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.