“Lord, teach us to pray.”
uke says this simple request came after Jesus’ disciples had seen Him praying (11:1). Jesus, they had observed, was a man of prayer. Each of the Gospel writers emphasizes this point.
Mark describes the press of people coming to Jesus to be healed. On the next day, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (1:35).1
Matthew writes that on one occasion Jesus, after preaching to great crowds, “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” (14:23).
Luke draws attention to Jesus’ prayer life most of all. Eleven times in his Gospel he refers to Jesus praying. At Jesus’ baptism, it was as He was praying that the Holy Spirit came upon Him like a dove (3:21). Luke tells us that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (5:16). On one occasion, before He chose the twelve apostles, Jesus “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (6:12). It was “as he was praying,” that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning” (9:29). And Luke tells us that in the Garden of Gethsemane, “being in anguish, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).
John in his Gospel devotes an entire chapter (17) to the text of one of Jesus’ prayers.
Jesus prayed. For Him prayer was a priority; prayer was a passion; prayer was a part of Him, like lifeblood. We can say that Jesus lived a life of prayer. We might be tempted to wonder why. Wasn’t He the Son of God? Why did He need to pray? But that line of question gets it all wrong. Jesus lived a life of prayer precisely because He was the Son of God. For that’s what prayer is about. Prayer is engaging in a living relationship with God, communing with Him in love, as a child to a father.
That’s one thing His disciples couldn’t miss when they heard Jesus pray. He addressed God as His “Father.” The Aramaic word they heard was Abba. It was so distinctive that Mark, in recounting Jesus’ prayer in the garden, left it untranslated, just bringing it over into Greek: “Abba, Father,” Jesus said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (14:36).
For the Jews of Jesus’ day, Abba was a very unusual way of addressing God, almost unheard of. It was a familiar form of addressing one’s earthly father, often used in more informal family settings, almost like “Papa” or “Dad” but not quite. On Jesus’ lips it always had a respectful tone. Jesus joined it to terms like “Holy Father” (John 17:11) or “Righteous Father” (John 17:25) or “Father, Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21). But it was still intimate and personal. Jesus prayed as one who really knew the One to whom He was praying. He knew Him as His Father. That’s how Jesus prayed—like no one they had ever before heard. It is no wonder that His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray like that. We want to know God as You do.”
And that’s a request we share—at least I do. So what was it that Jesus taught them in response to that request, “Lord, teach us to pray”?
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