The promise of God’s grace

A disciple says, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In reply, Jesus offers a four-point lesson in prayer.

Firstly, Jesus invites his followers to address God as ‘Father’. This would’ve been revolutionary! Out of respect and awe, they didn’t use God’s name in prayer. Now Jesus teaches that they’re members of God’s family; sisters and brothers who are to call God ‘Father’. In Jewish society, fathers had responsibility to love and care for their wives and children; a very personal relationship. It’s this kind of intimate relationship with God that Jesus invites us all to embrace.

Secondly, being sisters and brothers in God’ family, we’re to have concern for everyone and for the issues that are important to God’s loving and merciful heart. In praying for our own needs, we’re also called to broaden our perspective and see the ‘bigger picture’ by praying that God’s love for humanity will be known everywhere and that all people will love each other and live in peace and harmony.

Thirdly, we’re to be persistent in our prayer. In the first reading, Abraham asks God to spare Sodom – and he was persistent! Jesus tells his followers, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened” (Lk 11:9). Jesus tells them to ask their Heavenly Father who knows all their needs and they will be heard. He also reminds them that whenever two or three of them agree to ask anything in his name, it will be granted (cf. Mt 18:19). In other words, never shy away from ‘pestering’ or ‘bothering’ God.

Finally, God gives what is good for us. Most of us have had the experience of praying for something, but God didn’t answer the prayer as we wanted. It’s hard to accept or understand that what we’re asking for may not be good for us. Jesus says that a loving Father would never give a stone to anyone who wants bread, or a snake to anyone who wants fish, or a scorpion to anyone who wants food. Jesus doesn’t promise what can’t be delivered and he doesn’t say ‘your wish is granted’. Rather, Jesus challenges us to realise “how much … the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask” (Lk 13).

What Jesus promises is grace. He promises the Holy Spirit – to sustain us, uplift us, and help us to endure. The Holy Spirit empowers us to accept God’s plan – even if it’s not our plan – and to get up, go on and face another day.

St Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists and a Doctor of Prayer, says that we don’t pray to change God, but that God might change the one who prays and the community which prays. When we open ourselves to God’s grace and action in this way, we’ll be changed and become instruments of G                                       

 David J Hore CSsR

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