No. 56 I may be taking us in a slightly different direction, but here is a question that has been on my mind for some time. Actually, the question first arose in one of my Bible classes, and it came from a pretty bright thirteen-year old. If God knows already what the future holds for me, why should I seek His help in times of need? Is God persuaded by prayers? Does God change his mind because of prayers? And if God is persuaded by my prayers, how do I know I have prayed enough to change His mind? Does Jesus� prayer to the Father in Gethsemane help us understand what prayer is and how it functions? Finally, what is the Spirit�s role in my prayer life? >>DR. LEOPALDO SANCHEZ M.: David, this is an insightful question. We should begin by saying that Jesus' prayer life is an expression of his being Son. It's not simply something that he does. It's something that is constitutive, defining of his Sonship. Christ's prayer must not be discussed simply as a reality that is external to his person. Prayer is part of the fabric of Jesus' life. At times there are people who are in need. But Jesus goes out, separates himself from the crowds and prays to the Father. Sometimes we react against this Jesus. We might say something like: What's he doing? There are lots of people here asking for help and he goes over and prays to his Father? What kind of Jesus is this? We have a hard time thinking at times that Jesus would not let his work take away from his fellowship with the Father. In the Spirit the Son prays to his Abba Father and throughout his life. And because we pray in the same Spirit, in the Spirit of the Son, our prayer must not be seen as something external to ourselves. That is we shouldn't see our prayer life as something that we do here and there but tells us nothing about who we are. Rather, prayer is for the church a Trinitarian event into which she is brought to share by the indwelling of the Spirit, of the Son and his Father in her. Practically speaking, this means that our prayer life must be seen, first of all, as a gift from God. It is a dimension of our Sonship. It is central to who God has made us to be. It is intrinsic to our human identity as his dear children. From baptism, the Father has promised to us that the gift of his Holy Spirit, who alone searches and knows his thoughts, will also intercede for us in accordance with divine will. Because we do not always know how to pray. This is a great promise for those living in the midst of tragedy and suffering great pain. In the moment of anguish and numbness and speechlessness. Sometimes we just don't know what to pray for. Faith looks trustingly to God's promise that we have received the Spirit of his Son at our little Jordan to pray, with or without words, with or without eloquence, as the Son once did. "Abba Father, Thy will be done." That was Christ's prayer at Gethsemane. Second -- and this is a related point to the one I just mentioned -- prayer is above all an expression of filial trust, the trust of the Son that he puts before his Father. So prayer is not speculation into what God might have already decided or might be deciding in the future. We simply do not know the mind of God. Only the Spirit does. It is simply on unbearable burden to wonder if I have prayed in accordance with God's immutable will or if I have prayed enough to make God change his mind. This can only lead to self security or despair. Since we have been given the Spirit to lead us to pray according to God's will, we are therefore free to put our lives in the Father's hands as Jesus did in Gethsemane. Now, practically speaking, this means that we should not think either that our prayers are not necessary because God already knows what he's going to do anyway or that our prayers are necessary for God to change his mind about something which is yet to happen and he may or may not know anything about. These formulations miss the point that prayer is an expression of trust. Of self giving to a merciful Father who knows what is best for his children. Filial trust does not allow us to say, "I won't pray because God already knows what's going to happen to me." Nor does filial trust allow us to say, "I'll pray because God needs my prayers to direct his course of action in the future." You see, both types of responses betray a sinful arrogance and unwillingness to be faithful to God. To put trust back in God and not in ourselves. Filial trust, the trust of the Son for his Father, always says: Abba, Father, I have put my life and work into your hands. Your will be done. Filial trust is not a matter of submitting to an apathetic unchangeable God that already knows everything that's going to happen. And filial trust is not a matter of persuading a God who limits himself, who changes his mind all the time. Prayer is a matter of trust. Trusting, in a loving Father who has given us the Spirit of his Son to enter a reciprocal I/thou relationship with him which is characterized by faith on our side and by love on his side. Finally, we may say that prayer as an expression of Sonship applies a participation of the church in the sufferings and the glorification of the Son. Practically speaking, we must remember -- as I have said on other occasions -- that the indwelling of the Spirit in us does not make us immune to suffering as Christ's own anointing with the Spirit to be the suffering servant shows. The church's prayer is an instance of her sharing in the Spirit of the Son who prayed to his Abba at Gethsemane. The place of struggle and agony, which means prayer not in the absence but in the midst of and inspite of suffering and death. This is the reality of the situation. And yet we must also remind the suffering church today that her prayer in this tragic world is in and by the Spirit in her a kind of anticipating groaning of trusting in the God who raises the dead to life precisely because he raises his Son to life by the power of the same Spirit. As in the case of the Son, the sons are -- the children's prayer life in and by the Spirit will be joined to the mystery of suffering but also to the mystery of final trust in God's eschatological or end time deliverance.