Portraits of Jesus Praying
Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened.—Luke 3:21
Being in tune with his Father is how Jesus starts his earthly ministry.
He teaches that prayer is claiming God’s promises. God has made many promises, but to appreciate them, we must “Ask, and ye shall receive” (John 16:24). The greatest gift is God’s holy spirit (Luke 11:13).
Jesus teaches that prayer is power. Prayer tightens connection with the divine mind that wisdom and strength may flow without interruption.
In a Solitary Place
Arising early, while dark, Jesus goes to a solitary place and prays. Yesterday was packed solid with activity. He taught in the synagogue, healed a demon-possessed man, healed Peter’s mother-in-law. At even, they brought all the diseased and possessed. He healed many. A long, exhausting day. His strength was depleted.
When they find Jesus, Peter tells him a crowd is waiting. Peter thinks this is a good way to follow yesterday’s work. But Jesus, having talked with his Father in the early morning hours, knows God’s will is to preach in the next town.
Jesus teaches that prayer clears the vision, pointing what God would have us do. Prayer stays alert in a hard-pressed society. Prayer strengthens the spirit. Prayer defines duty toward God. As busy as yesterday was, today finds Jesus attune to God’s will for him.
In the Wilderness
“He withdrew himself into the wilderness to pray.” We marvel at the Lord’s humility. Although perfect, he does not feel, “I can handle this crowd myself.” The more teaching and healing he does, the more he feels the need of communication with the Father.
We often feel pressed by duty, opportunities for service, by great needs around us, for the harvest is truly great. Do we neglect time to pray, thinking that work must be done? Or do we, like the Master, crave for the solitary privacy to commune with and take counsel of the Father? Jesus teaches prayer should have first place; then the service will be charged with power and wisdom from above.
All Night in Prayer
“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”
Tomorrow he will choose his twelve apostles and preach the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that he is weary does not alter him from wishing to spend the night alone with his Father. People come to be healed of their diseases. He heals them all.
Looking at his disciples (Luke 6:20), he delivers his sermon on attitudes of the sons of God. Think of all the wonderful things Jesus is accomplishing! He is able to do all this because of the wisdom and insight he received of the Father last night.
Jesus here teaches that if all problems and vexations of life are accompanied by prayer, we will receive strength to endure, his power flowing through us.
Come Apart and Rest
The account is found in Matthew 14:13-23. It is about the time of the third Passover and the beginning of his last year of service. He and his disciples are extremely busy, amidst great crowds coming and going. Then they receive the sad, fearful news of John’s tragic death at the hands of Herod. Jesus beckons them to come apart awhile and rest with him.
Taking their boat, they head toward the eastern shore of the lake. The crowd watches, runs around the head of the lake, and arrives there before Jesus.
As Jesus and his apostles step off the boat, over 5000 people are waiting. Jesus’ reaction is they are as sheep without a shepherd. He has compassion on them, spending the whole day instructing them. At eventide, he provides food for all.
The Disciples Join in Prayer
“And it came to pass, as he was praying alone, his disciples joined him.” Jesus is away from the multitudes, but his desire is to pray in his disciples’ presence, to draw them into his intimate life of prayer. He is gathering his chicks under his wings to nurture them, by example drawing them into his life of devotion to God.
Jesus teaches the importance of joint prayers with fellow brethren. At every meeting we attend, at least two prayers are offered. These prayers should use language of the innermost self, flowing freely. Prayer, praise and testimony meetings are another way of enhancing fellowship in prayer: hearts overflowing with love to our heavenly Father; prayers for our help or for our brethren; prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
An Altered Countenance
Another all-night session. Jesus goes up to the mountain to pray. While praying, his countenance is altered. We see Jesus’ need for higher ground, for fresh assurance in the course he is taking.
The subject of Jesus’ prayer is his departure at Jerusalem (v.31,21-26). Through the transfiguration vision, God is confirming Jesus’ Messiahship and suffering as it had been foretold. Moses and Elijah indicate the great encouragement Jesus receives from the Law and the prophets.
While this is Jesus’ unique experience, we, too, may see God’s glory while praying. “To see thy power and thy glory, so I have seen thee in the sanctuary” (Psa. 63:2).
A Thankful Prayer
Jesus commissions 70 disciples to preach the gospel in places he expects to visit. They return with a joyful report.
Jesus’ heart overflows with joy “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Jesus’ prayer teaches that the Father’s face is visible to him at all times. He is always conscious of the Father’s.
