This Gospel gives us three lessons on prayer; How to pray, be persistent in prayer, and God’s reception of our prayers. The Apostles had observed Jesus praying and ask him to teach them to pray. This is a beautiful request, it shows that as they spent time with Jesus they desired to be more like him. Jesus gave them the words to pray that we know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is simple, to the point, and quite different than the way we might formulate a prayer. Often we begin our prayer with a specific need for praying and move to expressing how it is God can help us. It is common to begin a prayer with a statements like one of these; “God, I have a problem, help,” “Lord, heal me,” “Father, where are you? I need you.” “I” and “me” tend to be the beginning of our prayers. With the Lord’s Prayer we begin by acknowledging God and our hope of sharing in the kingdom, then we move into our needs. This prayer of Jesus provides us not only with the words to pray, but a model of how to formulate our own prayers’ begin with God and then progress to our our needs.
Jesus teaches us to begin prayer by acknowledging and honoring God, and His sovereignty over Heaven and Earth. We recognize God for who he is, Almighty Father. Then we acknowledge all that God has done for us in the past, like Mary did in her Magnificat, and then entrust our current situation to Him. We express our faith that he will continue to provide us our “daily bread.” What is the “daily bread” that I seek in this prayer? Whether it be help in a small or large problem, health for someone or some gift to better live our Christian lives, we place it before the Father. With this request is our acknowledging the need for mercy, and our desire to be merciful. The prayer ends with a request for deliverance to help us in times of temptation and our personal spiritual battles. This formula Jesus gives us might be different than our natural inclination to begin by asking what I want, but Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer that true prayer is God-centered and not self-centered.
The next lesson is that of persistence and patience in prayer. We need to avoid the temptation of expecting God to answer every prayer the way I want it answered. Prayer involves putting our timeline aside and trusting in God’s time. God knows us intimately, and as Psalm 139 reminds us, it was God who knew us from the moment of conception. God knows what is best for us, and when it is needed. This challenges us not to give up when a prayer doesn’t seem to be answered. If we become so set on how we want God to answer our prayer we can miss his answer to our prayer in ways we are not expecting.
The final lesson follows from the last one, don’t try to dictate to God how to answer our prayer. The particular request might be like asking God for a knife or a serpent. We might think that a particular answer to our prayer will help us, when it could do more harm than good. God’s response is to give us what we really need, what will ultimately lead us closer to him. This takes trust and openness on our part, and this can be unsettling or even scary in not knowing how things will turn out. St. Paul assures us that for those who trust God everything will work out for the good.
Pray by putting God first, with persistence and patience, with trust, and God will touch us in wonderful ways.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.