Learning to Pray As We Ought 12

I think we can all relate

I think we can all relate

Father! The first word Jesus teaches us to say when we talk to God.

As St Teresa of Avila observes, prayer is “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Fundamentally, prayer consists in cultivating our personal relationship with God. From there, everything else follows.

To illustrate his point, in today’s Gospel Jesus uses a parable of a man pestering his neighbor for bread. Imagine if Jesus’ parable were told differently.

Suppose a man went to his neighbor, whom he never visits or talks to, in the middle of the night and says, “It’s late, I’ve got guests, and I need some bread.” We might expect his neighbor to respond, “I don’t even know you. Besides, my kids are in bed. I don’t want to be bothered right now. Sorry.” If the beggar persists, his neighbor might be inclined to call the cops. If our relationship with God is just an emergency hotline for when we catch ourselves in a bind and nothing else, we’re probably not praying as we ought.

In the analogy of the “mean spirited father,” Jesus reminds us that our relationship with God our Father should be based on friendship and trust, rather than fear and avoidance.

A man who would give his son a scorpion when he asks for a fish is the head of a dysfunctional household – Jesus’ disciples probably had a chuckle at his humorous examples. The point is that you would not expect any respectable father to mock his children by harming them instead of helping them meet their needs. Well, the fundamental lesson of Christ’s teaching on prayer is that our God is the Father, not a deadbeat dad. He is worthy of our trust.

Our prayer should reflect this. Fundamentally, it is a heart to heart expression of our closeness to God, and more importantly, God’s closeness to us.

This is why Christian prayer consists of more than just petition. When we limit our prayer just to a sporadic series of requests only when we need things, we are overlooking important aspects of our relationship with God. In addition to prayers of petition, we should also honor God with praise and gratitude and sincerely as for his forgiveness in prayer when we have offended him, as we would with a friend.

Simply making these elements part of your prayer life helps strengthen your friendship with God. Then, when you do ask for his assistance, you do so knowing him personally as Father and friend.

Simply put, praying as we ought is cultivating a relationship of love, friendship, and trust above all else.

12 comments

  1. Pingback: Learning to Pray As We Ought - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

  2. Seeing God as Father was not a huge leap for me since my own father was a warm, loving, and godly man. When I moved away to college was really the first time it hit home that the image of God as Father is a tainted one. For some God is the Father that they never had even a semblance of.

    • Same here. As a kid, my childlike faith made it easy for me to relate to the notion of God the Father. Later in life, I understood God’s Fatherhood more deeply while doing spiritual exercises. Incidentally, today is the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, who first developed the spiritual exercises. For anyone who can take the time to do them, it is a profound, life changing, spiritual experience.

  3. I agree with apronheadlilly. Much depends on one’s own upbringing and experience. For some, the image of God as Father is a stumbling block, and to some extent, it was for me. I have always preferred to call Him “Creator” because that is a warmer more loving image for me. Nonetheless, I understand the meaning and significance of this Gospel teaching, and it is a beautiful thing.

    • I ultimately came to understand and relate to God’s Fatherhood only after long hours of prayer during spiritual exercises, as I told Lilly above. I could also say that, thanks to God, I initially knew Him in a weaker way because of my relationship with my own father. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way toward my Dad. After all, my relationship with my father was one of the channels through which my early relationship with Him developed.

      The problem with us humans is that we necessarily relate to God by analogy in almost all cases (the personal experience of God in prayer may be an exception). But God the Father is not Father by analogy. It happens to be the other way around. Human fatherhood is analogous to God’s Fatherhood, not vice versa, and as with all things, will never measure up to God’s infinite perfection. Anything we compare with God will always fall infinitely short. But to our minds, we are comparing God as Father to the father we’re more familiar with, as if the human father were the standard of the comparison. Because of the way our minds work, I’m not sure there is a way around that.

      It’s like understanding God as eternal and infinite. We kind of get it but not really, because we only experience temporal and finite things in this world.

      So it makes sense that knowing God as Father can be difficult for a lot of people, although we know by revelation that God is the Father by His very essence, and this is practically impossible to comprehend. I suppose first you would have to comprehend the Trinity.

      God is also Creator by essence, with a small distinction. Only God can create but he is under no compulsion to create. We relate to creation because of our own creativity and ability to make things and be pleased with what we’ve done. Yet we don’t create things out of nothing and there remains the possibility that we could be dissatisfied with our own work. So again, we relate to God by analogy in this way too. But that’s not the only way we know God as Creator.

      The other way is by relating the effect back to its cause (which is also a form of analogy), by contemplating God’s creation in nature and marveling at its beauty. So through love of nature, we come to know its Creator as Beautiful. And that is a wonderful way to know God.

      Okay, that was a bit long. But it was a nice way to start my day. Hope you have a good one!

  4. That was a really good analogy with the cop scenario. 🙂 Yes, it is important to have that deeper prayer. Both are important, but I find meditation helps so much more. Just curious, what do you think would be better to do first in ones daily prayers – vocal prayers or meditation?

    • Good question. I think it’s relative to the one who is praying, since everyone is unique and has their own personal relationship with God (or lack thereof for whatever personal reasons). So when it comes to matters of spirituality, I’m with the school of the Spirit.

      Personally, I just like to dive right in head first when it comes to meditation, because that’s the way I like to start. However, more disciplined experts would say that vocal prayer is the best preparation for mental prayer and I’m not going to oppose them on that, because it certainly makes sense. That approach would be like getting your feet wet and getting adjusted to the water temperature as opposed to diving in.

      Some people who have a lot of difficulty with mental prayer (who doesn’t?) get a lot of insight and consolation out of the vocal prayer alone. And if that is the case, then all I can say is, Enjoy that! That’s not to say avoid mental prayer altogether, but what it ultimately boils down to is intimacy with God. Whatever helps each person to experience that, whether it’s spiritual reading, or reciting psalms, or acts of faith, hope, and love, or pure contemplation, that is precisely what that person should do.

      • Thank you so much for the reply! That was a good answer and I think it helped. It can be a great warm up for vocal prayer first, but sometimes one just wants to get to the mental prayer. 🙂 It is good to know that is ok too. God bless you!

  5. One of my favorite teachers in grade school (a nun) once told me, “God isn’t Santa, so don’t pray to him as if he were”.
    (…and being my English teacher, too, you’ll notice she taught us what the Subjunctive mood was…)
    😉

    Anyway, that little lesson immediately came to mind when I read this.
    Nicely done, as always, James.

    • I might have been taught the subjunctive mood in grade school, but I did not learn it until I studied Latin when I was 20. That’s when I learned to spell too!

      As for prayer, I can’t say I’ve learned yet, since mine most often resembles the one in the cartoon up top. So the Santa analogy is very apropos. (Thanks for the reminder!)

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