AR"Lord, Teach Us to Pray"Jesus prayed for spiritual strength. He prayed for His disciples and God’s salvation. Each prayer He made was according to God’s purpose. What do you pray for?Prayer plays an important role in a Christian’s earthly journey and it affects the direction of his spiritual life. Jesus emphasized its significance by teaching His disciples what to say in prayer and the importance of praying without ceasing. More notably, He taught them by example.
Now it came to
pass, as [Jesus] 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
According to the
Gospel of Luke, Jesus was a prayerful man; He prayed often, whenever and
wherever He saw fit. Luke 11 tells of one instance when He prayed with His
disciples. It's unusual that the disciples, having followed their Master for
a long while, were still ignorant of how to pray and of the meaning of
prayer. John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, as Jesus?disciples
may have noticed and admired. They then asked their Master to do the same so
that they could follow suit and perhaps be viewed as equals among their
peers. Jesus responded to their request and began to teach them what to say
in their prayer, the content of which, as the Lord's Prayer, has become
quite familiar to us modern Christians (Lk 11:2-4; cf. Mt 6:9-13).
Jesus is God
incarnate. Theoretically, He does not have to pray, because praying to
oneself is self-contradictory and does not make sense. Jesus did pray,
however, and prayed quite a lot. We may interpret this as an expression of
His human needs. It may also be a manifestation of His filial humility. The
more appropriate explanation, it seems to me, should be that He demonstrated
Himself the model Christian, an ideal character He wanted His disciples to
emulate. We can elaborate this point by focusing on some accounts in the
Gospel of Luke.
Jesus Prayed for Preparation
Luke mentions that
while Jesus was being baptized by John the Baptist, He was at the same time
praying (Lk 3:21). This observation is unparalleled among the Synoptic
Gospels. It shows that Luke regards Jesus?praying as highly significant
in relation to the subsequent opening of heaven and confirmation of Jesus?
divine sonship (Lk 3:22). It also has close bearing on what Jesus intended
shortly to do. After His baptism and prayer, Jesus was filled with the Holy
Spirit and went to meet His Temptation, a spiritual struggle that
inaugurated His earthly mission (Lk 4:1).
After his Temptation,
Jesus pronounced His plan of salvation at the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk
4:16-19). He then performed a series of mighty acts in various places,
including casting out the demon in Capernaum, healing Peter's mother-in-law,
producing a miraculous catch of fish in the lake of Gennesaret, and
cleansing a leper in a certain city, all of which testified to the fact that
the reign of God had dawned in the human world (Lk 4:31-5:14). We should be
reminded that Jesus accomplished these miracles due to His sound preparation—most
notably, His prayers.
The miracles Jesus
performed brought Him fame and praise, and great crowds gathered about Him (Lk
5:15). This immediate "success," however, did not cloud His sense
of mission or lead to vainglory. Rather, He made an unexpected and dramatic
turn: He withdrew to deserted places and prayed (Lk 5:16). Jesus began His
ministry with prayer and ended His holy work with prayer, too. He knew
pretty well when and how to start, as well as when and how to stop. By
praying, Jesus manifested not only His power but also His wisdom. This quiet
retreat into solitary prayer concluded His previous busy engagements; it at
the same time prepared Him for more work to come.
Jesus Prayed for Missionary Direction
Jesus was conscious of
the significance of His mission, and to Him prayer was the only way to
realize what He was entrusted with. It was His usual practice to pray on the
mountain. When it came to important decisions, He would pray longer and more
earnestly. Luke informs us that in order to select the twelve disciples who
were to form His inner circle, Jesus prayed all night (Lk 6:12). Afterwards
He chose the best candidates from among the multitude of followers and named
them apostles, or messengers (Lk 6:13). They became Jesus's co-workers who
would together proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 9:1-2).
