“This is how you are to pray.” – Matthew 6:9
When I was in college, I did a research project on using directives in the English language. A directive is like a command, or “an official, authoritative instruction,” as dictionary.com states. As an example, some simple directives that parents may use frequently are things like shut the door, brush your teeth or go to bed. These are things we are not merely suggesting our kids to do if they feel so inclined, but are expecting to be done…and quickly!
As I read again the prayer we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, in Matthew’s gospel today, I’m reminded once again that Jesus not only lived with authority, he prayed to God our Father that way, too! Viewing his prayer through a directive lens, it’s astounding to see the boldness with which Jesus prays. Give us. Forgive us. Lead us. Deliver us.
As disciples, we surely are meant to pray this way, too! However, it’s important to see that our directives, like Jesus’ must be rightly ordered. Before Jesus begins praying these bold requests of God, he first praises God for their relationship as Father/Son (our Father) and praises God’s holiness (hallowed be Thy name). Then Jesus aligns his own desires properly behind God’s desires (your kingdom come, your will be done). Then, and only then does he begin with the directives, but these are also directives that had first come from God: daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil are all things God has given us first!
In the Catholic Mass, before we recite the Our Father, the priest always prefaces this prayer by calling us to recite together “the words we dare to say.” When you look at it this way, it does seem daring! We call the God of the universe our father. We ask that he cast his will upon us. Then, we list the things we want from him as though they will happen. How dare we say and demand these things!? Yet, this is our faith.
Perhaps the words God speaks to us in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah can help us understand,
“For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:10-11
If we’ve rightly ordered ourselves to God, the relationship of God’s desires for us and our requests for those desires becomes analogous to the water cycle:
- God rains his love upon us.
- We absorb that love into our hearts.
- We grow in his love and begin to trust him, desiring even more of his love. (But we are helpless to give him anything, so we offer the only thing we have: our prayers.)
- Our prayers rise to him like water vapor, requesting ever more and more of that life-giving water pouring down upon us.
- God’s rain falls upon us even more, etc.
Isn’t it beautiful?
Perhaps with this renewed sense of understanding we can begin to pray even more reverently– and more boldly– to God our Father, just as Jesus did.
Reflect: Have you ever asked God for something and didn’t get it? How did that make you feel? Did you give up on God after that, or did you try to learn more about what a healthy relationship with God really looks like? Consider one thing you could do today that imitates the example Jesus gave us: If you are baptized, do you call God your father? Do you ask for his desires to come before your own? Do the things you request from God reflect things that God would want for you?
Pray: Heavenly Father, we know you love everything you have created, including each of us. Thank you for the gift of life and the gift of free will to choose you. Thank you for the grace of baptism which makes us your children and draws us closer to you. Thank you for the gift of your Son and your Holy Spirit who dwell among us and teach us how to draw intimately and confidently closer to you. Amen.