“Jesus teaches us two attitudes that should always shape our prayers.”
The “Our Father” has been called the perfect prayer. It is the prayer Our Lord Himself gave to us. Each phrase is worth studying and thinking about deeply, because they show us how God wants us to approach him.
There is a danger, however, to simply rattle off the prayer by memory without really putting our heart into the words. And so in addition to the prayer, Jesus teaches us two attitudes that should always shape our prayers.
The first is persistence. Abraham is persistent in interceding with God on behalf of the town of Sodom. Even so, Sodom was destroyed because not even 10 righteous men could be found. Were Abraham’s efforts in vain? Surely God knew the number of good people in the doomed city so what was the point of Abraham’s persistence?
In the parable of the midnight friend, Jesus teaches us the same lesson, where friendship may fail, persistence is rewarded.
The second attitude is confidence. Since we live in a fallen world, we sometimes project our own imperfections onto God. We think that he, like us, is selfish, easily angered, and resentful. As a result, sometimes we hesitate to open our hearts to him in prayer. But Jesus corrects these misconceptions.
God is our Father, a better father than even the very best earthly fathers.
So if earthly fathers know how to be generous and wise with their children, we can rest assured that God is much more like that with us. He won’t give us stones when we ask for bread.
St Augustine understood Christian prayer better than almost anyone. He had learned all about it from his mother, St Monica, who spent almost twenty years begging God with daily tears to convert her heretical and pleasure-loving son.
This experience helped him understand why God doesn’t always give us what we ask for right away. It’s because he wants to give us more than what we ask for.
By inviting us to be persistent, God is stretching our hearts, making them able to receive more grace, the way you stretch out a burlap sack so you can fill it to the brim.
Here’s how Augustine explained it:
“Suppose you want to fill some sort of bag, and you know the bulk of what you will be given, you stretch the bag or the sack or the skin or whatever it is. You know how big the object that you want to put in and you see that the bag is narrow so you increase its capacity by stretching it. In the same way by delaying the fulfillment of desire God stretches it, by making us desire he expands the soul, and by this expansion he increases its capacity.”
God never ignores our prayers. If we keep on asking with sincerity and confidence in God’s goodness, we are guaranteed to receive, and it will probably be much more than we could have imagined.
When we begin to understand what Christian prayer is, and when we give it its proper place in our lives, we become much more stable, joyful, and energetic people.
One of the problems with today’s society is that it is out of balance.
In the past, before electricity and internal combustion engines, people were forced to follow a more natural rhythm of life. Night and day mattered. It took time to communicate and to travel, so that meant there was more time to reflect on life’s mysteries and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
Our scientific and technological advances have led to a much faster pace of life.
We have come to a point where we must now choose to follow a healthy rhythm of life. Many people don’t know how to balance the demands of modern life with the peaceful rhythm that nourishes the soul. Which is why so many of us suffer from stress and depression.
Christian prayer, confident, persistent, personal conversation with God, is one of the weapons God gives us to keep us human in this mechanized culture. Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we put our minds and hearts in contact with the very source of life, beauty, and truth. That refreshes the human soul, a little like rebooting your computer refreshes the hardware and software that keeps it running.
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 – no, we need to reboot. We need to pray.
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
crossposted at www.DeaconLawrence.org
© Lawrence Klimecki
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com