In my last article I mentioned that I wanted to make 2016 my year of prayer. I did so in part to renew my own prayer life but also to learn more about prayer. All of us began our journey in the school of prayer as learners rather than experts. At some point along the way we all faced certain nagging questions: Is God really listening? If God knows everything, what’s the point of me telling Him something He already knows? Does prayer really make a difference? Why would He seemingly answer a small trivial prayer and not something really important? Does prayer change God or change me? These questions will eventually come to focus on the one big question: “Why pray?”
There have been gallons of ink spilled trying to answer that question but there is no better answer than simply the example of Jesus – “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray . . .” The Son of God, who knew the wisdom of His heavenly Father above any of us, felt such a strong compelling need to pray that he made it a regular habit of His life. Surely if the Son of God needed to pray how much more do I need to value and practice the act of prayer?
If the example of Jesus is the most compelling answer to the question of why one prays, then it seems to me we can learn something from the prayer life of Jesus. The Gospels record for us over a dozen of His prayers. I believe the prayers He prayed, the times and places He prayed them and the reasons He prayed them offer us remarkable insight into why Jesus prayed and consequently why we should pray.
Why Jesus Prayed
- Jesus prayed during times of trouble. The prayers of Jesus in the Wilderness, Gethsemane and on Golgotha represent times of trouble and soul sorrow. The Hebrew writer tells us that, “He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears . . .” (Heb.5:7)
Lesson: Times of great sorrow or personal upheaval fray our emotions, cloud our thinking and challenge our faith. Jesus took these situations to prayer and it was prayer that enabled Him to come through with the attitude and spirit that said, “. . . not my will, but thine, be done.”
Jesus prayed for others. He prayed for children brought to him by their mothers. He prayed for the onlookers at Lazarus tomb. He prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. He prayed for His disciples that they would be “sanctified through the truth.” He prayed for all who would believe on His name. He prayed while hanging on the cross for those who nailed Him there.
Lesson: Prayer should have an “others orientation” to it. Jesus showed a remarkable lack of concern about his own needs. “Take this cup from me” may represent the only time Jesus asked something for himself. We also learn that we can and should take every situation, every person and every need to our Heavenly Father in prayer. We should live in a conversational relationship with God about everything and everyone in our lives.
- Jesus used prayer to recharge spiritually. After a long day of exhausting ministry Jesus would escape into the wilderness, only to emerge with a renewed sense of mission, direction and power. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” Jesus told His disciples. The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark offers amazing insight into a weary Jesus finding personal renewal, clarity of direction and great power to minister after a time of prayer.
Lesson: The Chinese join two characters (heart and killing) to form a single pictograph for their word for busyness. That is stunningly incisive – it is true literally and spiritually. The heart is the place the busy life exacts its steepest toll. Too much work, the British used to say, makes Jack a dull boy. But it’s worse than that. It numbs Jack, parches Jack, and hardens Jack. It kills his heart. When we get too busy we lose something vitally important to the spiritual life. It is the solitude of prayer that allows our hearts to be refreshed, renewed and refocused on the things that really matter. When you choose to retreat to the place of prayer in the middle of all your busyness, you will find that you can work hard and not be destroyed by your failures or your successes.
- Jesus prayed before and around momentous or key events. Moments such as: His baptism, the selection of His disciples, His transfiguration on the Mount and before his final redemptive act and return to heaven.
Lesson: The night I was elected President of GBS, Dr. Wingrove Taylor ask me to accompany him to the prayer room in the men’s residence hall. When we arrived, he turned to me and said, “As President of GBS you will have many low moments but you will also have many high moments – moments of great accomplishment. In the low moments turn to God in prayer. But make sure you take the high moments, the great moments, to God in prayer too.”
- Jesus prayed just to commune with His Father. The prayers of Jesus reveal a spontaneous communion with the Father that has no precedent anywhere else in scripture. Jesus prayed just to engage in intimate conversation with His Father.
Lesson: Prayer is the currency of friendship and intimacy with God. God wants to be wanted – enough so that we should be ready, predisposed, to linger in His presence. Dallas Willard says that spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:12)
(To be continued)