Christ told us how to pray properly. “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words,” he said. “Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6,7-8)
In other words, we have to pray sincerely, avoiding just going through the motions of praying. We should see to it that that when we pray, we get to have an intimate and direct conversation with God who is always with us and, like a father, treats us with love and solicitude. He actually is eager to talk with us always. Our problem is that we often ignore him, something that we should correct.
This will require faith, of course, since without it there is no way we can have a real conversation with God. Even if our faith is not that strong, we still can manage to strike a good conversation with God, precisely by asking with all humility and importunity for that faith, echoing what a father of an epileptic son told Christ, “I believe, but help my unbelief.” (Mk 9,24)
And it’s interesting to note that after Christ told his disciples not to babble when praying, he told them the Lord’s Prayer which we usually refer to as the “Our Father.” “This is how you are to pray…,” (cfr. Mt 6,9-15) he said. It’s as if that prayer is the model prayer we have to follow in any personal prayer we do. We should express the same beliefs, attitude, intentions and petitions articulated in that prayer.
We therefore have to realize that prayer is how we maintain and nourish our relationship with God, and that relationship should be that of a father and a child. Prayer keeps alive our desire for God, a desire to be like God as we are meant to be.
We have to realize that praying is to our spiritual life what breathing and the beating of the heart are to our biological life. That is why St. Paul clearly said, “Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes 5,17-18)
When we manage to truly pray, we can also manage to protect ourselves from all kinds of evil, and to heal whatever wounds and weaknesses we may have because of our sins. A sense of holy invulnerability can come to us. We can find peace and joy in spite of the drama of our life.
We have to be careful not to convert our prayer into something that is meant only to foster our pursuit for some self-interest that is separated from our desire to be like God. That is why in the Lord’s Prayer, we address God as our Father, and we express the desire that his kingdom come here on earth and that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And while we have many things to ask because of our personal needs, we should not forget that the more important thing to ask is forgiveness of our sins which will always be given as long as we also forgive others.
We just cannot resort to prayer during special occasions when we are faced with some difficulty. Prayer is not meant to be the remedy of last resort. It is what we have to do always, both in good times and bad.*