That Abraham was one gutsy dude. Bargaining with God doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action, but Abraham made it work. “Take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God, having heard the outcry against these two towns whose sins were great and grave, was ready to destroy them both. Appealing to God’s better instincts, Abraham plea-bargains: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place?” Then the clincher: “Far be it from you to do such a thing.” It worked! Not only once, but five times. In answer to Abraham’s petition, God was willing to preserve the towns for a mere ten innocent people.”
The rest of the story of those two cities is bit grave, but Abraham did manage to bargain for the lives of few righteous to be found there. Abraham obviously knew how to pray, how to talk to God and how to listen for His answers. God was rather close to Abraham, obviously; they had a special relationship, the kind of relationship most of us couldn’t even aspire to, if we even had the guts to want it. To know God like Abraham did is to obey God as Abraham did, and that takes real guts.
Abraham talked to God a lot, but that began with Abraham hearing God when God called Abraham. Abraham believed God; he didn’t just believe in God, he believed God and believed that God knew what He was doing. This faith was famously counted as Abraham’s righteousness, and of course he was lavishly rewarded for having the guts to remain in close relationship with God.
Prayer was and is the foundation of our relationship with God, but praying is not always easy; prayer doesn’t come naturally for everybody. I’ll admit that I’m not the Roy Hobbs of prayer (think The Natural), and that probably makes me a natural Episcopalian. In her wisdom, the Church, following the example of our Jewish spiritual ancestors, has provided us with common prayer – we even have a Book of Common Prayer – and with specific times and seasons to make certain prayers. Whenever I’m asked to pray out of the blue, which is often, I usually fall back on the Prayer Book’s greatest hits; the old joke is don’t ask an Episcopal priest to pray without handing him a book to pray out of. But just like an iPhone has an app for whatever you need, the Episcopal Church has a prayer for just about anything, because most of us don’t always know how or what to pray.
To make us feel even better, the disciples were less than confident about how to pray. Apparently, John the Baptist had taught his disciples how to pray (I wish we were party to that), and I find it interesting that the disciples made their petition to Jesus as He was praying – parents, take note of how your example might follow Jesus’ in this case.
Anyway, the disciples approach Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responds with a basic prayer, which is now a classic haha, and then teaches them about the nature of prayer, a nature that’s reflected in the form of the Lord’s Prayer itself.
First, who are we praying to? God, of course, but we get to address Him as Father, because that is not only how He has identified Himself to us, but how He relates to us, as a gracious and loving Father. Next, hallowed be thy Name: let the name of God be praised, adored, set apart and not profaned. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: fairly obvious, right? Let your rule extend upon us so that righteousness and peace will replace suffering and strife. Then it shifts a bit, to what we need right now, in our daily lives: bread for sustenance, that we might be physically whole; forgiveness and the willingness to forgive, so that we might be spiritually whole; protection from evil, from the forces bent on dominating us, so that we might live our lives in peace.
Jesus goes on to encourage his disciples, and us, to be persistent in prayer, to ask for what we need, in the confidence that God our Father will give us what we actually need. Again, we don’t have to always know what’s best for us – prayer is about the relationship. James echoed this in his epistle when he wrote “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
So how do we pray? Remember the lessons from Abraham, James, and Jesus today, as well as our Anglican heritage. Grab your prayer book, go to the greatest hits, use it to lend voice to your praise of God and to your physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. Next, be in prayer all day, keep the line of communication open, listen for and to God, talk to Him like the loving Father that He is. Great things are bound to happen if you have the guts to pray like that!
 John Kavanaugh, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/17OrdC072416/theword_embodied.html