The Gospel for July 24th, 2016: “The Lord’s Prayer,” “Further Teachings on Prayer, “and “The Answer to Prayer”
Reflection: Persistence or Imitation in Prayer
Sometimes I begin to pray, and I don’t say what’s on my mind because I know it is selfish. Its sounds so absurd to put this idea into words, because even as I read it, I realize I can’t fool God into thinking I am less selfish than I am. He knows my heart. Still, it seems wrong to trouble God with my petty problems, especially the ones that are clearly my doing. Can I really get on my knees and pray: Lord, I know I should not have spent the money on the more expensive cable package without asking my wife, but can You have her go easy on me when she finds out? The answer from today’s gospel is yes and no.
On the one hand, Jesus uses some analogies and metaphors to say ask and keep asking. There is the friend at midnight who obtains bread for a late caller because his or her friend in bed cannot ignore the persistent knock at the door (5-8). This example is followed by a list of familiar metaphorical expressions that champion persistence in prayer: “…ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (9). All of these suggest asking God for help is always the right thing to do. It may be that the answer we receive is not what we want to hear. Perhaps in the end what we receive is the fortitude to endure a trial, or the patience to wait for the answer to our prayers. Nevertheless, the act of asking is an expression of our faith in the Father’s providence and mercy. Not asking out of fear of appearing selfish is simply prideful and untrusting. So Jesus says yes, go ahead and ask as many times as needed.
But on the other hand He gives us a first option that is worded perfectly and speaks to all our deepest needs,” The Our Father.” While at times we may speak this prayer on automatic pilot, it is always an option that puts us in a position of proper worship with the Lord. In it, the Father is addressed in His rightful preeminence (2); our petition speaks to God’s will and not ours (2); God’s providence for all our needs is requested (3); and our sinfulness and God’s role in our salvation is acknowledged (3). By imitating Jesus’s words, we can go to the Father confidently for help and not worry if our requests are selfish or petty.
So in a sense, we can’t lose if we are willing to humble ourselves in prayer. With persistence, whether using our own words or “The Our Father,” God will guide and answer us. The key, as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, is to ask and keep asking.