BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY
One day the disciples of Jesus asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” His response to their request gives us three insights into praying. In the first place, Jesus said that when we pray, we should knock on God’s door persistently.
We pray long and hard, sometimes in so many words, or repeating the same words over and over again, not because they are needed to persuade God, but because they are needed “… to overcome our pride, selfishness and indifference” (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 204). We need to free ourselves from our “… bondage to our will which keeps us from really praying” (Ibid). God does not need our persistent prayers, but we do.
”The value of persistent prayer is not that (God) will hear us but that we finally hear Him” (William McGill). The greatest hindrance to God’s blessings in our lives is not others; it is we ourselves – our self-will, stubborn pride and self-centered personal ambition. I sometimes wonder why I often pray for a change in my circumstance, but not a change in my character.
In the second place, as a soul’s sincere desire, prayer is a way of connecting ourselves with God in a most intimate manner. Jesus said that when we pray we should address God as “Our Father.” That we can address God informally and intimately means that God is not some distant, aloof and unapproachable deity who commands our grudging respect and fear, but not our love. We pray to God in the same way we talk with someone who is dear and close to us.
In the third place, God will listen to, and grant, every request we make. “Ask, and it shall be given you,” Jesus said. “Seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be open to you.” This poses a problem for those who, in prayer, approach God, with their laundry list of needs that, they feel, God is obligated to grant them. We should not take this saying literally as if Jesus is giving a blank check on which we can write anything our hearts desire. Jesus assured his followers that God answers prayer, but did not guarantee that they would receive whatever they requested (New Interpreter’s Bible. Ibid, p. 238).
It is important to bear in mind that God answers our prayers on God’s terms, not ours, in God’s way, not our way. What Jesus meant in saying that God will grant every request we make is suggested in Luke 11:13. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,” Jesus said, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is a crucial point. “God may not… give us all ‘the good things’ we ask for – but God is always ready to give his best gift, the gift of himself, the Holy Spirit.” To illustrate, let us take the case of a seriously ill person. Even if he does not receive healing blessings that he fervently asks for, he can rest in the assurance that in the power of the Spirit, God is with him and for him as Co-Sufferer, Comforter, Advocate and Friend.
When we pray, we should bear in mind that prayer is ultimately the worship of God as Father, acknowledging God’s holiness and devoting ourselves to the coming of God’s kingdom. When we bring our need to God’s love in faith, that is prayer (New Interpreters Bible, Ibid. p. 239).