The Battle Of Prayer
Reflection based on Ex.17:8-13
The people of Israel are in the wilderness. Egypt is behind; the Lord waged war on their behalf and vanquished their captors. They are making their way toward a place of their own where they can worship Him. But it is a hard journey. They are hungry and thirsty, and they cry out to the Lord. He responds by raining down bread from heaven and bringing forth water from the rock. And then comes a new trial. A fierce tribe, led by Amalek their king, comes to do battle against these wandering Israelites.
“Joshua,” Moses says, “choose some men for us, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” I wonder if either Moses or his young assistant sleep that night.
The next morning, Moses climbs the hill with Aaron and Hur. Before him he can see his people, ready to fight against the warring locals. Moses, then, lifts up his hands. When his hands are upraised, the battle goes well; when he rests them, it goes ill. What is he doing? He is lifting his hands in prayer to the God Who has delivered the Chosen People from slavery and is leading them to their own land.
I imagine a dialogue ensuing among the companions. “I cannot keep on; my arms are too tired,” says Moses.
“But you must keep praying,” replies Hur.
“Wait, I have it,” suggests Aaron. “Let’s bring a rock over here for you to sit on. You can still see the battle that way, but you can rest. Hur and I will hold your arms up for you.”
Was it easy, with even the three of them working and praying together—until the sun went down? Probably they were all stiff and exhausted by the end of the day. But, because of the support of Aaron and Hur, Moses’ hands “remained steady until sunset. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.”
It is no mistake that prayer is sometimes referred to as a battle. It can be so because we grow weary, do not see results, are tempted to do something else with our time, or because we experience dryness, to name a few reasons. The Enemy has many ways to tempt us to give up prayer.
But prayer is also a battle because when we pray, we are claiming territory for the Kingdom of God—within ourselves and in the world. There is a passage in The Return of the King, by Tolkien, in which the warriors of Rohan ride to help Gondor in the fight against the evil hosts of Mordor. These men arrive at the battlefield as the sun rises. Then they ride, they ride into battle singing, with the coming of the day. And they give needed help to win the battle. This is an image fit to be transposed into the Christian life. “O God arise above the heavens, may your glory shine on earth! ...Awake, my soul,” we can pray with the psalmist. “I will sing, I will I will sing your praise” (Ps. 57). When facing difficulties, we are to arise in hope and go forward, praying and praising God. In our daily campaign of prayer we can praise, adore, give thanks, offer prayers of contrition, surrender, petition. And let us not forget the Rosary, which St. Pio called his weapon...a most powerful one, for certain.
“Blessed be the Lord my rock, who trains my arms for battle, who prepares my hands for war” (Ps. 44:1). Our war is not against people, but against our common enemy, the Devil. It may seem waged from the sidelines or even backstage, but let there be no mistake: the battle is worth fighting, and our part is tremendously important.
This passage from Exodus is a reminder that prayer is not always easy, but it is powerful. Perseverance is needed, and so is companionship. I know I need to be upheld when prayer, or life, is difficult, and so it is for each of us at times. May I suggest that we rally anew, with the praises of God on our lips, and dedicate ourselves to prayer? Let us increase the space within ourselves and within our world for the Kingdom of God to grow, and let us pray that many souls be won for Him.
Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR