I for one still fear bringing petitions to God. Three ideas occur to me that prevent me. One, I don’t think God will answer and I fear being disappointed in Him. Two, He will answer in a way that is not what I desired. Three, what I want isn’t even important and I should not bother anyone who is busy with other things with my petty needs, and God must be busy.
All of these ideas are wrong. They are a mistaken view of myself, God, and the nature of prayer. The great means for gaining confidence in prayer is to accept not only that we have a real relationship with God, but acknowledge the nature of the relationship. I have a “relationship” to my truck and my wife. So, the nature of the relationship is what matters. The nature of ours to God is filial, meaning He is our Father and we are His sons. We see Jesus’ example of confidence in petitioning God – and for that matter we see the efficacy of His prayers (i.e. they “work”!) – and we wonder at it. Surely the apostles did too, so they made a simple petition, which he answered, when they said “Teach us to pray…” His answer begins as we must begin in our approach to prayer, as sons, when Jesus instructs us to pray, “Our Father…”
We gain confidence in prayer by increasing our faith of Him, our knowledge of Him, as Our Father. In that sense, God “depends” on an images of fathers on earth that helps to reveal the Father in heaven:
Among yourselves, if a father is asked by his son for bread, will he give him a stone? Or for a fish, will he give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he is asked for an egg, will he give him a scorpion? Why then, if you, evil as you are, know well enough how to give your children what is good for them, is not your Father much more ready to give, from heaven, his gracious Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:11-13, Knox).
This is of course one of the great reasons that Fraternus helps us, as fathers, to recognize our important our leadership is in our homes and communities. Even for those that do not have children, their fatherhood is real and revealing.
This teaching does not mean we get what we want in prayer because we ask. We are called to be God’s sons, not His brats. To look at Christ’s bold petitioning of the Father we are also beholding the perfect union of intention. Jesus is “about the Father’s business” and His “food” is the will of God, that’s how much He desires and submits to the perfect will of God (Luke 2:50, John 6:38). To trust Him as Father is not a “trick” that unlocks the answers to our prayers but is firstly a correction to our very disposition. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and all He asks of the Father must be understood in that light. To come as a son is to come confidently. But to come as a son is also to come humbly and trustingly.
This is why it is critical, especially when mentoring and teaching about the nature of prayer, to not merely toss our platitudes like “just have faith and God will answer you.” I recall as a teenager trying to will myself into confidence so that God would hear me. It doesn’t “work.” To teach faith in prayer is to teach submission to God’s will, this being the interpretive key to our royal power as sons to “unlock” the gifts of God. “Such familiar confidence we have in him, that we believe he listens to us whenever we make any request of him in accordance with his will” (1 John 5:14).
This is the beauty and valuable lesson behind the rest of the prayer Jesus taught us. “Our Father… Thy Kingdom come…” Our confidence is not asserting our power as Christians to whom God has promised to listen. It is to unite to His will that our very desires are shaped completely by the desire to be a faithful son, to do the will of God. This is why focus and meditation on the words of Jesus, of uniting to God in and through Him as sons, we learn to approach God with our petitions confidently. This is why all prayers of the liturgy and, hopefully, our own private prayers, are to the Father through the Son:
So it is with you, you are distressed now; but one day I will see you again, and then your hearts will be glad; and your gladness will be one which nobody can take away from you. When that day comes, you will not need to ask anything of me. Believe me, you have only to make any request of the Father in my name, and he will grant it to you. Until now, you have not been making any requests in my name; make them, and they will be granted, to bring you gladness in full measure” (John 16-22-24).