What is the Ultimate End of Our Prayer?

“King David in Prayer (detail)” by Pieter de Grebber


We know there are many forms of prayer. We have heard about the prayer of petition, the prayer of praise and the prayer of thanksgiving. And of course, there is the prayer of intercession, which we all practice in when we pray for each other.

We also know that there are vocal, mental prayer and contemplative prayer. But if we were to try and explain the ultimate end of all our prayer, how might we define it?

It is important to remember that all prayer is simply the act of standing in the presence of a loving God. We can on occasion fall into the trap of perceiving that we are the principal actor in prayer, but of course we are not. Even our participation in prayer is a gift from God.

“And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27)

However, we must try to take the time to properly prepare ourselves for this single most important act of the day, by first realizing to Whom we are speaking in prayer.  When we pray, we are presenting ourselves before the One who created the universe, time and all eternity, not to mention each and every one of us.

We have all had the experience of standing before a person we consider to be of some significance, whether a sports figure, a singer, actor, politician or maybe someone interviewing us for a job. We all remember how this experience can leave us breathless, tongue-tied and even, at times, speechless.  If we really come to understand with Whom we are speaking in prayer, we will most certainly be left speechless and in awe.

Here is how the Book of Habakkuk addressed the issue of prayer, or this idea of standing in the presence of God:

“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

We remember of course that each of us is a Temple of God,(“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.”) (1 Corinthians 6:19). Each of us is truly a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, but whenever we take the time to communicate with God in prayer, we must also take some time to put ourselves in a state of reverence.

Returning to Habakkuk, just two verses later, the writer goes on to offer his perspective on this God before Whom he stands:

“O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years renew it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

I am sure there have been times in each of our lives when we could relate to the Prophet Habakkuk’s prayer. By way of background, Habakkuk is asking God to take revenge on the his enemies. Habakkuk is particularly impressed with God’s former deeds, His intervention into history, and Habakkuk would like to see God act again.

This desire might occasionally be true for us when our lives seem to be spinning out of control, or when we are facing a significant trial. But if our deepest desire in prayer is to truly seek an encounter with Him, God is less likely to be found in His deeds or actions.

Too many people who begin a serious life of prayer want God to manifest Himself to them through His actions, through what He will do regarding the circumstances of their lives. The problem with this approach to prayer is that God is not often discovered by us in His actions, He is more often revealed by His attributes, those characteristics that really define Who God is. These include things such as His Mercy, His Love, His Omnipotence and His Transcendence.  God does not want to be known for what He does, but for Who He is, and we cannot discover that simply through His actions.

Think of this in the context of our own relationships with other people: none of us wants to be loved for what we do for another person. Yes, we want to demonstrate our love through our actions, through our generosity, through our willingness to make sacrifices for the other person, but we do not want to be loved exclusively or even primarily for these actions. Instead we want to be loved for who we are, even if we were not able to do anything for the other.

God Our Father works with us in the same way. He desires an intimate relationship with each and every one of us, and He wants us to want to know Him beyond His actions, beyond His blessings and beyond our desires. Indeed, God’s greatest desire is that He will become OUR greatest desire.

In a way, Habakkuk had it partially correct. The end of all prayer is not simply the answer to our prayer or to have God acting in our lives. The ultimate end of prayer is for our soul to come to a state of yearning, indeed, to thirst for God with an unquenchable desire. And when we truly come to desire Him above everything else in this life, we will one day stand before God in perpetual silence and awe, desiring nothing but Him for all eternity.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:2)

We will know we have begun to make real progress in our prayer life when we cannot imagine ourselves living a single day without praying.


Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis


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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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