The Nature of Christian Prayer
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ, is taking us to prayer school. He teaches us what Christian prayer is all about. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are God’s own instructions on prayer. Every single phrase is a fountain of wisdom. Each phrase is worth studying and thinking about deeply because they show us how God wants us to approach him and to be with him.
But Jesus knows that we are human beings – we have a habit of falling into routines.
Even though he gives us the perfect words to use in prayer, he knows that we will have a tendency just to learn them by heart – and then to mindlessly rattle them off.
So, he teaches us two attitudes that should form the background of every Christian’s life of prayer. These attitudes, if we keep them fresh, can make sure that our prayer never becomes just an empty, boring shell, but is always a living, powerful force, as it was for Abraham.
The first attitude is persistence.
If we are persistent in prayer, as the friend was persistent in the parable, we give God more freedom to act in our lives, because our desires get more in sync with God’s.
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.
Jesus tears down these misconceptions. God is our Father, a better father than even the best earthly father. 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. God won’t give us stones when we ask for bread.
St Augustine explains persistence and ‘unanswered’ prayer
St Augustine understood Christian prayer better than almost anyone.
He had learned all about it from his mother, St Monica. She had 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 sack so that you can fill it to the brim.
St Augustine puts it this way,
“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 fulfilment 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. It will probably be much more than we could have imagined.
Put some balance back in your life
When we begin to understand what Christian prayer is, when we give it its proper place in our lives, we become much more stable, joyful, and energetic people.
One of the problems with modern society is that it is out of balance. In the past, before electricity and internal combustion engines, people had to follow a more natural rhythm of life. Day and night, light and darkness, mattered. It took time to communicate. It took time to travel. That time meant that there was more time to reflect on life’s mysteries and to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
Our scientific and technological advances have changed things quite a bit.
Now it is possible to live at a reckless pace in which we become enslaved to our own to-do lists. Now it is necessary to choose to follow a healthy rhythm of life.
Christian prayer, confident, persistent, personal conversation with God, is one of the tools 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, just as rebooting your computer refreshes all the hardware and software that makes your computer run.
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.
So today, in response to Christ’s reminder about the nature of Christian prayer, let’s renew our commitment to taking time every day to be alone with God, to reboot our souls every morning and evening, so that our lives can run more smoothly, the way God designed them to run.
Readings (Proper 12 – Year C)
- Hosea 1:2-10;
- Psalm 85;
- Colossians 2:6-19;
- Luke 11:1-13
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.