Through his sacrifice, Jesus makes the same privilege available to us. Do we avail ourselves of this privilege? Do we talk to our Father on the job, when frustrated, when we make mistakes, while at home amidst the drudgery of housework, in school when none of the students seem to understand us? How about the high moments of our lives? Do we pat ourselves on the back, or do we give thanks to God, the source of our victories?
Jesus’ prayers are a powerful incentive to us to likewise offer praise to God.
Teach Us To Pray
Jesus is praying. When he finishes, his disciples ask, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). They are praying men. But they conclude there is more to prayer than they had realized. This request delights our Lord! It shows Jesus that his prayer-life example has aroused them to probe deeper into prayer for results.
The first three phrases of the model prayer express adoration concerning God’s nature, kingdom, and will; the next five concern man’s daily temporal needs, our need of forgiveness, our need to forgive others, our defense against temptation, and our deliverance from evil.
God is indeed Jesus’ Father, his lifegiver. By teaching us to pray “Our Father,” Jesus is inviting us to share his private life and enter his own relationship as sons of God. This is a staggering thought. In John 20:17, he refers to God as “my Father AND YOUR FATHER.”
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” Hebrew names are meaningful. They contain promises and hope in God. God’s name was left untranslated, “JHVH.” No human description can convey God’s name. If we’re faithful, we will understand God better and we will know his name.
“Hallowed” means sacred, taken from a word meaning “holiest,” also translated “sanctuary” or “holy place.”
The Most Holy of the Tabernacle was God’s dwelling. Vines Dictionary says, “[Hallowed] is to make a person the opposite of common.” Deep reverence should be in our hearts when God’s name is uttered.
Jesus teaches us the most important considerations in approaching the Father—his honor, glory, will.
The Prayer at Bethany
The most climactic point in Jesus’ life was the death of Lazarus (John 11). Until then, Jesus had been the fountain of living waters, the light of the world, the Good Shepherd. Now he would be seen as “the resurrection and the life (v. 25)”.
The little family at Bethany experienced a personal crisis. Lazarus grew deathly sick. Jesus knew, loved and ministered to this family. They had a good understanding of his gospel.
Knowing his healing powers, the sisters sent word, “He whom thou lovest is sick,” hoping he will come without delay. In the past, no amount of fatigue kept Jesus from healing. This time, he waits two days.
We visualize Mary and Martha saying, “Surely he will come.” But instead they witness their brother sinking into death.
Jesus says, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (v. 4). These words do not mean that he will be admired by the people for this great miracle. Rather, they are a solemn reminder that through his own death he will be glorified.
Now he lifts his eyes to heaven and says, “Father, I thank thee thou hast heard me.” This is a prayer of thanks, not a request. When did God hear Jesus? God heard him when he started to pray, a few days ago. Before coming to the tomb, he was praying in secret about the raising of Lazarus; what follows is an answer to that prayer.
“What shall I say? [Shall I say] ‘Father, save me from this hour’? but for this cause came I unto this hour. [This is what I will say], ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, ‘I . . . will glorify it again.’” (v. 27, 28) It is only as we shut out the earth’s sounds that our ears become trained to hear the word from above.
In the Upper Room
Luke 22, John 13
It is Thursday night. Jesus is gathered with his apostles in the upper room.
Jesus directs a statement to Peter because of his special weakness, but all of them were in the same category: “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:31, 32).
Each one gathered at our Lord’s table will succumb to one or more of the following temptations: self-confidence, selfishness, jealousy, anger, resentment, weariness, disappointment, betrayal, desertion. Were it not for the fact that Jesus prays for Peter and the other apostles, Satan would succeed in sifting them away from the Truth.
Jesus watches his disciples closely and prays for them as he notices their weaknesses. As Peter’s boastfulness and extreme self-confidence come forward, Jesus prays for him to overcome. As he notices Thomas’s doubting spirit, Jesus speaks to God about him.
Jesus is the same today. As our advocate, “He is able…to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
This fills our hearts with love and gratitude. Watching our lives, Jesus allows weakness and failure to become stepping stones to the celestial city.
Some parents work hard at preventing failure or protecting their children from the knowledge that they have failed. They do this by lowering their standards or shifting the blame. This keeps the child unequipped for life.
Our Father knows that failure hurts. But it can make a positive contribution to our lives of consecration. Failure teaches us to rely on God. Despite his slipping and stumbling, with the Lord’s help Peter was able to rise again, regroup his faculties, and feed Jesus’ lambs.
Jesus Prays for Us
John 12 contains Jesus’ last words to the world. In chapters 13 through 17, Jesus is alone with his disciples.
As desperate as Jesus’ situation is, there is no evidence of regret in his course. Rather, he expresses supreme adoration, thanksgiving, blessing, and exultation.
