Why is prayer such a struggle? It should come naturally, but it seldom does. Well except when we are in really big trouble. There are many reasons that prayer is a battle. Monsignor Pope has an interesting take in his latest post, How to Organize your Prayer Time According to Jesus.
One of the struggles people often have in praying is that they are not sure what to “do” when they pray. This is especially true for those who want to pray for more than a few moments at a time. Perhaps they have taken up the laudable custom of making a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, or of devoting themselves to a half hour of mental prayer each day. It is often helpful to have a structure, for prayer of this sort, and Jesus himself actually gives us one in the Our Father.
I want to recommend for your consideration that the Our Father gives us more than words to say. It also gives us a structure for our prayer life, a basic plan for our spiritual life. It makes sense that when one goes to pray, understanding the basic structure and elements of prayer will be helpful. And the Lord does not disappoint us or leave us unschooled in the basic shape of prayer.
Lord teach us to pray – Consider that, according to Luke, the Lord gave the Our Father, he was responding to a request of the apostles who said, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples (Luke 11:1). They did not ask to be given words to say, but to taught how to pray. Thus, while the words of the Our Father are precious, it is also important to look at the underlying structure implicit in the prayer so as to learn “how to pray.” The insight is that Jesus, more than giving words is illustrating by these words what ought to be going on in us interiorly, in our mind and heart as we pray: Here is what the mind and heart of a person of prayer is like.
Let’s consider then, five basic disciplines, taught by Jesus in the Our Father that form a kind of structure for prayer:
1. RELATE – Our Father who art in heaven – Here begins true spirituality: Relate to the Father! Relate to him with family intimacy, affection, reverence and love. We are not praying the “the Deity” or the “Godhead.” We are praying to our Father who loves us, who provides for us and, who sent his only Son to die for us and save us. When Jesus lives his life in us and His Spirit dwells in us we begin to experience God as our Abba, (Father).
As developed in other New Testament texts, the deeper Christian word Abba underlies the prayer. Abba is the family word for the more generic and formal word “father.” When my Father was alive I did not call him “Father” I called him “Dad.” This is really what the word Abba is getting at. It is the family word for Father. It indicates family ties, intimacy, close bonds. Why the word Abba is not used here in the Our Father is uncertain. St. Paul develops the theme here: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15 ) and here: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”(Gal 4:6 ).
Ask God for the gift to experience him as Abba. At the heart of our worship and prayer is a deep and personal experience of God’s love and fatherly care for us. The first discipline or practice of the Spiritual life is to RELATE to God as to a Father who loves us and to experience him as Abba. Continue reading here.