Jesus’ words recorded in Sacred Scripture continue to speak to us just as clearly today as to the eager crowds who listened to Him on the hills of Galilee. The subject of prayer, which Jesus addressed often and practiced consistently throughout His time on earth, is one eminently worthy of revisiting. The Gospels make it clear that, by word and example, Jesus modeled for us the importance of a close personal relationship with the Father we share in common.
Jesus certainly knew the value of traditional communal prayer celebrated in the synagogue. Yet the Gospels also illustrate the importance He placed on solitary prayer –- those private, one-on-one interactions with the Father. This kind of frequent and sincere communication fosters the loving, trusting relationship with our Creator that we human beings long for.
The ideal summary of Jesus’ teaching on private prayer is related in the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (6:5-8).
Concise and to the point, these few words of Jesus teach multiple attitudes we should employ in the act of prayer. First, humility – praying not to be seen by others but rather closing the door of that “inner room,” the deepest recesses of our being, there to meet with our Father in private. Then, sincerity – avoiding the tendency to “babble,” but praying simply and directly from the heart. And finally, trust – resting in the certain knowledge that the Father is aware of our every need before we even ask.
As the passage continues, Jesus teaches what has been called the perfect prayer, the Our Father (Mt 6:9-13). This series of petitions includes aspects of the human condition ranging from physical concerns to the need for repentance and forgiveness. We ask God to elevate our human needs by suffusing them with His divine will. The ecumenical nature of this beloved prayer extends across Christian denominations, uniting us as we lift our voices to the Father in common petition.
Moving to the Gospel of Saint Luke, we find another familiar lesson, this one on the need for perseverance in prayer: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (11:5-10).
Here, Jesus encourages us to pray consistently – asking, seeking, and knocking with the assurance that we are always heard, even when it may seem otherwise. We can consider our prayer life on the right track when it seems that He must be tired of the sound of our voice.
Finally, as His time on earth neared its end, Jesus approached His final hours as so often during His life, in an attitude of prayer. The tone and import of these words are especially poignant; their lesson, clear. We listen again, first from Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). And finally, from the Cross: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last” (Lk 23:46).
The Son of God teaches a lesson of obedient submission to the Father’s will, even unto agonizing suffering and torturous death.
Jesus’ lessons encouraging humility, sincerity, trust, and perseverance in prayer echo through the Scriptures. His words encourage us to seek out the will of the Father in prayer and then to submit to it in a spirit of loving obedience. The question for us is: do we have ears ready to hear and hearts willing to learn?
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