Jesus' intimacy with the Father invites us to pray

August 15, 2016

The version of the Lord's Prayer most commonly prayed is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel (6.5-15). The sermon itself is sort of an instruction manual on how live in the kingdom, and indeed the Lord's Prayer follows instructions Jesus gave on how not to pray.

In contrast, Luke's Gospel presents an abbreviated version of the Our Father after the disciples see Jesus praying and one asks, "Lord, teach us to pray" (11.1-4).

For Matthew, the disciples must be told how to and how not to pray; for Luke, Jesus' witness awakens the desire for prayer.

Jesus' example in Luke is telling. Jesus prays before the most important moments in his ministry - his baptism, Peter's confession that Jesus is the messiah, the transfiguration, the agony at the Mount of Olives and on the cross.

Indeed, if you want to know which incidents in Jesus' life Luke considers the most important, look to see when Jesus is praying. A key moment follows immediately.

Likewise, at Luke 4.42, Jesus withdraws to a deserted place. When he returns, he has resolved to take his message to cities beyond Capernaum and to begin calling his disciples.

Jesus receives the Holy Spirit while praying prior to his baptism. When discoursing on prayer with his disciples, he says the Father wants to give the Spirit to all who ask (11.42). Jesus, then, expects that the prayer of the disciples will be similar to his own prayer.

That prayer is intimate and personal, but not individualistic. Pope Benedict XVI defines Jesus' prayer - and thus our prayer - as "being in silent inward communion with God." The former pope notes the Our Father has "thou petitions" and "we petitions," but no "I petitions." The Father of the Our Father is not the father of an individual, but of a nation.

Yet, to be human is to have a personal relationship with God. A human person is not a self-contained entity, but rather a being who needs to stretch beyond his or her box. To stay within oneself is to shrivel up and die.

We need other people, but most of all, we need God. To be human means to speak with God and listen to God.


One can pray in many different ways, but it is noteworthy that Jesus uses words when he prays to the Father. Similarly, God, who is infinitely beyond understanding and language, uses words to communicate with us. All words fall short of adequately telling God what we want to say and what he wants to say to us.

However, if we sit blankly, trying to eliminate all thoughts and images, we may be making internal space to communicate with God, but we are not yet doing it.

The great 20th-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar describes prayer as a form of poverty. We pray because we are less than infinite goodness, truth and beauty. Only in God is glory absolute. So we are beggars before God. The Lord's Prayer, Balthasar wrote, is "a beggar's prayer from start to finish."

"It demands God's coming, placing at its beginning the address of intimacy, 'Abba,' which was reserved for Jesus alone; it demands that his name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as in heaven - . . . the prayer that God's power prevail where people are powerless."


"Then the prayer begs for the bread that is necessary for life, not for a store to be laid up, but from day to day; then it begs for forgiveness of sins, displaying its own poverty as far as righteousness is concerned; . . . and finally, the prayer begs to be borne through temptation, for only God's power permits us to stand fast in temptation" (The Glory of the Lord, vol. VII, 134).

We are beggars, but God is faithful. He knows what we need, so do not worry about your bodily needs. "Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well" (Luke 12.31).


Persevere in prayer, even in the most difficult circumstances, and do not lose heart. In the darkest moment of his life, Jesus twice urged the disciples to pray that they not come into the time of trial (22.40, 46). Then, he turned to his Father and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done" (22.42).

Praying for the Father's will to be done is a bold request with unknown consequences. Even Jesus did not know the full extent of what the Father's will meant for him. Yet, he was courageous enough to pray for it. So should we.