What Keeps Us from Praying, Part 3: Expectations for Prayer

What Keeps Us from Praying, Part 3: Expectations for Prayer December 14, 2018

What do you expect will happen if you pray?

If you’ve set aside time for prayer, then surely you expect something to happen or some kind of change. Otherwise, what is the point?

The problem is that some expectations for prayer can lead to a sense of perceived failure, personal unworthiness, or, at best, divine indifference.

Prayer can be angering, frustrating, and disturbing if the expected outcome doesn’t come to pass. Even worse, the mountaintop prayer experiences of others can raise expectations and lead to frustration when they remain out of reach.

If we can face our misplaced expectations and frustrations, we may find that prayer can offer us something far greater than we can imagine and far less spectacular than we expect.

What Prayer Offers

Prayer offers us an opportunity to surrender to a loving God and to make ourselves present for God. The misconception that many hold is that something we do will make God show up.

The consistent message of contemplative prayer teachers is that God is already present—in you, with you, and around you. God is united with his creation, and just as the Psalms assure us that we cannot run from God’s Spirit or flee from God’s presence.

The Reality of God’s Presence for You

Thomas Merton assures person who begins to pray that such a simple desire to pray in the first place would not be possible without the presence of God’s grace. In other words, if you have a desire to pray, you have already been found by God. The rest is just details.

There is no need to ask God to “show up” because God is already present. God may choose to become manifested in a particular manner, but that is not necessary in order to pray.

The Trap of False Expectations

The teachers of contemplative prayer write that God may show up in a particular manner, especially at the beginning of contemplative prayer, but that is not necessarily the norm for all prayer. In fact, some have cautioned about the desire for spiritual comfort and religious feelings as a potential distraction from the pure pursuit of God and God’s love.

In other words, prayer is an intention to remain present for God’s love, not a means to a reach a particular outcome. Remaining present and intent on God’s love is the point of prayer, and the results from that point are up to God.

The good news is that life change will happen as a result of prayer. However, we don’t get to say what they will be. Whether we perceive that we are having a “spiritual” experience or not does not determine the effectiveness of prayer.


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