He is thankful to the Father for allowing him to suffer and die for the world, thereby glorifying God. His is a willing sacrifice, holding nothing back.
Many times we plead for things that would hinder rather than help us. We should come to the Lord knowing he is eager to guide us.
We should tell God our troubles so he may comfort us, tell him our joys that he may sober them, tell him our longings that he may purify them, tell him our misgivings that he may help us overcome them, tell him our temptations that he may shield us from them.
Jesus speaks of the Church as God’s gift to him, “as many as thou hast given [me].” This fills us with humility. How precious our Lord considers us! If Jesus considers our brethren dear and precious, shall we do less? “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1).
Verse 5 expresses Jesus’ desire to receive the glory of his pre-human existence. If Jesus could once again stand in his Father’s presence, see his face, and be his Logos, he would be satisfied. He asked no more.
Jesus’ selfless prayer could be applied to us. If we are faithful unto death a crown of life awaits us. He promised that, because we left all for him, in this life we will receive manifold blessings and eternal life in the future (Luke 18:30).
But our love for God has matured to such an extent that, even if death ended any after-life hopes, any rewards, we would continue to serve God. It is a privilege to serve so wonderful a being!
In verse 11, Jesus prays that the Father will protect them through divine providence, and that they be kept in unity of heart and mind, patterned after his own unity with the Father. His prayer for his disciples was that God would guard them against disunity, against falling apart—that they would hold together, be one in heart, mind and purpose.
One wonders what the early church would have been without our Lord’s prayers for their unity. Reading the Acts and the epistles, we see that schisms arose. Our Lord’s prayers for the Church were the binding ingredient that kept them together in the unity of the spirit.
The closing verse of chapter 16 says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Jesus wasn’t hiding the cost of discipleship, nor minimizing the dangers and pitfalls in the world. God never guaranteed to keep us out of troubles, but he did promise to bring us through them.
Sanctification is more than separation from the sinfulness of the world. It means being equipped with the Word of God and totally dedicated to its service.
Jesus prays that they may be perfected in one. As each member progresses, they become more adaptable to the position God has allotted to them. Christian maturity should lead to less friction in the Body. A well-oiled machine does not create heat. Rather, it smoothly engages other parts and fulfills its function as a composite part of the whole unit.
No two people are exactly alike. We may not see eye to eye. There may be some friction even among the fully consecrated. Pray for more of God’s spirit to cool us down and help us perform better with other parts of the unit.
Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 21
It is Thursday night, after our Lord’s Memorial and his prayer in John 17. Jesus takes his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane, a favorite place for prayer. He has no sleep this night, but he is used to this because of his habit of prayer.
It is difficult for us to understand the tremendous amount of stress and strain our Savior feels during these last hours of life on earth. The whole world depends on him. By his faithfulness, man’s destiny will be determined—eternal death or the opportunity for eternal life.
So great was Jesus’ tension that a messenger was sent from heaven to strengthen him (Luke 21:43).
Rising from this season of conflict in prayer, the victory is won as his usual calmness returns.
The crisis is past. He yields himself to the dreaded experience through which the Father’s loving plan for a dying world may now be accomplished.
The next thing we notice is a mob of people moving in, with swords and staves, as Jesus exclaims, “The hour is come.” With the peace of God filling his heart, he steps forward to meet his accusers. He has overcome the greatest crisis in his life with prayer.
Matthew 27, Luke 23, John 13
Three prayers are uttered while writhing in agony. “Father, forgive them for they know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Although this text is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts, it does impart the true sentiments of Jesus’ gospel. Stephen made a similar statement, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:16). Jesus’ model prayer echoes the same sentiments, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The setting for Jesus’ second prayer is as the daily evening sacrifice draws near. After a silence and darkness of three hours, we hear him cry to his Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)
Shortly after this, we hear his last triumphant prayer, “It is finished. Father, into thy hand I commend my spirit” (John 19:30). All through his earthly ministry, Jesus was held in the hand of God. He felt the loving embrace of his Father always. There wasn’t a single day that he was without the Father’s smile. But, for a brief period on the cross his Father’s face is turned away from him, enabling him to feel and understand the sinner’s condition. God’s reproach breaks his heart.
And so, Jesus’ ministry, which started out with prayer at his baptism, comes to an end with prayer.
Jesus used prayer in every emergency, every perplexity, great or small. When hard-pressed by work, he prayed. When hungry for fellowship, he prayed. He received counsel from above through prayer. If criticized he prayed, if fatigued or wearied in spirit he received his strength through prayer. There was no problem of life that prevailed over him, because of his unceasing prayers.
Herein lies our example.