Mayanot on Prayer #2: Our Father, Our King.
Prayer transforms the desire to satisfy our requests to the desire to satisfy God's requests.
Many of us do not introspect much about the things we want. We consider most of the things we want as normal and similar to what other people want. Our desires need little justification and we simply go about our lives satisfying as many of them as we can.
But without introspection there cannot be any character change. Where does introspection fit in when there is nothing in our everyday lives pushing us to reassess our overall situation because everything is flowing along smoothly?
God came up with a brilliant solution to this problem. He commanded us to pray for the things we want.
Prayer needs a rationale attached. If you ask God for something it stands to reason that you need to append some reason why He should respond and grant your request.
Our prayers are based on one of two rationales.
The simplest rationale is to appeal directly to God's love for us. We refer to God as Avinu Malkenu, our Father and our King. Children are entitled to ask their parents to help them in their troubles or to give them the things they want simply because they want it.
It follows that we are just as entitled to present our requests to our Father in Heaven in times of need or want. If God truly cares for us as a father cares for his child, then as with our own parents, the question of whether we deserve to receive the things that we ask for should never arise. When someone loves you, he worries about your happiness; the concept of your just desserts never crosses his mind. At first glance, the 'parent principle' allows us to present our prayers to God comfortably even when we do not have a great way to justify our requests.
#Remaining on terms of intimacy with God becomes a high priority in my life if I expect to draw on the power of His love.
But what if I am estranged from my father and haven't had much to do with him lately -- am I still comfortable seeking his help on the grounds of pure affection? Can I feel good about imposing on his love for me and asking him to buy me the things I want simply because I want them under such circumstances?
If I intend to turn to God as a loving parent, I automatically accept the responsibility of maintaining the parent-child relationship with God in a state of good repair. Remaining on terms of intimacy with God becomes a high priority in my life if I expect to draw on the power of His love. Having such a priority is bound to elevate me spiritually to a considerable degree. It will almost certainly alter my focus.
While parents generally love their children without reservation, it doesn't follow that they are also prepared to invest in them with the same uncritical spirit, especially after they have reached adulthood. Parents will generally invest in their children only if there is a reasonable expectation that their investment will be put to good use. The fact that there is no need to demonstrate my worthiness to God when I approach Him in the role of Father doesn't mean that I don't have to defend the potential productivity of my requests. No parent feels good about making a serious non-productive investment in a child no matter how much the child may desire it and no matter how beloved that child may be.
The requests of the child who has demonstrated repeatedly that he or she will use whatever was invested to grow and prosper and bring credit to the family will always be regarded favorably. But that is hardly the case when the child has a history of squandering everything that has been handed to him or her. The fact that we love them does not mean that we do not expect our children to produce. We expect them to bring credit to their parents and employ the resources invested in their development to turn themselves into independent useful human beings who we can be proud of.
We love our children regardless of their competence and moral fiber because they are ours, and we will generally do our utmost to keep them alive and healthy, but that is at far as it goes. We will not shower them with precious family resources when it is clear that anything handed to them will go to waste.
If I use everything that God gives me to satisfy my desires and make no serious attempt to progress spiritually, I place myself in the position of the wastrel child who squanders whatever is handed him.
A child who desires his parents' unconditional support will do his utmost to be a person they can be proud of. By commanding us to pray for the help we desire, God, as a parent, assured that we, His children, will do our utmost to use the inputs we receive from Him to make Him proud of us. The necessity to prayer to the Almighty for our needs keeps us focused on the spiritual effects the attainment of our goals and the satisfaction of our desires is likely to have on our characters. It saves us from being shallow and self-seeking.
The principle of the elevation of desires through prayer is even clearer if we approach God in terms of praying to Him as our King. Monarchs are not affectionate care providers. They relate to their subjects as members of the collective rather than as individuals. It is their job and even their duty to provide for them only as long as they function as productive citizens and advance the glory and prosperity of the kingdom. Unproductive subjects are a drain on the collective resources and are merely tolerated at best.
How is your request going to further the prosperity of the company?
A request tendered to God in His role as our King must inevitably be accompanied by some explanation of how the granting of the request will increase the glory of the King and the prosperity of the Kingdom.
For example, a request for success in business would probably be couched along the following lines; "Grant my business success so that I can more effectively serve You in my own life and inspire others by presenting a model of a successful person who is also a true servant of God. People only aspire to emulate the successful members of society!" Or we could imagine a plea for help; 'Rescue me from my anguish, so that I can enjoy the peace of mind necessary to learn your Torah and perform your mitzvot!"
Obviously, these promises and undertakings, if they are to be effective at all, must be uttered with sincerity. By commanding us to pray for the things that He is prepared to give us, God forces us to integrate the satisfaction of our selfish needs and desires with our higher mission of Divine Service. Each human desire becomes a vehicle for Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name.
As we are commanded to pray three times daily, we repeat our requests and the undertakings associated with them with great frequency. Whether we relate to God as our Father, or whether we choose to face Him as our King, or whether we take a combined approach, eventually our desires become so fused with our undertakings that they are forged into a single entity in our consciousness. Through the vehicle of our prayers our elementary human needs gradually become metamorphosed into new ways of serving God, and helping our fellow human beings. Lowly ends are transformed into noble goals. The commandment to pray for the satisfaction of his desires rescues man from selfishness and pettiness.