September 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 2
Most Sincerely, Lord, Teach Us to Pray
Msgr. Frank C. Wissel
About 20 years ago, millions of people, by means of television; watched Jack Nicklaus win the Masters golf tournament. For golfers all over the world, it was one of the most thrilling moments in sports. Mr. Nicklaus was not expected to win. According to the experts at that time, he was too old. But on the final day he played a near-perfect round and came from behind to win the Masters for the fifth time in his illustrious career.
Many of those who watched that event, as I said, were golfers themselves. They were amateurs, not professionals. As they observed that amazing performance, two things must have happened to them. One, they were intimidated. They knew however hard they tried they would never play like that. Two, they must have been inspired. They were convinced that with the appropriate instruction and the right kind of practice, they could improve their performance.
Those same two things happened to the disciples as they watched the Lord pray and saw what it did in his life. They were not strangers to prayer. In some form or fashion, they had prayed all of their lives. But when Jesus prayed, there was something different about it. It seemed to work for him in ways that it did not for them. So one day, when Jesus had finished praymg, they said, "Lord, teach us to pray."
The Lord answered their request in the best possible way. He did not give them a lecture on prayer. He did not tell them how important it was. He did not scold them for their neglect of prayer. He simply gave them a demonstration. In effect, he painted a brief word-picture of what it. means to pray. It was a masterly lesson from the Master himself on the the art of prayer.
He started by saying, "When you pray." Note that he did not say, "If you pray." He said, "When." He presupposed that they would pray - not because they were religious, but because prayer is a natural part of life. Everybody prays in one form or another. It may not be formal. It may not even be verbal, but we pray, nonetheless; the deepest longing of the human is a prayer.
Prayer is a natural part of life. All of us pray, for the simple reason that we cannot but pray.
The Lord put the disciples first to call God "Our Father." This teaches us that the language of heaven and the language of home are one and the same. When we say "Our Father" we are first telling him that we need him. This does not mean that we are irreverent or disrespectful with God.
For we also add "Hallowed be your name." In other words, may we keep your name holy. The next thought in this prayer says, "Your kingdom come." The Kingdom of God was a primary concern in the life of the Lord and he spoke of it in two different ways. Sometimes he used the future tense, as in this petition: "May your Kingdom come." And at other times, he used the present tense: "The Kingdom of God is at hand." "The Kingdom of God is within you." "Give us each day our daily bread." Bread in this instance is a symbolic word that includes all of life's basic necessities - food, air, water, friends, family. Everything we need to live.
Next, "Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive those who do us wrong." This petition requires an honest searching of our heart to see what is there. If we are holding a grudge against any person, God cannot forgive us until we become willing to forgive that person. That is how life works, and we should be glad that it does.
The final sentence says, "Subject us not to the trial." This is a prayer to avoid trouble, the painful part of life. And in one form or another, every one of us prays it. No healthy-minded person wants trouble. But no matter how much we pray, sooner or later, trouble comes to us all. So our prayer should be not so much to avoid life's trials as to meet them triumphantly.
Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, once said: "Faith has made my limitations ineffectual if not trivial." She was in the midst of trouble but she was not subject to it. She rose above it and triumphed over it. What can that be but accepting an answer to prayer?
"Lord, teach us also to pray."
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