by: Fr. Ron Bagley, CJM
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. This was something done by all rabbis of Jesus’ time as well as the great spiritual teachers of most world religions. How we pray says much about our image of God. The same is true for the prayer of Jesus. It is one of the ways Jesus introduces us to the God he calls Father.
The name that Jesus gives God is Abba. It is an Aramaic word for Father. (Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke.) Some have suggested that is roughly equivalent to calling God our Daddy, Papa, or Tatay. Others have contested this point. Regardless of the proper translation, it is clear that Jesus is teaching us that our God is like a parent to whom can get close, a parent who loves us and provides for us. So when we pray, that’s how we can approach God. And like any good parent, God wants only good for us.
Jesus also tells us to pray heavenly Father for “daily bread.” In all likelihood, this is a reference to the manna in the desert that the wandering Israelites receive from God each day. Praying for daily bread expresses trust that God will provide for all our needs. The God who gives us life will also give us the nourishment we need to sustain life.
Yet we know that God does not give us everything we want. Yes, God hears our prayers; and yes, God answers our prayers. But good parents don’t give their children everything they ask for. God knows what we need. God knows what is best for us. God sees the bigger picture and can see what is essential.
Consider a simple example. A student may pray for God’s help on her board exams. She has worked hard and prepared herself. God will give her the support and strength she needs. God’s grace can enable her to do her best. But if there is another student who did not put enough effort into her preparations, it is unlikely that God will suddenly pour the answers into her head. In other words, we have to do our part too.
The way of praying that Jesus teaches us is one of intimacy with the Father. Jesus teaches us to express our trust of God when we pray. The prayer of Jesus is a prayer of surrender. We place ourselves in the hands of God. We learn to pray: “your will be done.” In fact, that is the way Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died: “Father, not my will, but yours be done.” When I was in elementary school, I had a Sister who was my fifth grade teacher. She always told us to end every prayer by saying “but not my will, but your will be done.” Until this day, I try to remember to end every prayer that way.
But sometimes people use prayer as a means for telling God that they want things their way. Prayer can become a subtle form of manipulating God. Any prayer that tries to manipulate God is not the kind of prayer that Jesus teaches us. If we think we can get the answer we want by saying a certain prayer a certain number of times, we are manipulating God. If we think we can force God to act in a certain way by making a promise to go to Mass or receive Communion a certain number of times, we are manipulating God. Some people think that if they leave copies of a certain prayer in church, or if they use a specific prayer, or go to a particular church or shrine, then they will get their request. These are all attempts to control God.
In reality, prayer is when we express our confidence that God is in charge. God does not need to be convinced to help us. Does a parent need to be convinced to love his/her child? You cannot make God love you or want to help you any more than God already does.
That is why we can approach God with confidence. Our prayer expresses our trust in God’s goodness. We pray to our loving parent who will always take care of us. If we ask, we will receive all that we need. Just maybe not all that we want.
Dear God, give us what we need to do your will today and every day.