Can you imagine being a disciple and watching Jesus pray before he chose the Twelve (Luke 6:12-13)? Or what if you were with Peter, James, and John on the mountain as they saw Jesus praying, and then watched in awe as he was transfigured before their very eyes (9:28-29)? Or what about seeing him go off to pray after spending the whole day and night preaching and healing people (Mark 1:35-36)?
It’s no wonder that Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1)! They saw how he drew his strength, his sense of mission, and his comfort from prayer, and they wanted to experience the same thing. They wanted to learn how they could draw closer to God and feel his presence in a deeper way, and they knew Jesus could help them.
We can all relate to the disciples. Whether we recognize it or not, we all have a deep, inner desire to know God and to experience his presence. It’s the way God designed us! In fact, of all the suggested topics that people ask us to write about here at The Word Among Us, prayer is by far the most common one. People are hungry for the Lord!
So we decided to begin this new year by focusing on prayer. In the first two articles, we’ll take a look at the Lord’s Prayer as a model. And in the third article, we will give some practical pointers that can help you come into God’s presence in prayer and know his love more deeply.
A Gracious Father. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, his first word was “Father,” or Abba, which is Aramaic for “Dad” (Luke 11:2). From the very start, he taught us to see ourselves as children looking to God for encouragement, love, and guidance. He wanted us to feel free to come to God and not to be afraid of his holiness and his majesty.
But at the same time that he told us to call God Abba, he also told us to say, “Hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). Yes, God is our Father. Yes, we can come to him as children, not slaves. But that doesn’t mean we should be so casual that we forget that he is holy, majestic, and all-powerful. It’s only right that we give him our undivided attention. It’s only right that we set aside everything else when we are with him.
Imagine having the chance to meet Pope Francis. Wouldn’t you consider it a great honor? You would probably be so caught up in the moment when you were with him that you would forget about your other responsibilities. You’d ignore your cell phone. You’d have no interest in your e-mail. You would be completely focused on the Holy Father.
This is how Jesus wants us to come before God. He wants us to come with great expecataion, confident that our heavenly Father has great gifts to give us.
Dressing for the Occasion. Think some more about that chance to meet with Pope Francis. Would you come dressed in your casual clothes, or would you try to look your best? You would want to make a good impression, wouldn’t you? It’s the same with God. Before we begin praying, it’s a good idea to get ourselves “cleaned up” by repenting for our sins.
Remember what Jesus told Peter at the Last Supper: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (John 13:8). Think about how we ask God’s forgiveness at Mass during the Penitential Rite. Think about the grace that is available in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Repentance prepares us to be with the Lord. It cleans us up and helps us find God’s presence.
A simple and humble prayer of repentance helps us deal with all those small sins that threaten to separate us from our Father. It can be as simple as saying, “Father, I am sorry for the ways I have sinned against you and hurt the people around me. Please forgive me and help me to stop sinning.” Then your Father, who is rich in mercy, will wash you clean.
No One Like Him. We tend to worship sports figures, movie stars, and other celebrities. People try to learn everything about them, imitate them, and even dress like them. We are impressed with the way they have excelled in their field, and we honor them for it.
But actors and athletes are not holy, or hallowed, in and of themselves. Whether they see it or not, their success is a result of the way they have developed the gifts God has given them. This is true even of the Virgin Mary, who is the holiest human being who ever lived. Mary was filled with grace, while God is grace. She was made holy, while God is holy.
So when we pray, “Hallowed be your name,” we are proclaiming that God alone is holy. We are also expressing a desire that everyone on earth will come to know God’s holiness and that they will honor him as we do.
When Job saw the holiness of God, he said, “Now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). When the prophet Isaiah saw God, he too was moved to repent. “Woe is me,” he said. “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King” (Isaiah 6:5). And when Peter witnessed a miracle that pointed to his lack of faith, he replied, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).
Like Job, Isaiah, and Peter, when we come into the presence of God, we get a glimpse of his holiness, and we see our own imperfections. You would think that seeing your imperfections would only make you feel like a failure, but it’s just the opposite when it happens in God’s presence. When we repent, our Father forgives us immediately. And like Job, Isaiah, and Peter, he shows us that he loves us completely. He assures us that he will never reject us or abandon us. He even gives us a vision of the kind of people we can become as we stay close to him and let his Spirit keep working in us.
Our Father is perfect. He needs nothing. Yet he chooses to be thoroughly involved in our lives. He chooses to love us as his own children. He doesn’t need our love, but he treasures every moment we spend with him. He is forever patient, kind, and merciful. Like any good father, he always has our best interests at heart.
So when we say, “Our Father,” this is what we are testifying to. We are acknowledging his complete holiness even as we are rejoicing in his unbreakable bond of love for us.
The Priority of Worship. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he used a series of petitions—“Thy kingdom come. . . . Give us this day our daily bread. . . . Deliver us from evil.” Clearly, he wants us to bring our needs to God. But at the same time, we need to be careful not to let our petitions dominate our prayer. We don’t want to treat God like a problem solver, like someone who fixes the things we can’t fix. Of course he wants to help us, but he also wants us to come to him in simplicity so that we can receive his presence, his love, and his mercy. He wants us to come to him in worship as well as in petition.
Worship is the primary activity in heaven, where “they do not stop exclaiming: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty’” (Revelation 4:8). The heavenly praise gives God honor, and it opens the floodgates of grace for us on earth.
Our worship does the same thing. Worshipping God—hallowing his name—is meant to be our first priority. Everything else we do in our day is supposed to be led by our worship for God and our desire to give him glory. That includes the way we treat our families and friends, how we act at work, and the way we view the mission of the Church.
One of the most significant signs that you have entered into God’s presence in prayer is the way you act and think after you have prayed. If you find yourself becoming more kind, patient, and loving, be sure to thank God. It means that the time you spend with your Father is changing your heart!
Talking to Your Dad. So as you begin this new year, make it your goal to make time for your Father. Do your best to come into his presence and worship him.
And when you pray, remember that almighty God wants you to call him “Father.” He wants you to call him “Dad.” He loves you. He delights in you. His heart melts every time you say, “Dad, I want to spend time with you.” He enjoys being with you. Believe it or not, you make his day when you come to him. That’s the kind of Father he is!