Jesus teaches us how to pray (Luke 11)

Gospel of Luke, Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus teaches us how to pray (Luke 11)

If you want to know Jesus, you need to know that He teaches us how to pray.

Read chapter 11 of the gospel according to Saint Luke here.

The gospels record only the essential details of Jesus’ life. Yet Luke and his fellow evangelists often note that Jesus would withdraw from His followers to spend solitary time in prayer. Taking time to speak from the heart to His Father is an essential activity for Jesus and should be for us as well. 

The disciples can see that Jesus has something in His prayer life that they lack. He has an easy intimacy with His Heavenly Father. One of them asks Jesus to teach them how to pray. In the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus gives us a concise and powerful prayer to ask God for the essential things we need. 

“Our Father” – Even this opening address of the prayer, which is easy for us to take for granted from familiarity, is radically new. The Jews did not typically address God as their Father. They addressed Him as Lord. The Romans did not approach God as a father, nor did other peoples of that time. When Jesus addresses God as His Father, and when He asks us to do likewise, He is inviting us into a new understanding of, and a deeper relationship with, our Heavenly Father. The pagan understanding of their gods was fear-based: they made sacrifices to their gods so as not to incur their wrath. Jesus invites us to share in the communion of love that He has with His Father, not because we deserve or earn His love, but simply because He loves us unequivocally, as a father loves his children. This is how we begin our prayer.

Notice too, that throughout the prayer we pray to our Father (not my Father), and we ask Him to give us and forgive us (not give me and forgive me). Even when we say this prayer alone, we are praying with and on behalf of the universal Church. Jesus is inviting everyone into the communion of divine love, and so we say the Our Father as a community of believers. 

“Hallowed by Your name” – In the shorter version of the Our Father found in Luke’s gospel, we make five petitions to God, beginning with “hallowed be Your name.” The first thing we do is recognize that God is holy. We cannot fathom His infinite holiness, as it incomparably exceeds that of even the great saints. God is entirely pure, entirely good, entirely loving. We pray that that the whole world will recognize that the name of God is holy (“hallowed”). Everything else we ask for in this prayer flows from this first request. If everyone on earth recognized the name of God is holy and worshipped God properly, peace and love for our neighbors would naturally follow from that.

“Thy Kingdom come” – The Kingdom of God is here now. It was present in the person of Jesus when He walked the earth, and it is present now through the Holy Spirit working in the Church and in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Yet the Kingdom is also yet to come. It is not fully realized yet, because sin is still present in our world. When we pray “The Kingdom come,” we are praying that all of us will grow closer to Jesus now, for the Kingdom is present when we love Him and serve Him. We are also praying that Jesus will come again soon, for at His second coming, the Kingdom in all of its fullness will be realized: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:1-7)

The early Christians prayed “Maranatha,” meaning “Come, Lord Jesus!” We likewise pray for the Second Coming when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” We must always be ready for this great event, and look forward to the day when Christ will right every wrong, and make all creation anew.

“Give us each day our daily bread” – This petition is another way of saying, “Father, I trust in you. I trust you to take care of all of my physical and spiritual needs. I will do my best in my daily tasks, and I leave all the rest to you.”

Note the redundancy in this petition –  The Greek word translated as daily has a literal meaning of “super-essential.” Our physical needs for food, drink, shelter and so forth are essential; God knows we need them and will provide us with them. But our super-essential needs are spiritual. We need God’s grace to love Him and serve Him; most especially, we need the Bread of Life that we receive in the Eucharist. We ask God for, and trust Him to meet, our physical and spiritual needs every day of our lives.

“Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone in debt to us” – This is the one petition in the prayer with a condition attached. Here we acknowledge our sinfulness. We have hurt God and hurt our neighbor in various ways, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. We have to acknowledge our sinfulness in order to receive His mercy. How can He forgive us if we are too proud to acknowledge our debts? But also, how can our just Father forgive us if fail to forgive others? When we fail to forgive others, when we hold on to our anger and resentment, we are in essence building a wall around our heart. And when we build a wall around our heart, we are preventing God from penetrating our heart and transforming us with His love and mercy. 

Forgiving others is hard. But when we acknowledge our own sinfulness, it becomes easier to forgive. And when we forgive, it becomes easier for us to receive God’s forgiveness. 

“Do not subject us to the final test” – Here we acknowledge that we need God’s help if we are going to avoid succumbing to temptations. We ask God to keep us from any temptations that will be particularly difficult for us to handle. We should strive to avoid situations where we are likely to be tempted, but we also recognize that some temptations are unavoidable. We will face temptations, just as Jesus did. He overcame them through prayer, through His intimate union with His Heavenly Father, and we pray to do the same. 

“But when thou shall have obtained the three loaves, that is, the food and knowledge of the Trinity, thou hast both the source of life and of food. Fear not. Cease not. For that bread will not come to an end, but will put an end to your want. Learn and teach. Live and eat.” -Saint Augustine

Image: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).

Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for the salvation of souls.

Michael Haverkamp

Michael Haverkamp is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. He is grateful to his parents for raising him in the faith. He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his amazing wife and three sons. By day he is a (usually) mild-mannered grant writer.

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