All too often, we think of prayer as simply asking God for the things we need. This view is much too shallow, and every good soul should understand that supplication is only one–and actually, the last–of the four ends of prayer.
Before man begins to supplicate God for his needs, he should first employ his prayers as a means of adoration. This is the highest and most noble end of prayer. God, above all else, deserves to be adored by His creatures.
The second end of prayer is reparation. After acknowledging God as the Supreme Being, man should acknowledge his own nothingness. He should humbly admit his miserable faults–which are infinitely offensive to an infinitely-good God–and ask forgiveness.
After asking for (and infallibly receiving) forgiveness, man should begin to give thanksgiving to God for all of His innumerable benefits. We just acknowledged that all comes from God, and on our own we are capable of nothing, so now we must thank God for His infinite mercy. After all, it has been said that the surest means of obtaining future benefits is a sincere gratitude for past blessings.
Only now; after making acts of adoration, reparation, and thanksgiving; is man prepared to embrace the last of the four ends of prayer–supplication. Through the first three ends of prayer we pay the debt that man owes to God, and He now desires to show us His inexhaustible gratitude. “Ask and you shall receive,” He has told us. Notice there are no limitations, no exclusions. He whom the whole world cannot contain is prepared to empty the treasures of His divine kingdom into our poor and pitiful hearts. All we must do now is ask.
Many poor souls have given up on prayer because they have yet to see results. But this is a completely selfish perspective. Prayer is primarily meant as a means of adoration, reparation, and thanksgiving. Supplication is the least of the four ends of prayer, and we needn’t be so concerned with this matter. If God momentarily delays His answer to our humble supplications, what does it matter if we have made satisfactory acts of adoration, reparation and thanksgiving to His infinite goodness? Our primary concern should lie with how God is treated, and not how we are treated.
Still, man is weak and indeed depends upon supplicatory prayers to sustain his very existence. We must ask God to grant us what we need, and we must do so on a continual and never-ending basis. The secret to having success in this realm is given in the formula above. Too many prayers are completely void of the first and highest purposes of prayer. So many of us skip right to the end and arrogantly demand that God grant us whatever we think we need.
Much more delighted is the humble soul who first directs all of his attention to God–His goodness, His mercy, His generosity–and only then humbly asks God to hear his prayers of supplication. If your prayers seem to have gone heretofore unanswered, try this change of tactics.
Adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, and only then, supplication.