If you read what is written here you might get the mistaken, but quite understandable impression, that prayer life is a slightly blurry, ethereal passage from one wordless conversation with God to another; that the life of contemplation admits of no ordinary intercourse with God. Part of the reason you might receive that impression is that there is a constant struggle to achieve the right balance, to find a way to do as God wills, and to find the right sort of intimacy with God--neither too familiar or presumptuous nor too self-serving and distant.
Yesterday's gospel hammered home the necessity of intercessory prayer in a way that few gospel passages can. The tiny boat is being tossed and thrown by the waves. All around the apostles, lightning flashes, thunder sounds; with a mighty roaring that shakes the timbers of the houses of kings, the weather assaults them. And they are naked in a boat, completely exposed. Jesus exhausted, is asleep in the stern. And perhaps when this storm started the apostles had decided not to wake him. They had seen many such in their time of fishing, and this was just another, nothing that they couldn't handle themselves. But the tiny tempest grew and grew and engulfed them to the point that they feared they would capsize and all would drown.
They go to wake him, and say, "Don't you care that we're dying here? Wake up! Help!" No, indeed, the people who needed to wake up were the Apostles themselves. They first needed to wake up and realize the real danger of the storm. Only when they had done so could they go to the Lord, wake Him, and ask for help.
Jesus says after He calms the storm, "Why such fear? Have you no faith?" This quiet rebuke shows that whether asked or not, Jesus would have seen them safely home; however, the trip without His help would have been one of white-knuckled terror. Truly, they would have made it safely to shore, but the wear and tear on their persons through the emotional and physical battle they would have had to fight would have been terrible. When they turned to Jesus and asked for help, there came a calm that was both in the elements outside and in the minds, hearts, and souls of the Apostles. One almost wonders whether the words calming the storm "Quiet! Be Still!" were not also for the tumult and furor of the Apostles' spirits as they fought this terrible battle. The mild rebuke was simply Jesus saying that all should be calm and trusting even when it the elements themselves were neither calm nor trustworthy.
The message for the believer today is that it may well be possible to weather the storms of life on one's own; that it may be possible to safely make it to shore through come crisis or calamity. However, it is infinitely easier and certainly more assured with Jesus calming the storms of emotion and frenzy that feed failure.
One must perceive what one needs and ask for it. One must figuratively "wake Jesus" and alert Him to what is going on in order to receive the blessing of His presence. He is always with His people; however, it is often difficult to recognize Him, to see His action. To the person in prayer, it may seem as though He is sleeping, unaware, unconcerned for the plight and anxiety that fuel the prayer. Not so, He is infinitely concerned; nevertheless, He waits upon the prayer. Intercessory prayer requires the believer to look within, recognize what is needed, as ask for it. Certainly this extends to the needs of others as well. But too often people are reluctant to ask for what they need. There is the mistaken belief that God's children are not worthy of the things they would ask. How can that be? How can a child, adored by his or her Father, be unworthy of the gifts that the Father is ready to shower down?
Part of growing closer to God is to be able to see the present storm that tosses one and makes one uneasy and uncertain, and to respond to that storm by turning to Jesus and asking for what is needed. That is how a person grows in faith and knowledge. No one grows by hiding and covering up fear, but by facing the fear and asking for help; because the only thing more frightening than what causes the fear is the necessity of reliance upon another to make it go away. In that, one discovers that one is not the independent hero, the master of all he or she surveys. Rather, one is an utterly dependent child of God. To refuse this truth is to refuse to grow in Christ.
Jesus teaches that it is part of growing in faith and in humility to look deep into the mirror, see the flaws exposed there, and ask for help. Intercessory prayer is not only for others, but it is a way that each person speaks to and for self. The first intercessions necessarily go to the cause of greatest need that each one is aware of--the deep wound, the great hole within the self that can only be filled and healed by God. It is not pride to ask for what is needed, it is humility; and if one's name is at the head of the list, it is because one recognizes the deep and pervasive need for healing before trying to help others. Each one who does not pray for self winds up as one of the blind leading the blind. The only way to service is the way of humility--the way of recognizing how incapable one is and asking for help making it not so.
Life is stormy; the storms never stop. The only measure of calm is the presence of Christ whom is called to help to make the sailing lighter, more even. But even when He comes, the elements may not change, the events that caused one to summon Him may not resolve, the storm may still be present--but it becomes a storm of elements only, not a storm in the soul.