Again, Jesus did not have to pray in order to pick up the right men for His
service. He prayed for our learning; He wanted to show how crucial it is to
make prayers whenever important affairs arise. He prayed because as God
incarnate He sympathized with our weakness and intended to point a way out
of this weakness for us.
Jesus Prayed for Transformation
Sometimes Jesus prayed
alone, but at times He liked His disciples to pray with Him (Lk 9:18; 11:1).
This is because while prayer might be very private, it can also be communal.
Communal prayer was especially teachable and demonstrable. On one occasion
Jesus took with Him Peter, John, and James, the pillars of the future church
(Gal 2:9), to pray on the mountain. There the Master was transfigured,
assuming His celestial appearance in dazzling glory. The slumbering
disciples were awakened, amazed and speechless, to witness Jesus?
spiritual identity (Lk 9:28-36). This scene of revelation might be mystical
in a sense, but its message is by no means impalpable. The Master brought
His close disciples to the mountain not so much to disclose His true self as
to demonstrate the way to divinity. Through deep prayer, as Jesus would
teach, one could transform one's base humanity and gradually ascend to the
spiritual height, a realm where such respectful figures as Moses and Elijah
reached. Indeed, if Jesus and the ancient saints could become divine through
prayers, His disciples should and could do likewise.
Jesus Prayed with Persistence and Humility
Jesus taught His
disciples how to pray through His living demonstration. In addition, He
taught them the right attitude of prayer through parables. Luke records two
of Jesus's parables about prayer in chapter 18, which are also unique among
the Synoptic Gospels. The first is about a poor widow who was bullied by her
opponent and sought justice from a corrupt judge. She appealed to him
incessantly. The judge, although godless, granted her request due to her
insistent entreaties. If even an unjust judge could change his mind, as
Jesus underlined His lesson, "shall God not avenge His own elect who
cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you
that He will avenge them speedily" (Lk 18:7).
The second parable is
about two contrasting characters, a self-righteous Pharisee and a repentant
tax collector. The former prayed to God with a conceited mind and pompous
words, intending to elevate his importance in the presence of God. The
latter, realizing that he was a sinner unworthy of God's grace, simply asked
for God's mercy. Jesus again concluded His parable with a clear verdict:
"everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
himself will be exalted" (Lk 18:14). A spirit of persistence, humility,
and repentance is the means for making effective prayers.
Jesus did not merely
emphasize this in His parables; He demonstrated praying with a persistent
and humble spirit in the last stage of His life. When He was about to be
arrested, Jesus prayed in agony at Gethsemane. He sensed the impending
danger, fully aware of the pain and suffering waiting ahead. If possible, He
prayed, He would avoid tasting the bitter cup. Yet out of His filial
submission, He would see the Father's will fulfilled. His prayer this time
was another psychological tug-of-war, a spiritual struggle more serious than
His first Temptation. He prayed with such importunity that, as Luke vividly
describes, an angel from heaven appeared to Him and gave Him strength. In
His anguish He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became "like great
drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Lk 22:42-43). God listened
to His prayer as a result, and the heavenly power Jesus gained brought His
mission to the perfect, final consummation.
Emulating Jesus through Prayer
Jesus advised His
disciples to pray in alertness (Lk 21:36), and twice he warned them to
escape from trial through constant prayer (Lk 22:40, 46). Prayer henceforth
plays a decisive role in a Christian's earthly journey and substantially
determines his spiritual life. Recognizing the importance of prayer, how
then do we get started? The question is akin to the wish Jesus?disciples
expressed when they said, "Lord, teach us to pray." He taught them
what to say when they prayed, but more significantly He demonstrated to them
how and when to pray in real-life situations. He prayed at the beginning and
end of holy work. He withdrew into solitary and quiet prayer even in an
extremely busy schedule. He prayed very earnestly when facing important
decisions. He revealed His divine appearance in prayer to show us the means
for spiritual transformation. And in every prayer, He was always persistent,
humble, and serious. If Jesus showed Himself a model Christian, should we
not try our best to emulate Him?