Lord, Teach Us to Pray
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
The Gospel of Luke opens small windows into the prayer life of Jesus. In Luke 5:16, we’re told that “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” In the next chapter, he “went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night” (6:12). In the ninth chapter, Jesus “left the crowds to pray alone” (9:18). Shortly thereafter, he “took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray” (9:28.)
On one occasion when Jesus was praying, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (11:1). This disciple surely knew how to pray in the way common to the Jewish people. Yet he sensed, quite rightly, that as a follower of Jesus he should pray in a distinctive way, a way that expressed the distinctive message and ministry of his master.
The prayer that Jesus taught this disciple, and, by implication, his fellow disciples, seems to us most familiar and yet strangely different. It is a version of what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.” Yet it is shorter than the prayer most Christians know so well. In fact, our Lord’s Prayer is based on the rendering of this prayer found in the Gospel of Matthew (6:9-13). The fact that we have two similar yet distinct prayers in the Gospels suggests that Jesus and his earliest followers didn’t have one, fixed prayer that they uttered in exactly the same way every time. Jesus did not give his disciples a verbal formula, but rather a model to be emulated, a thematic grid to guide but not limit their prayers. There’s nothing wrong with memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and repeating it often. Yet, we would do well not only to repeat the words of this prayer, but also to let its themes and theology guide all of our prayers.
In the next few days, I will focus closely on the prayer Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 11:2-4. In this way, I hope to gain and share deeper insight into how we might pray as followers of Jesus. Today, I want to underscore the request of the disciple of Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Don’t you yearn to learn to pray from Jesus? Wouldn’t you like to talk with God in the way of Jesus, our master? Can you echo the disciple’s request as you speak with Jesus today? “Lord, teach us to pray!”
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How did you learn to pray? Who were your teachers? When did you learn the Lord’s prayer? Do you say this prayer? In what contexts? Would you like Jesus to teach you how to pray?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I’ve been praying for more than fifty years. I can still remember the prayers of my childhood as my family prayed before meals and as I said my prayers before bedtime. “God is great, God is good...." “Now I lay me down to sleep...." I thank you for my parents who first taught me to pray.
I also thank you for my Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, for my pastors and camp counselors, who taught me to pray by their example and through specific instruction. I also give you thanks, Lord, for writers whose instruction on prayer I read in books. I thank you for those “prayer warriors” with whom I have had the privilege to pray, men and women whose passion and faith stirred their hearts and mine. I thank you for those who walked alongside me on the journey of prayer, for my small group brothers, for my fellow leaders at the Hollywood and Irvine churches. Thanks also, Lord, for my wife and children, with whom prayer has been an exploration of intimacy.
How grateful I am for the Psalms, your prayerbook. These prayers have helped me to pray more openly and truly. They have given me the freedom to tell you the truth about my soul, even as they have challenged me to pray with greater faith.
For all of these, I give thanks, Lord. Yet, I sense that I still have so much to learn about prayer. There is so much more about conversation with you that I have yet to understand or experience. So, like your disciple in Luke 11, I ask: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Indeed, Lord, teach me to pray! Amen.
Devotional Reflections in Preparation for Easter
As we approach Easter, I am publishing on my blog a series of devotional reflections based on a biblical version of the Stations of the Cross. Each day until Easter, I am focusing on a passage in Gospels that reveals something about the Passion of Jesus. My devotions also feature original artwork by my wife, whose watercolor paintings help bring the scriptural story to life. You can find these devotions at my new blog location: http://www.patheos.com/community/markdroberts/. Patheos is an outstanding website that fosters a serious, open, mutually-respectful conversation about all things religious. I encourage you to check out this fine site.