If you were to have a private audience with the president of Nigeria, you will probably prepare for it for days. And when the day finally comes, while in his presence, you are going to be present with him body, soul, and mind. You will be very attentive to his every word as well as to every word you speak. But when you come into the presence of God in what we call prayer, often times you are not attentive to what you are doing. If your prayer is to be truly called prayer, the first requirement is your attention.
It is good that we understand what is necessary in order that our prayer is not just a sham. We start praying by having at least the intention to pray well. It is easy for the human mind to wander after the prayer has started. You try to concentrate on the prayer but the mind wanders. It becomes even more difficult to concentrate when you are tired or have worry. Prayer thus is hard work. You should however not be troubled by this if it is not intentional. As long as your distractions are not voluntary and you are not careless about them, your prayer does not cease to be prayer.
When we understand that we are completely dependent on God, that we are totally helpless without him, then we bring to prayer a spirit of humility which is a second requisite for prayer. A proud person cannot pray for he feels self-sufficient as if he does not need anyone’s help. His pride will lead him to his loss of faith.
A third requisite is that we have a genuine desire for what we pray for. It is possible to pray for a grace you do not really want. Take for instance that a lady prays for chastity. She confesses today the sin of fornication and by Friday she is making plans to spend the weekend at her boyfriend’s place with him. Such a person even though she asks for chastity does not really want it. You have no right to ask God for grace if you are not willing to do your part. You have the task of removing whatever obstacles may hinder the operation of grace.
The fourth requisite of a true prayer is to pray with a loving trust in God’s goodness. This means that we are to pray with a childlike confidence that God will answer our prayer. This confidence should be combined with total submission to God’s infinite wisdom. Believe that God’s love for you wants what is best for you.
According to Leo J. Trese,
Sometimes we humans pray for things which we are sure would be good for us: a better job, or a better health, or the blessing of a baby in the home. Yet God may know otherwise. In his infinite knowledge, he sees the effect upon ourselves and upon others, of every least change in our circumstances. A better job now may mean eventually a decline in virtue. Better health may mean a loss of much needed merit which now is being gained by sufferings patiently borne for ourselves or others. A child in this particular home may one day mean the loss of a soul. Whatever it is we ask for, God will not give it unless it in some way works to our true advantage, unless it contributes to (or at least will not detract from) the destiny for which God made us: eternal happiness with himself in heaven…
There is only one kind of prayer that we can offer unconditionally: that is when we pray that we may get to heaven and for the grace we need in order to get there. When this is the burden of our prayer, we know absolutely that what we want is what God wants. His will and our will are coinciding. Our prayer in this instance certainly will be answered…1
The last requisite of prayer is perseverance. Archbishop Adewale Martins in one of his sermons mentioned that there are three ways God answers our prayers. God can say “Yes” and he grants us our request. He can say “No” because it will not be of benefit to us. God can say, “Yes, but not now.” He knows the best time. In all these cases one should persevere in prayer. Someone may ask, “Even when God says ‘No’?” God does not answer a prayer with just a “No.” He gives one something much better in place of what was asked for.
When we pray with attention, with a sense of total dependence on God, with a genuine desire for what we ask, with a loving trust in God’s goodness, and with perseverance, we can rest assured that our prayer will rise like incense before the throne of God and that he will answer our prayer.
- Leo J. Trese, 2007, The Faith Explained, Criterion Publishers, Lagos, 593 & 595.