walk in the word
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.” And he said to them, “When you pray . . . ” (Luke 11:1–2, ESV).
Roughly 60 percent of Americans claim they pray daily. Another nearly 20 percent claim to pray weekly. Those stats suggest a significant amount of praying is going on. Yet there is also evidence that what we call “prayer” doesn’t fit God’s definition or expectations.
Dig a little deeper and we find that many are going through the motions, and feel frustrated about prayer even as they try to practice it. Some people “pray” without actually addressing God. Many who do voice their prayers are talking to someone they don’t even know. To them, God is a complete stranger they might turn to for help if things get bad enough. How sad and empty prayer must feel for so many—including many of us.
As we develop the core disciplines of a sincere faith, we must include work on prayer. Even those of us who have grown up around praying people need instruction. And who better to learn from than Jesus Christ . . .
The twelve disciples spent three years hanging out with Jesus. They watched Him, traveled with Him, listened to Him. Even though He was a Master Teacher, there is no record they ever asked Him, “Lord, teach us to teach.” And not once did they say, “Lord, teach us how to do miracles,” though we know He worked awesome wonders. As far as we know, the disciples’ only request for instruction was, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
With a front-row seat to the life of Christ, what truly captured the disciples’ attention was the way He prayed. Jesus had a habit of retreating from the demanding crowds and spending time alone in conversation with His Father, as seen in Mark 1:35. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Exposed to the Lord 24/7, the disciples concluded, “The thing we’ve got to figure out is prayer. Jesus has that going on!”
It’s not surprising that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally in perfect communion with the Father, made prayer a priority. Jesus responded to the disciples by introducing what we now call The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:2–4, Matthew 6:9–13).
Let’s camp today on the disciples’ request. They not only went to the right instructor, they also went with the right intent. This was more than a “how-to” request; it was a “give-us-the-desire-to-pray” petition. After noticing the pattern of prayer in Jesus’ life, they longed to see it replicated in their own lives. They saw Him slip out of the house to pray in the early morning, while they rolled over for a little more sleep. They watched Him pause to thank His Father at various times and draw attention to the bigger picture (John 11:41–42).
Before He even gave them the pattern of The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus graciously encouraged them with the words, “When you pray.” Not “if you pray” but “when you pray”—Jesus expected the disciples to pray. Driven by circumstances or as a spiritual discipline, He knew His own would turn to the Father in prayer.
They needed that expectation as much as we do. Our failure to pray rarely rises from lack of technique or subject matter. Often we fail at prayer simply because we don’t keep at it. We try to pray and quickly give up—yet prayer is the breathing of our spiritual life. Just as we can’t afford to stop pulling air into our lungs, so we also can’t survive spiritually without the healthy respirations of prayer.
When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” that simple request was in and of itself praying. Make it your persistent prayer for a few days. Ask Him out loud. If a specific direction or thought doesn’t come to mind, read and reflect on The Lord’s Prayer. Spin off from certain verses of Jesus’ prayer, and expound with your own words.
By giving us a model, Jesus wasn’t inviting rote repetition; He was offering a healthy pattern. Just as He taught His disciples, so He is willing to teach us all things (John 14:26)—including how to pray.
Give your prayer life a realistic check-up (or autopsy). What’s the status?
What would a significant step forward in the spiritual discipline of prayer look like in your life?
Lord, teach me to pray. When I open my eyes in the morning, teach me to pray, when my head rests on the pillow at night—teach me to pray. When troubles, successes, sadness, and joy come my way, or when I fear, teach me to pray. When I am calm and resolved, when I plan and when I fail, and when I consider how very little time I have left on this earth, O Lord, teach me to pray. In Jesus’ name always, amen.
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