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‘Lord, teach us to pray’

July 28, 2019

A reflection for the 17th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings are Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14 and Luke 11:1-13.

Image from Tammy Sue (

A few weeks ago I had dinner with two guys who had lived in a community called Cenacolo. It’s a religious community for men that struggle with addictions. It’s a religious community, but when these guys went, they weren’t very religious – but they were desperate, so they went. But once they got there they wondered about all this “God” stuff. The community depends on the generosity of their neighbours for donations of food and, well, everything. These guys decided to pray: “If God wants us to stay here, He’ll give us something…. Let’s pray for something random…. a soccer ball… it would be good to have a soccer ball to kick around. If God wants us to stay here, He will send us a soccer ball.” So they made this, not-very-sincere prayer, to test God. The next day – I am not making this up – the next day, the community received a large donation from somewhere, a business or somewhere that had closed, and so they got furniture and other stuff – not sure what else. As they are going through the donations, they find a duffle bag. They open the bag and inside is, not one, but like 10 soccer balls! (Not making it up, but maybe I am exaggerating a bit… for dramatic effect!)

I have heard many stories like this one. Stories of people who pray for very specific things – good things – and they get exactly what they prayed for. “I am short $314 on my rent, please God, help me pay my rent.” And the next day they receive a cheque in the mail for some insurance claim they made months ago and had forgotten about and it’s exactly for $314 – not one cent more. I’ve heard lots of these stories.

But, it’s never happened to me. I’ve had prayers answered, but never for something so specific like that.

And I think that it’s probably the same for most of you.

So when we say, like the disciples in the Gospel today, that we don’t know how to pray, it’s not that we don’t know how to pray, but ,”teach us to pray so that our prayers are answered!” How do we pray so we get a response?

That’s what the readings are about today: petition prayers. And I would like you to remember three things about petition prayers from today.

The first has to do with how we pray.
The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus says, “Pray in this way”.

  1. First, call God Father. Not Lord or King or Master, but Father because it is a father that gives good things to his children.
  2. Then praise Him. Worship Him; adore Him; thank Him: “Holy be your name. Hallowed by thy name.
  3. Tell Him that you want to be with Him. That you want Him to be with you; that you want to be in His presence: Your Kingdom Come.
  4. Tell Him that you give everything you are to Him. Surrender to Him. Ask Him to unite your will to His in the same way that it is with all the people who are already in Heaven.
  5. Ask for what you need and what you want today. Not for next week – it’s not our weekly or monthly bread. Pray for your daily bread.
  6. Ask for forgiveness. But don’t just ask for forgiveness, but forgive.
  7. Ask Him to strengthen you so you can navigate through this world that is full of temptations.

That’s where the Gospel of Luke ends, but in the  Gospel of Matthew there’s one more:

8. Ask Him to protect you from evil. Not from harm, but from evil – to protect and defend you from the evil one.

If we prayed like this, our prayer would not be a 30 second “Our Father” but a 30 minute conversation, relationship, speaking with God.

God doesn’t want you to pray. He wants to have a relationship with you. I heard someone once say that if we treated our friends the way we treat God, they wouldn’t respond to us either.

The second has to do with one of the ways God answers prayers.

Jesus tells the disciples to not be afraid to ask for what they need, for what they want: “ask and you will receive,” and be persistent. And “if you who are bad know how to give good things to your children, then how much more will your Father in Heaven give you.” But He doesn’t actually say what I just said. He doesn’t say that He will give you good things, He says that “how much more will the Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit….” Ask for whatever, and God will give you the Holy Spirit. That’s how God first answers prayers.

The psalm today says “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” In one of the verses it says, “when I called you answered me.” Then it says, “you increased the strength of my soul”. That’s how God answers.

If you are praying for healing, God will answer by giving you the Holy Spirit and strengthening your soul. If you pray for reconciliation with a loved one, God will give you the Holy Spirit and increase the strength of your soul. If you are praying for help in your marriage, God will fill you with the Holy Spirit and strengthen your soul. If you pray to get out of debt or to be free from depression or a mental health issue, God will fill you with the Holy Spirit and strengthen your soul. That’s how God answers prayers, first. Then, in the right time, if it’s good for you, maybe He will grant your request. By then you probably don’t need your request granted because you’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit and your soul has been strengthened.

The third thing I want you to remember has to do with  who we pray with and who we pray for. The Lord’s Prayer is not an individual prayer. It is communal prayer: “Our Father; give us this day; forgive us; lead us not into temptation….” We pray together. Sometimes I think that if our prayers aren’t answered, maybe we need to pray with others. We need to pray together – and we need to pray out loud. I do this all the time, when people ask me to pray for them, I say “yes of course” and then I pray for them when I get home or that night. But maybe we should just pray right there and then, with them and pray out loud.

And we need to pray for others. That’s what Abraham does in the first reading. He’s not asking for himself. He’s asking for his nephew Lot and his family and all the people – sinners included – of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we need to realize that when we pray that’s not just helping the people we are praying for – it’s helping everyone! Our prayerfulness – our relating to God – actually is benefiting the whole world. That’s why God can spare the whole town for the sake of 10 righteous people.

The Church teaches that about our receiving of the Eucharist. Christ saves us by His sacrifice on the Cross. And He continues to save us in the Eucharist as His sacrifice continues to be made present over and over again. So, we are saved by the Eucharist. But the Eucharist is not just saving those of us here who receive the Eucharist. Our receiving of the Eucharist is actually saving the whole world. Our receiving of the Eucharist is saving all the people who are not here receiving the Eucharist.

How’s that for mind-blowing!

So, pray, but don’t just pray, seek to have a relationship with God; Pray constantly and ask Him for what you want. Be persistent. And pray together with others; and pray out loud.

If you do, your Heavenly Father will respond: He will fill you with the Holy Spirit and He will increase the strength of your soul.

And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a soccer ball.

From → English, Reflections

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