Lord, teach us to pray!
This Sunday Jesus is taking us to prayer school by teaching us what Christian prayer is all about. The words of the “Our Father”, abridged here in St Luke’s version, are Lord’s instructions on prayer. Prayer is a natural and spontaneous activity. We pray for anything and everything. There are many kinds of prayer and various forms of prayer. In prayer, God invites us into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal. Prayer, therefore, is not merely an exchange of words, but engages the whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. In today’s passage, a disciple says “Lord teach us to pray” and the response Jesus gives is the now familiar Lord’s Prayer. This brief, even sketchy prayer recognizes God’s authority, the physical and spiritual needs of humanity. It is a great prayer of unity, the one prayer that all Christians around the world have in common. Let us reflect on three aspects this prayer displays; intimacy, surrender and trust.
There is first of all, its intimacy. Jesus says that when we pray, we should say “Father”. As Christians we have a special relationship with the Father through His Son. We can speak to God as Father with all the familiarity that implies. St Paul tells us in today’s second reading that we can speak to the Father as Jesus did, because we share the very life of Jesus through Baptism. Intimacy is what we call the experience of really knowing and being known by another person. We frequently use spatial language when describing this experience. An intimate friend is someone we feel very close to; they know us at a deep level. But intimacy is not just spatial but relational. We all know what it is like to be sitting right next to a person with whom we feel distant and we can feel close to a person who is thousands of miles away. While there are many ingredients to intimacy and each intimate relationship we have has a different recipe, common to all of them is trust. We cannot be intimate with a person we do not trust. Trust is at the heart of intimacy. The more we trust God, the more intimately we come to know him.
Secondly, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us surrender. The first group of petitions acknowledge that God’s name must be hallowed and His kingdom has priority. Surrender is an attitude. If you want to have deep and satisfying peace of mind in heart and soul, you have got to surrender control of your life totally to God. You may be in an uncontrollable circumstance or you may be experiencing an unexplainable problem; the good news you can have is the peace of God in your life. Ultimately His will is our peace.
As a children of God, we always expect God to answer our prayers. But we need to ask ourselves a few questions! Do you ask God to do something without adjusting your life to what you are praying? If you are praying for revival, how are you preparing for its coming? If you are praying for forgiveness, are you still living with guilt? If you have asked God to provide for your needs, do you remain worried and anxious? The Lord’s Prayer teaches us surrender. It is both a prayer and school of prayer.
Finally, by presenting the parable of a friend in need in the second part of today’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes the need for that persistent and persevering prayer, which acknowledges our total dependence on God. Prayer is not like putting coins in a vending machine. The feature of the way Abraham petitioned God to spare Sodom for the sake of the innocent is a real demonstration of persistence in prayer. Persistence in prayer is important because the answer to our prayers could take a tortoise speed or a rocket speed but God answers prayers. “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (v.13)
Children usually ask their parents to teach them certain things; how to ride a bike, how to drive a car, how to open a bank account, how to interview for a job. Once are learned, those life skills are mastered. Prayer skill is the life skill that is never mastered – we are always learning how to pray more persistently and authentically. Then, no request would be too great; no seeking would be unrewarded; no door would be locked. Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we put our minds and hearts in contact with the very source of life and truth. And that refreshes the human soul, just as rebooting your computer refreshes all the hardware and software. When stress, discouragement, and frustration start to clog our circuits, we don’t need to jack up the voltage by working more hours or by distracting ourselves with even more exciting entertainment – we need to reboot, we need to pray. Lord teach us to pray.