Over the past few weeks, we have been talking about prayer. We have looked in the pages of the Old Testament for examples of how ancient worshipers of God prayed, and we have sought to utilize these examples to understand and enrich our own practice of prayer.
Now, it is time for us to turn our attention to the New Testament. More specifically, we need to look at the one person who is, above all, our example—Jesus. Obviously, our Lord taught his disciples how to pray (cf. Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-13). But his teaching on the subject is surprisingly brief; and besides, some of us learn better by watching how a master practices his or her craft than we do by direct instruction.
So, what can we learn from how Jesus himself prayed? It would be nice if the writers of the four gospels had spent more time on the topic. For the most part, we just catch glimpses here and there of what surely was a much deeper and richer reality.
Still, I think that the gospels highlight for us at least three aspects of our Lord’s prayer life that can be instructive for us. They include the following:
- Jesus’ prayer life was strategic. We can only assume that Jesus prayed a lot and that he prayed consistently. The experts in such matters tell us that this is how he would have been trained to pray. But the gospels are especially keen to point out that Jesus prayed at the most important times of his life. He prayed when his public ministry began. He prayed when he chose his disciples. He prayed when his ministry was about to climax at the cross. Jesus prayed when it mattered most. Prayer was not an unnecessary add-on to his spiritual life. It was the practice to which he turned when the chips were down, when he needed his Father’s help and strength the most.
- Jesus’ prayer life was authentic. Jesus was not fake when he prayed. When he was confident in God and in what God had empowered him to do, he said so. When he felt weak and broken, he said so. He just came to God with all that was in his heart, and he shared his heart fully with God.
- Jesus’ prayer life was a reflection and a demonstration of his faith. Jesus could not have been as authentic with God unless he really trusted God. That trust not only allowed him to pour out his heart to God, but it also allowed him to rise from his prayers with a heart prepared to submit to what God had told him. He was confident that the Father’s way was best, and he was able to live into that confidence—even if it led him to a cross.
Jesus did not receive everything that he asked for in prayer. After all, he still had to go to the cross. Nevertheless, his relationship with his Father was both expressed in and bolstered by his prayers. So, it is not surprising that we see so much unity and gratitude in his prayers (especially in John’s Gospel).
Imitating Jesus in anything can seem like an impossible task, and prayer is no exception. That is why we need other examples. But we also need to imitate Jesus. We need to be strategic about when and how we pray. We need to be authentic in how we address God, even as we try to be reverent and humble. And above all, we need to pray in ways that demonstrate our faith in God. These may be simple guidelines, but they can have an enormous impact on our lives as worshipers of God and followers of Jesus.