The Spiritual Lottery Ticket
Martyn Tott and his wife Kay, citizens of the United Kingdom, played the Camelot lottery daily, since the day of its inception, always using the same numbers. The jackpot for the largest lottery prize in the united Kingdom was announced and Martyn’s numbers were picked. There was only one problem—he and his wife could not locate the ticket. They checked and re-checked coat linings, moved furniture and even removed their floorboards, but in the end, could not locate their winning ticket. They contacted the lottery authorities who sent an investigator to interview the two and evaluate the situation. After examining them, he told Martyn and Kay that he believed them and that they would receive a decision from Camelot Lottery within the next 24 hours. The spiritual life of the human father can sometimes be likened to Martyn and his lottery ticket: Each of us have won the lottery, but we’ve somehow misplaced the ticket and are not able to obtain the winnings, and in fact, most of us do not even realize that we have won the jackpot. What do I mean? The secret, or at least one of the secrets, to being a great father is a father’s prayer life and the power, strength, peace and joy that God provides by means of it. Jesus says, “He who abides in me, I abide in Him.” (See John 6). In other words, if we spend time with Christ, abiding, that is, living with Him in prayer, we win the lottery, that is, we are infused with the presence of the living God.
Plugging into Prayer
Why should we pray? Why is prayer so important? Because the success of our fatherhood, our very lives and our call to greatness depends upon this more than anything else. We cannot give what we do not possess. If we want to give God to our children, we must have God—we must be powered by God. A while back, after purchasing an external back-up drive for my business computer, I realize that it wasn’t working properly. There were no archives or files backed up on the system. I contacted my computer tech who advised me as to how I could remedy the situation. Nothing worked. Finally, he asked, “Is the unit plugged in?” It wasn’t plugged in. The back-up unit was in perfect condition, could fulfill the purpose for which it was created, but without the power supply it was worthless. Our fatherhood is much like that external back-up unit. Without the power of God, we do not operate properly, we don’t achieve the purpose for which we have been created—we don’t achieve our destiny. But in reality, prayer—for most of us—is very difficult. Many of us do not know what prayer actually is, how one should pray or even believe in the power of prayer.
Silence—The Language of God
What is prayer? St. Theresa of Avila says that prayer is simply a conversation between two friends, between God and man. The good news is that God is your greatest friend and He knows why He created you. The bad news is that you don’t know why He created you. He has the game plan and your are His quarterback—but the quarterback needs to be directed. To know God’s mission, His vision, His plan for our lives, we must speak His language, and as St. John of the Cross says, God’s first language is silence. It is in the silence that God speaks and without sound His voice is heard. Our soul gives form to our bodies. It is not necessary that we hear God’s audible voice, but rather that our souls receive His Word. Silence and prayer and silence in prayer may pose one of the greatest challenges to the human father. The Father invites all fathers to enter His silence, that they may become like Him, and image His fatherhood to this fallen world. But many of us often decline God’s invitations to prayer and silence because, deep down, we do not trust Him—we don’t really believe that He will speak to us. To pray to God and enter silence before God, is proof that we actually trust Him. Silent prayer is the mark of a faithful father.
The do’s and Don’t’s of Prayer
How do we pray? Perhaps it would be beneficial to first discuss how we should not pray. Jesus (See Mt 6) tells us to “not pray like the hypocrites…that they may be seen, but rather, pray in secret. He also says, “do not multiply your words, thinking that you will be heard.” Our Lord also gave us the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who both went to the temple to pray. The Scriptures explain that the “Pharisee stood and prayed to himself. “I God I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men, robbers, dishonest, adulterous, or even like this publican. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I possess. But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke ?) Notice that the Pharisee did all of the right things: he thanked God, he didn’t commit adultery, or steal, he fasted and tithed, he was just with his goods. But also notice that he “prayed to himself” and that his focus was on himself. Also notice that he mentioned the word ‘I’ five times. The number five has tremendous biblical significance in that it often symbolizes the Pentateuch, that is, the Mosaic Law. This indicates that this Pharisee believed himself to be righteous before God because he fulfilled the law. But it was not he who was justified, but rather the tax collector. Why? Because the law condemns all of us—and only by being like the tax collector and by humbling ourselves before God and repenting, can we be justified by God. What can we learn from this? The outline for verbal prayer ought to begin with addressing God, thanking Him, praising Him and then asking Him to help “me.” Notice that the publican’s prayer does not include the work ‘I’ but rather addresses God and uses the word me when referring to self. ‘I.’ This is not a hard and fast rule, but when we try to follow this format of “God, you are this and that, please help me for this or that,” we humble ourselves before God and place Him in the driver’s seat.
From Speaking to Listening
Eventually we should move from vocal prayer to silence before God. This is the part of prayer wherein we give God “room” to speak. This time of silence is the most important time of prayer. It is during this time that God will infuse us with His divine presence. Many of us do not understand this, and if we do understand it, we struggle to live it. If a doctor is performing heart surgery on a patient, the operation will most likely not fare well if the patient is active, moving around and directing the doctor, telling him how he should do his job. God desires to operate on our hearts, but in order to perform this surgery He asks us “to be still and know that He is God.” (See Psalm 46) Years ago a priest advised me that “when praying allow yourself the first five minutes to speak to God—get it all out—then wait in silence and allow God to speak to you.”
The Power that Transforms
Prayer is the nuclear power that fuels our vocation. It is the food of the spiritual life. We, as humans, eat at least three times a day, because our bodies are dependent on food for survival. Our souls are even more dependent upon God. Therefore we should be praying at least three times a day, establishing pillars of prayer that hold up the temple of our soul. We should build our day around God, rather than building God around our day. Establish your prayer pillars an try to never miss these divine appointments. One of the secrets of the saints is rising early in the morning, before the world rises, and spending a holy hour with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Fulton Sheen said, “the secret of my power is that I have never in fifty four years missed spending an hour in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. That’s where the power comes from.” St. Therese, who referred to her father Louis as her king, recounted how he would trek up to the local church for a daily holy hour. He became Therese’s king because He had the true King within him. Learn from the flagpole. A flagpole does not simply sit upon the ground, but rather, a large portion of it is buried into the earth to ensure that it stands. If we desire our flag of faith to wave, our soul, which holds that banner, must be entrenched in God. Deacon Joe said that a famous violinist who was in his nineties and retired was asked why he still practices. His response: if I miss a day, I notice; two days, my friends notice; more than that, the world notices. If we miss our prayer pillars one day, we sense our spiritual frailty. If we miss two days, our friends and family notice our spiritual failures, and if we become inconsistent, the world senses that we do not truly possess the Christ, Whom we represent.
St. Joseph: A Fatherly Model of Prayer
St. Joseph was a man of deep prayer. In fact when faced with tremendous dilemmas, angles would often direct him. We must not overlook this point. Joseph did not “have it easy” because angels appeared to him, rather, St. Joseph’s prayer life was so profound and rich that he could actually hear the angels’ voices. It was during these times of prayer that Joseph received God’s mission and plan for his life, and if we present our lives to God in prayer and wait upon Him in silence, He will also give us direction for our lives.
Martyn Todd never found the lottery ticket and the lottery authorities denied him his victory. He and his wife divorced, he joined a cult and eventually lost God all-together. So many of us, when we misplace the lottery ticket of prayer, lose the real winnings—the power of God within us— a power that transforms our vocation and makes us saints. Let’s find the ticket, let’s return to prayer and set up our prayer pillars—these divine appointments. Let us build our day around God rather than God around our day. Let’s use the power cord of prayer and ensure that we have His energy and life living in us; for he who abides in Christ—Christ abides in him.