit leads you on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and petitions.” (Eph. 6:18). Paul thus reminds the Ephesians that Spirit-spawned prayer includes not only petition, butall kinds of prayers.” Thus, a Spirit-guided prayer life is far more than saying “please. Merely begging favors of God will never make you holy. +