“Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said: ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his apostles to pray.’ ”
Prayer, a conscious communion of life with the Father, was fundamental to the ministry of Jesus. The turning points in Christ’s ministry – for example, the choosing and naming of the Apostles, his death and Resurrection – were always preceded by times of withdrawal into prayer with the Father. The disciples, in their questioning about prayer, had clearly observed that the words and deeds of Jesus were rooted in prayer. They wanted to know more.
The Book of Genesis sets before us the prayer of Abraham for the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We feel a little uneasy as the prayer reproduces the haggling of the market place. Like a buyer driving the price down, Abraham pleaded that the cities should be spared for the sake of 50 just men, then 45, and finally 10 just men. What can such unseemly bargaining teach us about prayer? We should remember that the haggling of the market place was not simply a commercial transaction. At its best it established a sharing of minds, a relationship between two parties. Clearly we are not in a position to bargain with God, but we, like Abraham, must search out that prayer in which we become aware of God’s will in the world. Through the prayer of intercession we, like Abraham, seek to play our part in the unfolding of that will. Properly understood, the prayer of intercession is not bargaining with the divine. The prayer of intercession expresses the stewardship entrusted to us. The Lord has entrusted himself and the world to us. Prayer is the natural expression of this trust.
Through the Incarnation prayer became a communion with the Father. In the words of John’s Gospel, the Word that had been with the Father from all eternity became flesh, raising us up to become the children of God. Jesus underlined this relationship as the pinnacle of prayer when he invited his disciples to address God as Father. To address God as Father, and at the same time pray that his name be held holy, is to acknowledge that already, with Christ the Son, we pray in communion with the holiness of God himself.
When we pray “your kingdom come” we are praying for the realisation of God’s presence in our lives and world. Like the prodigal son we can only address the Father as forgiven children. We pray, through the grace of forgiveness, that our lives might become the Father’s forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer is, above all, a confession of the Father’s presence in our lives. It is a prayer that we might be transfigured into the presence we proclaim.
Luke’s Gospel emphasised the persistence of prayer as the background to our lives. Like the friend seeking shelter in the middle of the night, we must never cease to present ourselves at the door of God’s presence. “Search and you will find; knock and the door will always be opened to you. The one who asks always receives, the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.”
The door at which we knock is not the satisfaction of selfish lives. It is the door of God’s presence. Because we are one with Christ, because we pray as sons and daughters, that door will always be opened. The Father always gives the Holy Spirit to those who seek his presence.