“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).
I wonder which disciple made this request, don’t you? Surely it was one of the lesser disciples. If it had been Peter or John, surely Dr. Luke would have included the name. What prompted the request? Simply the example of Jesus. “Lord, teach us to do what you do.”
Only one disciple made that request, nowhere close to a majority. Is this also true of the church? How many of us really have a desire to pray better—or for Jesus to be the One to teach us how?
The gospel witnesses do not offer a detailed analysis of Jesus’ prayer life. But they do give us enough information to form a basis for a better, richer prayer life.
Why did Jesus need to pray?
Many people ask, “If Jesus is God, then why did he pray?” One big reason is here in Luke 11. Jesus wanted to be an example to the Twelve. He knows that they will run into situations where all they can do is pray. In his final discourse to the Twelve, he reminds them six times that “whatever they ask in His name, it will be done” (John 14:13, 14; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26)! Jesus says, “You have seen me pray. You pray, too.”
Another reason Jesus prayed has to do with his humanity. As a Jewish man, Jesus grew up in an environment of prayer. Devout Jews rose in the morning and went to bed at night praying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus grew up going to the Jerusalem temple for the major feasts where prayer would have been ongoing. Prayer came naturally for the human Jesus.
But more importantly, prayer was also ingrained into Jesus’ divine nature! God the Son has always been and will always be in communication with God the Father.
So, briefly, what are some things we can learn from Jesus’ prayer life?
1. Jesus prayed for others.
People sought out Jesus so he could pray for their loved ones, especially their sick, their diseased, their demon-possessed, and their children. Matthew tells us that little children were brought to Jesus so he could “place his hands on them and pray.”
In John 17, Jesus prayed for the Twelve and then prayed for us, “those who will believe!” He unselfishly prayed for others.
2. Jesus prayed with others.
In Luke 9, Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples, Peter, John and James, up on a mountain to pray. He took the same group “a little further” into the Garden of Gethsemane so they could hear him pray (Mark 14:33-35). Jesus prayed with all his followers, men and women, especially at meals. He blessed the loaves and fishes with thousands! He blessed the Passover meal.
Did these incidents of group prayer rub off on the Twelve? Of course! Acts 1:14 says that the 120 followers of Jesus who were waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit “joined together constantly in prayer.”
3. Jesus prayed in solitude.
Our savior prayed alone—just him and God—and not just every now and then. Luke 5:16 says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
For Jesus, it was critical to get away from the noise of the crowd for the purpose of engaging in quiet time with his Father. He valued the times when he could “be still” and contemplate the power and goodness of God (Psalm 46:10). It is so critical that we make time to do the same.
Briefly, Jesus almost always prayed outdoors where God’s glory could be readily seen. Jesus prayed short prayers (“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”) and he prayed long prayers (John 17). Sometimes Jesus prayed all night long. He prayed regularly, not sporadically. He always prayed from his heart—never mumbling trite phrases that he had heard others pray in the temple ad nauseum. But the paramount aspect of Jesus’ prayer life?
4. Jesus prayed that God’s will be done.
Jesus knew that not all his prayers would be answered as he wanted. That is an important lesson for us to learn. In the garden, Jesus cried out to God three times, asking for a different path—an easier, less painful path—to bring about the salvation of God’s created ones. But he ended his prayers by saying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus knew that His Father was in charge. By the way, He is still in charge. And so, you and I need to always pray that God’s will be done.
In Philippians 4, Paul commands the church to “be anxious for nothing. But in everything, by prayers and supplications, let your requests be made known to God.”
Speaking only for myself, I have found that the absolute best way for me to reduce my anxiety level is to pray. If I will take whatever is eating me alive and place it squarely on God’s shoulders, I can sense the anxiety melting away almost immediately. We must lay our burdens at the foot of the cross and allow Jesus to take care of them because I cannot. He is able.
In these anxious times, I hope all of us have done that. Pray about COVID-19. Pray about racism. Pray about social unrest. Pray for police officers. Pray for African-Americans. Pray that the church will respond to the chaos of the times in Christlike ways.
Pray as Jesus prayed.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:14-16).