Teach Us To Pray

In an early church writing called the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles; probably second century), we have the first “commandment” about prayer: to pray the Our Father “as the Lord bid us in his gospel . . . pray in this way three times a day” (8:2, 3). The Didache doesn’t say when the three times a day are to be, but presumably at traditional prayer times: upon rising, at midday, upon retiring. This prayer has been in the hearts of Christians since the early disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. He gave them words. But he also gave them much more. Jesus, in this gospel, gives us a way to address God (as “Father”), how we ought to pray (with perseverance), and why we pray (because God gives us all “good gifts”). Jesus teaches us that prayer is and must be from oneself, very personal. Prayer is a gift of self.

Jesus’ disciples want him to teach them to pray “just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus couldn’t teach them the prayer of John, however, because he was not John. He was himself, and would teach a prayer that is the very gift of himself to us. Jesus’ prayer to his Father flows from who he is—the One who praises, intercedes, forgives, reconciles, and protects. In this he gives us a pattern for our prayer, even if we do not use these very words. Our prayer flows from our physical needs, our emotional attachments and relationships, our spiritual desires. In the end, however, Jesus’ prayer is for his Father to “give the Holy Spirit.” Then, no request is too great, no seeking is unrewarded, no door is locked. The Holy Spirit transforms our prayer— and us—into turning ourselves toward God, into allowing the prayer to change us into those who seek only what God desires for us.

This gospel challenges us to go beyond specific needs and get to the larger picture: a focus on the gifts God offers us always in prayer, and often in surprising and unexpected ways. What inspires confidence in us is not whether God gives us what we specifically ask for in prayer; our confidence comes from the Spirit who dwells within and establishes a most intimate relationship between God and us—shared Life. Unlike small children who seem to have a capacity to stay endlessly with some tasks, most of us need to develop a habit of daily prayer. With such busy schedules, this can be difficult. Choosing a specific time and being persistent about honoring that time for prayer helps.

Adapted from Renew International Prayer Time Cycle C

Music for reflection