Summary: Jesus gave us a Pattern, Promise, and Partner for Prayer!
LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
Lord, teach us to pray! How did you learn to pray? Often, we learn by the examples of people around us. Some of us can think back to our earliest childhood memories and think of the simple prayers our parents used at the table and at the bedside. Others have learned from examples they heard at church or at school (if they happened to go to a Christian school)—or even radio or television. Others were taught to pray their first prayer by the person who brought them to faith, who may have lead them in a simple prayer in which they confessed their sins and their lost condition, expressed their trust in God for forgiveness and salvation for sake of Jesus who died and rose for them, thanked God for the gift of the Holy Spirit who brought them to faith, and asked God to continue to guide and bless them in their Christian journey until life’s end. Still others may have learned by trial and error as they read God’s Word and applied it to their daily lives. In addition, there are many good books on the subject that can teach a person the basics of prayer. There are also many devotional materials that contain fine examples of prayer, helpful for learning to pray. I suspect that for many who pray, many if not all of these things have influenced their prayer lives.
Why does a person want to learn to pray? One of the things that motivated the disciples to ask Jesus was that they saw Him pray often. He prayed on everyday occasions. As He was ministering to the crowds by teaching, preaching and healing, He would often go off by Himself afterward and spend hours talking with His Father. He also prayed on special occasions: when He was baptized, before he chose the twelve, before Peter’s confession of faith, when He was transfigured on the mountain, when the 72 returned from their mission, when He fed the 5,000, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper—and those agonizing hours afterwards when he awaited his betrayer. He prayed on cross itself, and He prayed when he ate with the Emmaus disciples after his resurrection. The disciples wanted to pray because they saw how important it was to Jesus—how much a part of his life it was.
The disciples also expressed a desire to receive the same kind of treatment John’s disciples did. It was common for religious teachers to teach their disciples a specific prayer that identified them as that person’s disciples. The twelve wanted a prayer that would identify them as Jesus’ disciples. Even to this day, the Lord’s Prayer is something that is almost universally shared by Christians wherever you go, despite the other differences that may separate us!
There was a deeper longing, however, than simply to imitate or identify with Jesus. We all have a part of us that longs to know God intimately and fully, even as He knows us. We want to be able to “walk with Him and talk with Him.” It is a sad longing that has been shared by humanity ever since we lost the ability to commune with him as our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve could just talk to God whenever they wanted to, and He could also speak to them directly. They didn’t have to be taught to pray back then—it just came naturally. There was nothing in the way that hindered communication. What a tragedy that the last words ever spoken to God that way were words of blame that attempted to hide our own personal guilt for disobeying and rebelling against Him! Yet, somehow, Jesus demonstrated a closeness to God that the disciples had never seen before, and they wanted this for their lives.
Over the years we’ve learned to hide the longing to return to that kind of relationship with God. We either pretend it isn’t there, or mistake it as a longing for something else. But it’s a longing that can’t be satisfied any other way, and it’s a longing that most people—unless their heart has been completely hardened—still have. Our cry goes out, still today: Lord, teach us to pray!
The good news is that Jesus was glad to answer their—and our—request! He did three things for them: He gave them a pattern for prayer, a promise for prayer, and a partner in prayer.
1. THE PATTERN: The pattern Jesus gave them is known today as the Lord’s prayer. In the Gospel of Luke, we have a somewhat briefer version than in Matthew, but that’s not a big issue. What He gave them was not so much a word-for-word prayer for to recite, but an outline to shape their prayer lives around. The amazing thing is that in a few short phrases, Jesus managed to capture the essence of a truly vital life of prayer. Another amazing thing is that He was already actively engaged in doing the very things that he taught the disciples to pray about!