Teach Us to Pray
"Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples'" (Luke 11:1). Having seen Jesus praying (as they had seen Him before), the disciples asked for help in learning how to pray. When we stop and consider that most of these men had probably attended synagogue services all their lives and all had been with Jesus for about three years, this request seems a little strange at first. Did they not know how to pray? Had they not been accustomed to praying? There can be little doubt but that these men had prayed before, but having observed Jesus they came to see a need for further instruction in how to pray as He prayed.
In this brief article we will consider three times Jesus is recorded as praying and suggest some simple lessons that may "teach us to pray." As we read and consider these examples of prayer, let's understand that there are many others that need to be considered and use this one article as a prod to spend more time studying the Master's example and teachings regarding prayer that we might learn to properly "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
"Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed." One of the first things we must learn about prayer is the importance of making time for prayer. Jesus had recently embarked upon what is often called the Great Galilean Ministry and was becoming increasingly popular. The night before, a great crowd had gathered at His door and people were looking for Him that morning, but He got up early so He might "beat the crowd" and was thus able to spend some time alone with the Father. If we would learn to pray, we must learn that having a busy life is no excuse for failing to spend time with God. If we have to get up early, stay up late, skip lunch, or do whatever it takes, time must be cleared for prayer.
Closely related to the idea of making time for prayer is the importance of a place for prayer. This is not to say that public prayer does not have its place, or that one can never utter a private prayer in a public place, but for concentrated effort in prayer, one usually needs a "solitary place" away from the noise and distraction all around. Many find that concentration during prayer can be a great challenge and we will only make it worse if we do not make the effort to find some oasis of quiet reflection.
"Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." This night of prayer that immediately preceded the selection of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:13-16) can teach us several important lessons. We should probably learn something about the importance of spending time in prayer seeking the wisdom of God (James 1:5), and the importance of the solitary place is again reinforced. But perhaps the most striking thing about this incident is that Jesus spent "all night in prayer to God." How could He have prayed that long? Consider two factors. First, Jesus knew God intimately, having been with Him from eternity. Second, His focus was so spiritual in nature that He did not have to be embarrassed or ashamed to share His innermost thoughts with God. If we would learn to pray as Jesus prayed we must spend more time in study of the Bible that we might come to know God better. While we cannot know the Father in the same way Jesus did, we can certainly know Him better than we do. We must also purify our lives and thoughts so when we pray to God we can truly lift up "holy hands" (1 Timothy 2:8) and speak unashamedly with Him of the things that concern us most.
"He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.'" Within a very short time Jesus would begin the ordeal of His arrest, trials, and crucifixion and He prays that God take that cup of suffering from Him, but knowing that the Father's will must be done, He expresses a willingness to accept no for an answer to His prayer. We must recognize that despite the great love God has for us, He cannot grant every request, and we must pray with a recognition and acceptance of this.
But having said that we must yield to God's will, let's not forget the statement of the inspired writer in Hebrews 5:7, who tells us that when Jesus "offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death," He was heard because of His godly fear. No, the Father did not prevent Him from dying, but He did strengthen Him that night (Luke 22:43), and three days later He raised Him from the dead. Let us be assured that even when God must say no to our requests, He is listening, and in the end His will is righteous and for our good always.
Let us pray!