Jesus teaches us to pray like a child of God
In my last column I examined the types of prayers Jesus prayed. He prayed vocal prayer and mental prayer and participated in the liturgy of the synagogue. He made his life a prayer, offering himself in sacrifice for our sins.
The common element in all his prayers was his filial relationship with God. Jesus shows us not only the types of prayers we should pray, but also how we should pray them. He teaches us to pray like a child of God.
We know little about how Jesus prayed when he was alone, but we do know about his public prayers and the instructions he gave his disciples about prayer.
Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray. He responded with the Our Father. The Our Father petitions God for our needs and asks that he be glorified. It teaches us to see God as a loving Parent who cares for and nourishes us.
In the prayers he offered aloud, he always addressed his heavenly Father. Once, Jesus prayed in the presence of his apostles, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike” (Mt 11:25).
He was teaching them – and us – to be humble in our relationship with God. We must remain childlike. We must recognize God’s greatness and our littleness. If we wish to draw near God in prayer, we cannot have an inflated idea of ourselves. We must acknowledge our neediness, our helplessness.
Jesus showed us how to live out this humility and spiritual childhood. Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, he thanked his Father for hearing him (Jn 11:41-42). As the Son of God, he knew that the Father always heard his prayers. He prayed this prayer for our benefit, to remind us never to take the Father’s answer for granted. We are never to demand that God act. Instead, we reverently lay our needs before him and trust in his goodness and his plan.
The Garden of Gethsemane gives us our single peek into the private prayer life of Jesus. He shared this intimate moment with us, so that we might learn how to pray in times of suffering. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). He taught us not to presume that we know how God should answer our prayers, that our way is the best way. He taught us true submission to God’s will. Even our greatest struggles may be part of God’s plan in some mysterious way. Jesus made concrete the words he had taught his disciples, “Thy will be done.”
In Gethsemane Jesus also taught us to persevere in prayer. When we are needy, it is no shame to ask repeatedly for relief. Though persistent, his prayer was simple, not “heaping up empty phrases” (Mt 6:7), but overflowing from his heart. It was the prayer of a child, but a child that had complete trust in his Father’s wisdom and goodness.
Through his prayers Jesus taught us that God is our Father and we owe him reverence. He was less concerned with methods of prayer than our living as sons and daughters of God and praying to him as respectful children. When we trust in God’s goodness and wisdom, we can lay our cares before him without anxiety, without bargaining or making demands. Humble conversation with our loving Father is the essence of Christian prayer.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.