Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it."
People routinely ask their deities for health and healing, wealth and security, opportunities, good luck, exemptions to the natural law and particular favors; there's nothing extraordinary about that. That God hears and answers prayers might be somewhat more surprising but the cynic will tell you that the Divine Patron has his own agenda, as do all his petitioners. Tit for tat; you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
The pagan prayer assumes some opposition between what I want and what God wants. The deity has other interests, and almost certainly does not have the petitioner's best interest at heart. Their gods must be cajoled, pleaded with, bargained, bartered and persuaded to approve the human proposal. Sometimes the deity is sleeping or distracted and must be aroused to action. Shaming and guilt might help. Homer's epics describe these gods who were nothing more than amplified humans with the same petty desires and resentments.
That familiar understanding of prayer cannot comprehend Jesus' teaching in John 14. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Christian's prayer is God's prayer. We're on the same team. We think the same thoughts and dream the same dream. The Lord wants what the Christian wants. Anything else might flourish for a day or a year but it must fall back into decay.
That is why we must contemplate Jesus, Mary and the lives of the saints. Placing these men and women before our minds, continually recalling the Blessed Communion of the Saints, we begin to see as they see and want what they want. We pray for that gift of discernment, knowing that the only thing worth doing is done in the Spirit of God.
Catholics often consider the extraordinary grace given to Mary, the mother of Jesus -- the grace of Immaculation -- as we ponder life in the Holy Spirit. It was fitting that the Son of God should be born of a woman without sin. Saint John dun Scotus taught that it was necessary that one human being who is not God should be free of all sin throughout her entire life, from conception to death. The exception proves Saint Paul's rule, "...all have sin and are deprived of God's glory."
In Mary we find that woman who, like Jesus, eagerly responded to God's spirit. Whatever God wanted she wanted. And whatever she wanted God wanted. She described herself as "the handmaid of the Lord" who would do whatever the Lord wanted, but we also know the Lord was her obedient son.
Are we capable of such immediate obedience? The story is told of one of my favorite saints, Saint Kenny of Ireland: When Saint Brendan the Sailor and his mates were waylaid by a storm at sea and threatened with drowning Brendan had a vision and shouted, "Hang on, fellows, I can see Kenny running for the chapel to pray for us, with one shoe in his hand!" Saint Kenny had been prompted to get to the chapel Right Now and he set off running, without stopping even to put on his other shoe.
I have known people who practice that openness to God's spirit.
Is it really so hard to imagine? Inspired college basketball players instantly respond to opportunity. As one snatches a loose ball his teammates break for the opposite basket, Several charge down court and and one slam dunks the ball with exquisite, instinctive coordination. A shortstop snags a ground ball, snaps it to second base who fires it to first base, completing a double-play. It happens all the time in baseball.
Without inspiration nobody wins, no one succeeds.
With inspiration the Kingdom of God appears on Earth.