Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship (Simon & Schuster, 1959, 1995) writes about our human relationship with God as divine Father. Bonhoeffer says vividly that God is our Father and we are his children with a special bond and an undying love. Bonhoeffer writes, " The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father." This passage describes what every Christian needs to do to establish that special bond with God. Prayer is that opening that makes us bond with God beyond any imagination.
Thus, the topic of prayer is wide, and no amount of discussion can cover it. However, we can pinpoint few aspects of prayer that are very important. By itself, prayer is the raising up of our hearts and minds to God through a special connection. Faith is that special connection which we need to talk to the Father, the creator of the universe. But sometimes this special connection has distractions and we find ourselves without proper focus when we set out to pray.
The apostles watched Jesus pray several times and they wanted to learn from him. One day, they approached him and said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." This request by the disciples was necessary to avoid distractions of any kind when they prayed. Jesus decided to teach an all-time prayer that has endured the test of time. The Our Father is Jesus' answer to how we can pray without paying attention to the distractions of life. In this form of prayer, we address God as Our Father and ask him to keep us away from temptations by fulfilling our daily needs.
Is there anyone who does not face temptations? The answer to this question is found in the first reading of today. All the men and women of Sodom and Gomorrah were found to be unworthy before the Lord. They fell to the lure of sin. They embraced sin and filth. Abraham pleaded on behalf of these twin cities before their final destruction. There was no single righteous person in those cities except for Abraham and his kindred.
Temptation tests our individual resilience to either stand on the side of righteousness or fall into sin. Sodom and Gomorrah fell into sinful acts. They loved sinful behaviors with great impunity and shunned calls for change and mercy. Abraham saw the danger of destruction ahead and began to plead with God to spare the cities for their evil lifestyle. His persistence paid off when God replied him, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it." Those ten people belonged to the household of Abraham and they escaped the impending calamity. The rest of the people were headed for destruction and they knew it. Applying this situation to our lives today makes it worrisome. Many people are headed to damnation and they prefer it than choosing a life of righteousness. We need persistence in prayer to register our regrets to the Father, the creator of the universe. We need to overcome the daily distractions of our lives to connect ourselves to the Father. This is the reason why Jesus taught his disciples the Our Father. Every Christian needs to learn it by heart and say it at all moments.
Most often, Christians don't persist in prayer because we don't have faith in what we are asking. Jesus, therefore, encourages us to be faithful in asking. He says, "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened." This is our connection to the Father because he won't deny us what is good for our spiritual or physical growth. God knows what we need, and he will answer us accordingly when we pray.
Contemporary Christians need to develop a faith that is strong, unshakable, and incontestable. The distractions of modern life should never affect our relationship with God when we set out to pray. By this, we should not allow the society we live in to dictate our faith or take away from us our belief systems and practices. Recognizing the supremacy of God gives us a reason to go back to him in prayer despite our distractions. We need to return to God to acknowledge his sacredness because he is the Father of all, creator of all.
What lessons can we learn in this reflection? The first lesson is distractions should never stop our zeal for prayer. Living in American society encircles us with distractions from the mainstream media, social media, and discordant ideas. Topics such as illegal immigration, border wars, gender relations, politicians, church scandals, summer heat waves, etc. can detract our attention to pray. We face other irritating moments daily in our lives directly affecting our ability to pray. Above all, we find ourselves busy working endless hours without rest. We must therefore, refrain from these distractions and find time to connect with our God for special inspiration to continue with life's journey. God listens to us and he answers us at his appropriate time.
Lastly, every Christian needs to choose righteousness and avoid sin. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah denied God. They suffered greatly. We shouldn't make the same mistake today. There is no harm in telling God we are sorry in prayer and asking him to provide our daily needs. Prayer is necessary and it is a duty. Brennan Manning concludes, "Trust is that rare and priceless treasure that wins us the affection of our heavenly Father." Trusting God makes us ask whatever we need every time we pray and it is legal to persist. Keep praying!