We believers may harbor imprecise, if not inaccurate, notions about prayer. Some people feel that they may command God; others believe that they may approach Him in any old way they wish; some come disregarding God’s holiness and presuming on His grace. Although in one sense, as no one needs to teach a little child to petition his human father, so the newborn child of God “instinctively” cries “Abba, Father” to His God and Savior. In another sense, it is also true that a young child must be taught to respect his natural father when petitioning him, to not make demands, but requests, and to come recognizing that the parent knows what is best for the child. And so it is with our Heavenly Father.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the twelve disciples never asked the Lord how to perform miracles or how to teach and preach, but they did ask Him to teach them to pray? “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples’” (Lk. 11:1). Inspiration does not reveal to us directly what provoked the request, but it must be significant that the request followed a prayer that the Lord Jesus had offered, apparently within the hearing of His disciples. Nor can we state for certain what it was about the Lord’s praying that instigated their request. Was it the sense of intimate relationship with His Father? Was it the mixture of perfect humility and complete, confident faith? Was it the nature of His requests? The fact that He seemed constantly to be praying? Or an aggregation of all of these?
Perhaps they were familiar with the formal prayers offered in the synagogue and the proud, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous prayers spoken conspicuously in the streets by the Pharisees. Hearing the Lord pray, their thoughts might have been similar to that of the officers charged with arresting Jesus, who returning empty-handed and being asked by the Pharisees why they had failed to arrest the Lord, said: “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks” (John 7:46).
Given the arrogant presumption of many so-called prayers today, our attention ought to be arrested by the realization that Jesus Christ, although He was very God, never commanded His Father to do anything, honestly expressed His needs and desires, but sincerely prayed for the Father’s will to prevail, even if it was contrary to His own desires. It is truly remarkable that the God-Man reverenced the Father in prayer. He never allowed His perfect intimacy and complete harmony with the Father—or the fact that He Himself was God—to bleed into crass familiarity or vulgar casualness.
Perhaps the most succinct way to express the character of our Lord’s praying would be to quote Jude’s command to believers always to be “praying in the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). The Lord Jesus prayed always and only “in the Holy Spirit.” That is, He prayed according to the Word of God, for the will of God, and for the glory of God. In so doing, He prayed in perfect accord with the Holy Spirit. But we, on the other hand, “do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Furthermore, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (v. 27). We need that intercession because we do not always know, or even want, the will of God. But we will be obeying what the Lord taught His disciples about prayer as we praise and thank God, as we in faith and humility express our needs and desires to the Lord, and as we “are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Think how brief was the teaching that the Lord gave His disciples in response to their request (Which was a wonderful prayer in itself, was it not?). And take heart by noting how quickly and perfectly He answered their prayer. He needed to tell them so little because they and we will be best instructed regarding prayer by learning about the Lord and by coming both to reverence and to love Him.
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