by Steven Chan
- Praying to God was a regular practice in the life of Jesus.
In Luke 11:1, the bible recorded that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray – after they had seen Him praying: “Now it came to pass, as He 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.”
Jesus prayed early in the morning: “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” (Mark 1:35) The Bible tells us that on one occasion, Jesus even prayed all night: “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)
- Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray?
They saw Jesus spending much time in prayer and observed that John also taught his disciples to pray. This request by the disciples implies that one needs to learn how to pray in a manner acceptable to God.
One cannot just “simply pray anyhow” and expect God to hear one’s prayers. A simple prayer can be effective: “‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). Whereas a carefully constructed but self-serving prayer, that is, one that exalts one’s own accomplishments – a listing of so-called “righteous acts”, is ineffectual (eg. the prayer by the Pharisees, Luke 18:11-12).
Our attitude before God is critical: “be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:5-7). Jesus pointed out to us that the publican “would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast” – demonstrating his humble and contrite heart. Praying to God without careful thought is being disrespectful to Him as it betrays our lack of faith and respect for Him (James 1:6-8; Lev 10:3; Heb 12:28)
God knows our hearts when we pray: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom 8:26-27). So, let’s watch our attitude and heart when we pray.
James later wrote that there are many “missing things” in our lives because we failed to ask God in prayer. On the occasions that we did ask God we did not receive because we asked “amiss” – meaning that those prayers were for the wrong reasons/purpose or with improper motives: ““You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3). James added that one needs to be “righteous” for one’s “fervent or earnest” prayer to be effectual (James 5:16); in other words, one must live in the way that God wants.
John wrote that we need to ask in accordance with God’s will: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His Will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5:14-15) If we live according to His Will, then we can have the assurance that God will hear and grant us what we asked as we would have asked in accordance with His will. Jesus taught that God’s Will should take precedence in our prayers and in our lives (Matt 6:33; 26:39).
- Jesus taught that our prayers should be addressed to the Father with all adoration and respect. Let’s accept what Jesus taught and not try to be clever and contend that we can also pray to the Holy Spirit or to Jesus as after all, all three comprised the Godhead.
Likewise, please do not confuse the respective roles of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is the Father who sent Jesus. It is the Son who died and shed His blood on the cross. It is the Holy Spirit who helped the apostles to remember all that Jesus had taught them and to also lead them into all truth so that the apostles could continue to deliver the once for all delivered faith (the teachings of the New Covenant) (John 14:26, 16:13; Jude 3). “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) So, when we pray to the Father, do not thank Him for shedding His blood – it was the Son who shed His blood. Please do not confuse their respective roles.
In our prayers, matters concerning our Heavenly Father’s business on earth should take precedence over all other matters: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done” (Luke 11:2; Luke 2:49; John 4:34)
- Jesus taught us to acknowledge in our prayers that He is the ultimate source of our daily provisions (Luke 11:3): “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6). “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.” (Prov 16:3)
- Jesus taught us to remember our spiritual status when we approach our Lord in prayers – that we are sinners and that we need His forgiveness so that our good relationship with Him is maintained (Luke 11:4).
- Jesus taught us that we need to ensure that our relationship with fellow brethren and with others, are characterized by our own willingness to “forgive those who sinned against us” (Luke 11:4). To the extent that we are willing to forgive those who sinned against us, we will likewise receive forgiveness from God.
Jesus on the cross prayed thus: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”(Luke 23:34). Those who crucified Him were yet unrepentant then, but Jesus still prayed for their forgiveness. It is, of course, up to God to forgive them if and when they repent (Acts 2:38, 3:19). But as between Jesus and those who crucified Him, Jesus demonstrated an attitude of love and compassion towards them because they were ignorant of what they had done. Similarly, Paul received His mercy and grace because in his ignorance, he persecuted the church: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim 1:13).
- Finally, Jesus taught us to acknowledge in our prayers God’s grace to help as we face the daily challenge of temptations that may cause us to sin (Luke 11:4): “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed iswilling, but the flesh isweak.”(Matt 26:41). “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:11-13). “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)
We need to pray daily as we walk by faith in God and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7; Gal 2:20). We need to learn to pray humbly, persistently, fervently and ask in accordance with God’s Will as we seek to live soberly, righteously and in a godly manner (Titus 2:12). We need to place all our plans and daily activities under God’s guidance and blessings. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)
Jesus taught that “men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). If we pray often, then it is unlikely that we will become discouraged in our heart because God will strengthen and uphold us: “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Eph 3:16-17)