When I think of a lamp I automatically think of light which is not a bad thing. However, a lamp in the Old Testament most often refers to the presence of God. When God makes a covenant with Abraham, God is seen as a lamp passing through the midst of the slaughtered animals (Gen 15:17). After the people are set free from Egypt and set up the tabernacle, according to God's instructions, they are commanded to place a lamp there that will burn perpetually (Exodus 27:20-21). In the book of Revelation the Lamb is the lamp so there is no need for night or day or lights. God Himself, Jesus, the Lamb, is Light and all darkness is dispelled.
But how then can those foolish virgins be cast out if they too have lamps, if they to have the presence of God within them? All of us, good or bad, are created in the image and likeness of God and therefore we have the presence of God within us. We all have a lamp so to speak. Even in the book of Revelation we see that the Whore of Babylon has had the presence of God within but it is now to be taken away - "No light from a lamp will ever be seen in you again. No voices of bride and groom will ever be heard in you again." So even though this person (symbol, real, what have you) has the presence of God in her it is not a promise of salvation.
If the lamp is the presence of God, what then is the oil? I think we would do well to revisit the parable of the sower and the seeds. It is similar to this situation where one receives the life or word of God but allows it to die or in today's case run out. We can then think of the oil as the life of prayer and the life of grace. If we are full of the Holy Spirit, through prayer and reception of the sacraments, then we need not fear running out of oil no matter when His arrival. If, on the other hand, we wait until the bridegroom is on the way it will then be too late. Now is the time of mercy, now is the time for prayer, now is the time to fill up our lamps and our oil vessels.
Let us "stay awake" then by making our life a life of prayer - a life of constant conversation with God. We do this by partaking in the sacraments but also through the moments of each day. My oil flask is filled as I seek to give each moment of the day to God. Lord, I give you these dishes I'm washing and laundry I'm folding. Jesus, I dig this ditch and hammer this nail for you. Lord, I offer up my sickness, these diapers, and unpleasant co-workers for you.
Lord Jesus, fill us with the oil of grace and prayer. Fill us with the Holy Spirit. Give us the grace to keep our lamps lit, ever ready for your return. Ever ready to rejoice at the sound of your voice. Strengthen us so that we may never find ourselves calling to you in the darkness of eternal death only to hear that You do not know us. Nothing could describe hell more clearly.
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How to get better at prayer.
- Set a prayer appointment - Set a time on your calendar each day to meet and speak with God.
- Slowly increase your prayer time. - Don't jump in with an hour right from the get-go. Build up your "tolerance" so to speak.
- Commit - to praying and slowly increasing your prayer time for 30 days. Mark off the days on your calendar. If you miss a day, jump right back in, don't give up.
- Pray - praying is talking to God, it's spending time with your attention focused on Him. I enjoy spending time with my children regardless of their level of development. God is the same way. Spend time praying as best you can. Use formal prayers if you want or simply speak in conversation. Don't forget to listen
- Journal - Our newly revised 4 Simple Steps to Better Scripture Meditations: Guide, Workbook, and Journal walks you through 4 easy steps that will help you go deeper in your prayer life. It includes 31 days of workbook and journal pages too!
- Read other good books about how to pray better - Prayer Primer, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer, Time for God, The Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Catholics Seeking Salvation.