I’ll never forget the question, even though it has been twenty years since I was asked it. I had just settled into the easy chair in the living room of a pastor friend. I was there to talk with him about his church supporting our new prayer ministry, Harvest Prayer Ministries. Before I could begin my appeal, he startled me by asking the question: “So you’re starting a prayer ministry. What is your personal prayer life like?” It was a valid question. If you are going to teach on prayer, you better be praying.
That’s why it so encouraging to look at the prayer life of Jesus. He didn’t just talk about. it. He prayed. Throughout his life, prayer was woven into both action and teaching. If we are going to dig deep and truly understand prayer, we are going to have to examine the prayer life of Jesus and all that he taught on the subject.
Jesus has a unique perspective on prayer. He is the only one who gets prayer from both sides. He prays to His Father, and on the other hand, as God he is prayed to. He certainly has something to say to us about this subject.
Even a cursory reading of the Gospel shows us the priority Jesus gave to prayer in his own life. Consider these occurances:
- Matt.4:1-11– 40 days of fasting in the desert.
- Mark 1:35 – “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
- Lk.5:16 – “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
- Lk.6:12-13 -”One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also desgnated apostles.”
- Mark 6:46– “After leaving them, he went up on a pountainside to pray.”
- Lk.9:28 – “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him and up onto a mountain to pray.”
- Lk.10:21-22 – Jesus prayed after the return of the 72.
- Mt.11:25-27– praise to the Father
- Mt.14:23– “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountain by himself to pray”.
- John 17:1-16 – The entire chapter is Jesus’ prayer.
- Lk. 22:41-44 – praying in Gethsemane
- Lk.23:34– praying from the cross
It is important for us to consider why Jesus prayed. All too often I hear people say that Jesus prayed as an example for us. While he is certainly a good example of a praying man, his prayer life goes way beyond that. If he was praying merely as an example, he would not have made so many attempts to withdraw from others and pray in secret. No, Jesus prayed not just as a model, but because he had to pray.
Psalm 2:7-8 gives us insight into the “why” of the prayer life of Jesus. In this amazing passage, we are privileged to hear a conversation between the Father and the Son. “He (the Father) said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ “
The Father promises to give the Son planet earth for his willingness to take on human flesh and fulfill the plan of redemption. But, because Jesus is also fully human, he is under the constraints of God’s plan for giving to us. You do not have because you do not ask. Even Jesus had to ask in order to receive.
Prayer was an essential part of the ministry of Jesus. That makes perfect sense since it was his and his Father’s plan to get things done on this planet through prayer. Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to be alone with his Father and to understand what he must do. Jesus said of himself, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing”(John 5:19).
The personal prayer life of Jesus was so central to his ministry and so obvious that it led his disciples to ask him to teach them to pray.(Lk.11) It is fascinating to note that no where in scripture is it recorded that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them anything other than prayer. They watched the amazing life and ministry of Jesus and correctly made the connection to his prayer life. If they were to follow Jesus, they needed to learn to pray like Jesus.
So much has been written about what we often call the Lord’s Prayer that I hesitate to add anything. I would simply suggest that this Model Prayer is God-centered and Kingdom focused. Jesus certainly gives us permission in it to pray about personal matters such as daily bread and dealing with temptation. As I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I often get the feeling that after I have worshiped the Holy One, and have poured myself into praying for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, that whatever bit of energy or time I have left is for personal issues. Jesus teaches us to focus on His Father’s agenda in prayer.
Some of the most difficult teachings of Jesus on prayer are found in the Gospel of John in chapters 14-16. If it were possible, it almost sounds as though Jesus over-promises.
- Jn.14:13 – “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”
- Jn.14:14 – “you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
- Jn. 15:7 – “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”
- Jn.15:16 – “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
- Jn.16:23 – “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
- Jn.16:24 – “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
There is a tendency to try and spiritualize these teachings away. Or to simply believe that Jesus was talking in generalities. What if Jesus meant exactly what he said. “Ask me for anything in my name and I will do it”. If prayer is that which begins with God and is all about accomplishing His agenda on earth, then suddenly these promises seem very practical and do-able.
Ultimately then, these promises have to do more with relationship than our desire to receive something in prayer. In this same section of scripture, Jesus teaches us that he is the vine and that we are the branches. We are not separate, but connected. The only thing that flows through the branches are the things that originate in the vine. When we remain in him, then the things that are in him, that he desires, become possible for us when we ask.
It’s really the same for us as it was for Jesus in his fleshly form. He said that he only did those things he saw his Father doing. The things he said were the things he heard the Father saying. Prayer for us becomes that connectedness through the Spirit with the Father and Son, so that what they desire might be accomplished on earth through the praying Christian. “On earth. as it is in heaven”.
Prayer was such a part of who Jesus was and is, that we are not really surprised when we see how upset he was at the cleansing of the Temple. The Father had declared that His House was to be a house of prayer for all nations. But His people were failing to live up to the naming of the house..
It is important to recognize that we are dealing with something of supernatural significance here. The reaction of Jesus to the lack of prayer in the temple is a huge clue that something is going on that perhaps many have not realized. The godly anger of Jesus could only be his response to something that is totally opposed to his and the Father’s plan.
Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple opens the door to a deeper undertanding of this. In Mark 11:11 we read, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” The next day he came back with purpose, cleansing the temple of the merchants who were defiling the place of prayer. Could it be that He and the Father had a long talk that night about what was happening in their house? Rather than a spur of the moment flare up, it was a carefully considered move that came about at the direction of the Father.
God (Father, Son, and Spirit) has invested something of great signficance in prayer. It is His way of bringing about change on planet earth and at the same time, bringing sons to maturity. Understanding his purpose and his ways will not only change your perspective on prayer, but also on the purpose and nature of the Church