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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

On Being a Friend of God

Someone asked how we know whether the Lord has truly disclosed His presence in prayer. After all, given how hard hearted we are, even the most beautiful experiences in prayer could be nothing more than a figment of one's own imagination. History in fact is full of those who have mistaken a projection of their own bloated ego for God. Without guidance for prayer and careful discernment, our lack of openness and humility before the Lord makes us vulnerable to self-generated spiritual feelings or even demonic fabrications. Can the Lord really breakthrough our hardened hearts? Can we truly become His friends? When prayer is open to the Word of the Father, completely surrendered to Him in love, abandoned with trust, humble and reverent before His sovereignty, it becomes a fruitful conversation between friends. Such trust and confidence allows the Word made flesh to communicate His power in ways that produce spiritual fruit: joy, peace, love, self-control, perseverance. This power, the power of the Holy Spirit abiding in us, is always transformative in saving, gentle, and kindly ways. To be God's friend means to become like Him and to be in union with Him through listening to the Word spoken by the Father into our humanity. This holy conversation constitutes Christian prayer as a living reflection of the life of the Trinity. Put differently, prayer that is truly vulnerable to God's self-disclosure in Christ Jesus results in lives transformed by love, for love, and in love. God is love and prayer implicates us in this holy mystery in the same way that true friends are implicated in one another's lives. He indeed has implicated Himself in our plight, and prayer is a humble movement of love and gratitude in response to His saving presence in us. A transformation first and foremost of one's own life, the power of this love extends out from the person who prays to everyone God has entrusted to him—from one's closest family member to the perfect stranger or even enemy who Providence places in one's path. The Father wishes to fully disclose His Word as an answer to the ambiguities that threaten our existence. He is never indifferent to our plight or far from it. He desires to entrust the Delight of His Heart to us without our placing any limit on what might happen when we receive this saving Word in this present moment. He wants this manifestation of meaning and love in the difficult circumstances that we face to be analogous to the way the Son has disclosed Himself to the Father from all eternity. He desires to act within our faith in the same way that He acts within His own Eternal Truth. He desires to do so precisely within the humble limits of the specific act of faith that the passing circumstances of this moment allow us to make. Though He is never outdone, it is true that the more magnanimous and generous our faith in His Word, the more magnanimous and generous we have allowed the Word to bear fruit in us. If prayer is not fruitful, then it is likely that it lacks the faith that allows the Father to act in the way that He desires. Fear of Him, lack of trust in Him, the need to be in control of His saving action, gluttony for psychic experiences, greed for certain spiritual outcomes—all of this can impede the kind of faith within which God desires to act in us. When prayer does not result in the desire to forgive or seek forgiveness, to repent or at least the desire to repent, to be converted from sin or at least the desire to be converted from sin, then such prayer has not been open in faith to a fruitful encounter with God. If my prayer does not implicate me more deeply in the plight of my neighbor or if it does not humble me to gratefully accept the help that God has sent to me, if it does not shake me from my conceit and make me weep over my hard heartedness, then whatever else happened in my prayer, what did not happen was the encounter with Christ by faith that the Father yearns for us to know. How can we avoid this lack of fruitfulness in prayer? Pray for Christ's own humility. He gives this gift to those who ask for it with perseverance. The humility of Christ before the Father, this humility of the Son of Mary, is the humility of a child, of the least, of the poorest, of the most vulnerable. Such humility is the fertile soil that allows the Father to plant His Word in a way that will give life. Because the Father wants to sow His Word into humanity anew, anyone who has this humility, He makes His friend. Not just any prayer, but the humble prayer of faith makes us a friend of God. God is drawn to the humble, the powerless, the needy. He identifies with them. When we identify with them by humble faith, He is drawn to us. He offers friendship. When one by humble faith becomes a friend of the Word of the Father, when one remains with this Word no matter what, when one allows this Word to speak into the deepest questions that haunt our existence, powerful things happen in the heart and in the world. Like waves crashing against the shore, the revelation of the Word of the Father in such humble prayer baptizes the human condition anew. The hard-hearted idealism of our day might believe that it remains unmoved, but in ways that it cannot begin to understand, each new wave of that inexhaustible mystery has changed its center of gravity. The hard heart, like a coastal rock, becomes another opportunity for God to manifest the splendor of his power.

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