Scripture Speaks: Learning to Pray

prayerWhen Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them to pray, He gives them much more than simply words to say.  How?

Gospel (Read Lk 11:1-13)

St. Luke tells us that once, as Jesus’ disciples observed Him at prayer, one of them asked Him to teach them to pray, too.  The setting here is quite different from St. Matthew’s first report on the Lord’s Prayer.  There, Jesus instructed the multitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (see Mt 6:9-13).  The instruction today is very similar, repeating the core elements that appear in both accounts:  communal (“our” and “us,” not “my” or “me”), reverence for God, surrender to His will, dependence on His provision for both material and spiritual needs (“daily bread”), request for mercy that is to be shared with others, and protection from sin.

Then, Jesus goes on to teach the disciples that to say the words of the prayer is only the beginning.  They will also need persistence when they pray, as the parable He tells them demonstrates.  Why do the disciples need to know this?  Why is persistence in prayer important?  Why doesn’t God grant answers to prayers as soon as they are prayed?  When we think about it, persistence in prayer can bear much good fruit.  First, it tests our faith.  We ask ourselves if we really believe God hears us and cares about us.  Even though this can be disturbing, it forces us to ask the right questions.  Then, as we must wait and ask again, we increasingly understand how utterly dependent we are on Him in life, how little control we have.  This, too, is salutary.  Finally, as we repeat our prayers, we have an opportunity to refine them if they are unfocused, self-centered, or frivolous.

However, what if we persist in prayer and doubts begin to creep in?  What if we start to suspect we can’t count on God?  Jesus immediately addresses this possibility in what He says next:  “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Jesus encourages earnest, insistent pursuit of God in our prayer life.  Even though we may need to wait for a response, practicing perseverance, we ought never to doubt that God hears us and that He desires to share His life with us.  Jesus uses earthly fatherhood to demonstrate this truth.  Even “wicked” human fathers (in the sense that all of us are fallen, sinful people) know how to give good gifts to their children.  Why do fathers know this?  Because they love their children and deeply desire to provide for their every expressed need.  So it is with our Heavenly Father, too:  “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”  We might be puzzled by this.  “But I’m not exactly asking God to give me His Holy Spirit.  I am asking for thus and so.”  When we must persist in our prayers, earnestly seeking, asking, and knocking, what we are really wanting is God’s life in our lives or the lives of those we love.  Whenever we pray for God’s will, or presence, or wisdom, etc., in a particular situation, we are praying for Divine Life, and it is the special work of the Holy Spirit to communicate that life to man.  That is what Pentecost was all about.

So, the lesson on prayer Jesus gives to His disciples addresses everything we need to know about it:  words to use and the disposition of our hearts.  Jesus freely pours all this out after one simple question from just one disciple.

Was He so glad that someone finally asked it?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, thank You for teaching us that our need for persistence in prayer isn’t because of our Father’s reluctance to answer.  Persistence is for us, not for Him.

First Reading (Read Gen 18:20-32)

This is a fascinating account of the persistence in prayer that we saw Jesus urge on His disciples in our Gospel.  Interestingly, in verses not included in our passage (read 18:16-19), we find that God makes a decision to share with Abraham the knowledge of His visit to Sodom and Gomorrah.  He wants Abraham to know what He’s about to do, because “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him.”  This tells us that what follows is very important for covenant-keeping people (like us) to understand.  God wants this to be a lesson in “righteousness and justice.”  So, what do we find in it?

We ought to be amazed when we discover how willing God is to work with Abraham to reach a just treatment of very unholy places.  Of course, Abraham knows how bad these places are, but he also knows that his nephew and family live there.  So, he begins a negotiating process that is based solely on Abraham’s belief in God’s good, just, and loving character.  This, too, Jesus urged upon His praying followers.  In great humility, yet with rock-life confidence in God, Abraham seeks to save Lot’s life.  Over and over, “Abraham persisted” until he and God were both pleased with the outcome.  In the end, God couldn’t find even ten righteous people in Sodom, so only Lot, his wife, and his daughters were saved, because of Abraham.

How many of our love ones, living in unholy places, will be saved because we never gave up praying for them?

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, help me to pray with both the boldness and humility of Abraham for the salvation of those I love.

Psalm (Read Ps 138:1-3, 6-8)

As anyone whose prayer God has answered knows, we experience unbounded joy when we can say:  “Lord, on the day I called for help, You answered me.”  This psalm gives us words to express that joy:  I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for You have heard the words of my mouth.”  One of the great marvels of answered prayer is it reminds us that although “the Lord is exalted, yet the lowly He sees,” a miraculous intervention of the Divine into the human from which we ought never to recover.

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read Col 2:12-14)

Now, from St. Paul, comes the theological justification for our absolute confidence in God’s unimaginable love for us, without which it is nearly impossible to be persistent in prayer.  St. Paul tells us that “even when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, [God] brought you to life along with [Christ].”  It was God’s will that Christ should die our death in place of us, thus “obliterating the bond against us … nailing it to the Cross.”  God did this for us while we were still His enemies!  How could we imagine that His love will ever fail us, now that He has made us His friends?

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, You have proved Your love for us beyond question in the Cross.  Teach me always to pray confident of this truth.

Gayle Somers

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Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.

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