The disciples watched and waited as Jesus prayed. When He finished talking to the Father, one of the disciples had a question. Speaking for the rest, he said, “Lord, John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray. Would you teach us how to pray?” (see Luke 11:1). This nameless disciple’s request prompted the lesson on prayer (Luke 11:2–13). In this chapter, I want to focus your attention on the Jesus’ instructions. But let’s consider the disciples’ request first.
When was this request made? The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after observing Him in prayer. This was not the first time they had seen Jesus pray. The references to the prayer life of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel alone make it clear that Jesus was devoted to prayer (see Luke 3:21; 6:12; 9:28–29; 22:31–32, 39–46). The regular, passionate, and reverent times of prayer that Jesus practiced moved and motivated the disciples. Finally, they asked Jesus to teach them to have the same sense of personal communion with God the Father. In this, the disciples should be our example. One of the primary reasons why you and I ought to pray is because Jesus prayed. Think about it. Jesus is the God-Man, the blending of complete deity and perfect humanity. In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). Yet Jesus prayed. And if Jesus felt it necessary to pray, how much more do we need to learn how pray.
To whom was this request made? The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. This obvious point is significant. If you want to develop a new skill, learn a new trade, or nurture a new discipline, wisdom will lead you to consult a qualified expert to teach or train you. That’s what the disciples did. Who can better teach you how to pray than the Lord Jesus? Being fully human, Jesus knows all about offering prayer. Being fully divine, Jesus knows all about answering prayer. Do you really want to learn how to pray? Go to the feet of Jesus and ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Why is this request so important? Luke 11:1 is the only place in the Gospels where the disciples directly ask Jesus to teach them something. They asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, not to preach or do miracles. In Luke 9 and 10, Jesus sent out the disciples with power to preach and perform miracles. When they returned, they reported that even demons were subject to them in Christ’s name (Luke 10:17). Yet they still needed to learn how to pray. Why? I believe the wonder-working disciples made this request because prayer is one of the most difficult things to learn as a follower of Christ. Harder than preaching and doing miracles! It is one of the hardest lessons to learn because it is one of the most important things to learn in your Christian life. No wonder the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
There is no biblical record of John the Baptist in prayer or teaching his disciples to pray. But this passing statement by the disciples of Jesus is sufficient to conclude that Jesus did teach them. It was customary for rabbis to teach their disciples how to pray. A rabbi would teach his disciples his theory and manner of prayer. This seems to be what the disciples of Jesus expected from Him. They assumed Jesus would teach them His formula for prayer. The “Jesus secret” way to pray. It was the right request. But it was the wrong perspective. They were thinking about the form of prayer, when they should have focused on the object of prayer—God the Father.
Jesus granted their request in an unexpected way. He answered the question they should have been asking. Instead of teaching them a technique, He taught them a truth. Here it is: God answers prayer. This is the most important lesson you can learn about prayer. There is no more encouraging motivation to pray. Prayer matters because it works. Better yet, God works when we pray. God is willing and able to answer prayer. It pleases Him when we pray. The Father delights to hear and answer the prayers of His children. Prayer is the Lord’s appointed means to give us what we need from Him.
H. B. Charles Jr., It Happens after Prayer: Biblical Motivation for Believing Prayer (Chicago, IL: Lift Every Voice, 2013).
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