In one of my previous posts (from a long time ago), I started talking about prayer as a spiritual discipline and I ended up discussing some of the pitfalls of prayer. Well, because I am trying to follow Jesus, I very quickly find myself asking, “How did Jesus pray? Under what circumstances? How did he teach his disciples to pray?” So today, I would like to take a quick look at some of Jesus’s prayers and what we learn from both his teaching and his example. Note that this is not exhaustive.
Luke 5:16 (Persistence and Consistency)
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was a celebrity in his day. When he traveled to a town, many crowds would come out to hear him speak and to receive healing from him as he traveled. In other words, everywhere he went there were people who wanted to knock on his office door (if he had had one) and talk to him. Yet according to Luke, Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Whatever he had going, whatever pressing concerns or tasks he had to do, Jesus understood that speaking to and hearing from God his Father was essential for the health of his own heart and mind, not to mention that he could not accomplish his mission on Earth without the power of his Father.
John 11:1-44 (Building Up the Faith of Others)
In the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we see a particularly striking passage where Jesus, having asked that Lazarus’s body be exposed to the light of day for his impending resurrection, Jesus prays out loud to the Father: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
This seems like a strange prayer to say. Is this not similar to how the Pharisees prayed – out loud, in public, for all to hear? The key difference here is the motive. The Pharisees prayed out loud so that their particular brand of hollow piety could be admired by their listeners. Jesus wants to reassure his audience that yes, he really is a representative of the Father, and yes, the miracle he is about to perform is endorsed and empowered by the Father. In so doing, his motive is to build the faith and trust of others and give ultimate glory to the Father.
Luke 6:12-13 (Making Important Decisions)
After referring to Jesus’s consistency in prayer with God, Luke then reports to us that Jesus spent one whole night away from the disciples in prayer. When Jesus returns, he then proceeds with selecting his Twelve Disciples, those who will follow him more closely than any others for the rest of his life, both as his disciples and his closest friends. Although we are not privy to what Jesus prayed, it is natural for me to suppose he was praying about this very important decision he had ahead of him, likely asking for wisdom as he chose his closest followers. It sounds strange even to my mind that Jesus himself sought wisdom in order to make the best decisions, but I think that is in this text: we see that Jesus looked to his Father for wisdom in making difficult decisions.
Matthew 26:36-46 (Emotional Struggles)
When Jesus was going through his darkest moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, his reaction was to pray. The most extraordinary part of this prayer is that he says, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” He knew what was coming, and he wanted to avoid it. If you believe in love as a feeling or an emotion, then it doesn’t seem right for Jesus to be so emotionally conflicted about giving his life. This is how we know that love – true love – is a choice. Jesus was laying down his life, and in that moment he knew his future was going to bring a lot of pain and suffering. Not only was he confident and trusting enough in his Father that he was willing to go through with this, but he willingly put his life in the hands of God.
Luke 23: 33-35 (Forgiveness from the Cross)
Arguably, one of the most important prayers for a Christian is what is said in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our debts (or trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (or, those who trespass against us).” Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer that our salvation is conditional on our forgiveness of those who have wronged us. Jesus modeled this for us on the cross. He asked the Father to “forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Who is “they?” On one hand, it’s easy to see: the Pharisees who had conspired to get Jesus crucified. But it could just as easily be Pilate, who saw that an unjust execution was going to take place and literally washed his hands of it. Or it could’ve been his disciples, who abandoned him at the most difficult moment in his ministry. Or it could’ve been me, since before Christ I lived in such a way that was as much of a betrayal of Jesus as the disciples.
I think that “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” was for all of us. That was the institution of the new law of grace – the new covenant. If nothing else, that tells us a great deal about the power of forgiveness and the power of prayer.