Jesus' counsel in today's Gospel reveals a God who promises to answer those who call out for help. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" Mt 7:7. God is a generous giver indeed. But then, why do many of our prayers remain unanswered? When struggling with believing in God's goodness and love, my responses sound like these: "God does not care," "God is too busy,'" or "God is not able." When I trust God's wisdom, my responses look like these: (1) "What we ask for is not good for us." (2) "What we ask for is not good for us now." (3) "God is preparing something better."
Then there's the story of Esther. Esther was an orphan and underground Jew who eventually became the Queen of Persia. When the highest ranking official of King Xerxes pushed a decree to exterminate all Jewish people in the Persian Empire, she fasted for three days and called on the Jewish community to do the same. She prayed with deep reliance as in today's first reading. Then she approached the king using great foresight and maneuvering as well as her gifts of resourcefulness, diplomacy, and physical beauty. The king was persuaded and voided the decree. The fruits of Esther's fasting, earnest prayer, and use of her gifts to the best of her ability helped many people. Her answered prayer involved a combination of God's grace and human ingenuity.
I am reminded of an enigmatic saying by St. Ignatius of Loyola: "Pray as if everything depends on you. Work as if everything depends on God." He adds elsewhere, "pray while you work and work while you pray." While hard to live by, I find that this combination of work and prayer gives me greater peace and joy. Peace in realizing that the pressure is not on me since God is really in-charge. Joy in realizing that I get to be on God's team, witnessing the bearing of more lasting fruits. When I find myself cleaving to God in prayer and using my gifts and talents the best way I can, my heart becomes more free. Whether or however prayers are answered (or not), I am able to sleep better knowing that I am trusting through earnest prayer and action.
Lord, help me realize in whom I place greater trust when I pray and act, in myself or in you? What do you think about that, Lord?