Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
What a beautiful promise! This one sentence from Scripture encapsulates one of the most important principles of the spiritual life. It tells us that anyone who tries to come closer to the Lord will be rewarded. It tells us that God isn’t up in heaven waiting for us to make it all the way to his throne. No, he is always reaching out to us. He is always inviting us to draw near to him so that he can pour his grace and love upon us. It only feels as if he is drawing near to us because when we go to him, his presence has such a powerful effect on us.
In this issue of The Word Among Us, we want to focus on three practical ways we can draw near to God. This first article will look at prayer, the second article will focus on Scripture, and the third article will focus on the Mass. In each article, we will look at what we can do to draw near to God, and we will look at how much God can do in our lives as he draws near to us.
We often hear prayer described as a conversation with God: we speak to him, and he speaks to us. Of course, there is a lot of truth to that statement, but there is much more to prayer than a conversation. Prayer is also a divine exchange between God and us. On our part, we come to the Lord offering him our worship, our love, and our needs. On his part, God offers us his mercy, his grace, his wisdom, and his joy. He takes our offerings, fills them with his own divine life, and gives them back to us in ways that change our hearts and our minds.
Nowhere do we find this divine exchange stated more powerfully than in the Lord’s Prayer. So let’s take a look at it to see what we can learn.
The Divine Exchange, Part One. Many scholars believe that the Lord’s Prayer is at the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Everything before the prayer leads up to it, and everything that comes after the prayer flows from it (Matthew 5–7). This is why countless saints have told us that the Our Father is the most perfect prayer we could ever say.
The first part of the Lord’s Prayer focuses on worshipping God and following him with our whole heart. We pray, “Hallowed be your name!” It’s our way of saying, “Father, you are holy. I love you, I worship you, and I want my life to give you glory.” With this prayer, we are offering God our worship.
We all long for heaven. We long for the day when every tear will be wiped away, and peace and love will reign. When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we are telling our Father about this longing in our hearts despite any fear of death that we might have. It’s as if we are saying, “I know this is a good world. I am in awe at the wonder of your creation. Still, I can’t wait to be with you, Father. I can’t wait to live in a world free from suffering and death.” With this prayer, we are offering God our lives.
When we pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” it’s our opportunity to say that we want to make this world become more and more like God’s kingdom. It’s how we tell our Father that we want to treat everyone around us with the same love, mercy, and compassion that he has for us. We can’t change the whole world, but we can change our little corner of it. With this prayer, we are offering God our work.
The Divine Exchange, Part Two. If the first part of the Lord’s Prayer is our chance to offer ourselves to God, the second part is our chance to ask God to give us what we need to make his kingdom come and his will be done. It’s our chance to ask for his part in the divine exchange. And since the kingdom of God is all about our loving each other as God loves us, this is our way of asking our Father to help our relationships.
When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are telling our Father that we need his nourishment and his strength—both in the Eucharist and in our everyday lives. His “bread” helps us keep our peace on bad days as well as good days. His presence in us helps us to treat each other with love and mercy. So by telling us to ask for his bread, Jesus is promising to feed us with everything we need to get through the day.
Life is first and foremost about relationships—our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. And experience tells us how easy it can be for us to say or do hurtful things to each other. So when we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” it’s our way of admitting that we have hurt other people. It’s also our way of asking for the grace to forgive those who have hurt us. There is nothing more beautiful than being in unity, and there is nothing more inspiring than seeing our wounded relationships healed and restored. How wonderful, then, that when he tells us to make this prayer, Jesus is promising to heal our relationships.
Temptation is all around us, always trying to divide us from God and from each other. When we ask our Father to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we are asking God for the grace to say no to these temptations. We know how refusing to forgive, holding on to a grudge, and seeking revenge can damage our relationships. But we don’t always see how much these negative, divisive thoughts can come from the devil, the “father of lies” (John 8:44). But the good news is that by telling us to make this prayer, Jesus is promising to guard and protect us.
A Great Treasure. The Lord’s Prayer is one of the greatest treasures Jesus gave to us. It tells us how much God wants to help us, and it teaches us to surrender our lives to him. So let’s follow the words he has given us. Let’s first of all honor the Lord and seek his kingdom, and second of all, let’s ask our Father for the grace to love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven.
One of the reasons the Lord’s Prayer is so popular is because it contains all the key ingredients of any prayer. We can use more formal prayers like the Rosary or the Divine Office, or we can pray in a less structured way, perhaps in Eucharistic adoration or by singing songs of praise and worship. But no matter what we do, we can trust that our prayer will change us if we are offering ourselves to the Lord just as the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to do. We can be confident that our prayer will change us because we are living out the divine exchange that is summed up so beautifully in the Our Father.
Calming our Racing Minds. We live in a media—saturated world. Our computers, smartphones, televisions, and tablets are always on. They are flooding our minds with countless images and surrounding us with a jumble of words and opinions every day. As a result, our minds tend to race from thought to thought all day long. We can be so distracted that it feels next to impossible to keep our focus. When it comes time to pray, these racing thoughts and images make it hard for us to fix our minds on the Lord and listen to what he wants to tell us. They make it hard for us to sit quietly in God’s presence and feel his love and peace.
What can we do about this? The sidebar on page 15 offers a simple four—step process you can practice at the beginning of your prayer. It can help you calm your racing mind and find the presence of the Lord. Every day this week, use this method, and see if it helps you. You may find it easier to come into the presence of the Lord by the end of the week. You may find that his presence has the power to silence all the distractions that can fill your mind.
Beautiful Simplicity. There is a beautiful simplicity to prayer, no matter how we pray. That simplicity is summed up in the divine exchange. It’s the simplicity of a child coming to his or her Father in love and trust. It’s the simplicity of offering God the gift of our lives and our worship and receiving his love and his grace in return. It’s the simplicity of resting in God’s presence and being filled with everything we need to do his will . . . on earth as it is in heaven.