Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said,

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” -Luke 11:1

Up to this point, in Luke’s gospel, only Jesus has been praying. Even though the disciples have been present, they have not prayed.

Now they are asking Jesus, “Teach us to pray.”

The question is, “Why now?” What brings Jesus’s disciples to the point of asking? And since prayer was his practice, why has Jesus waited to this point to give instruction?

Prayer Through Jesus’ Eyes & Action

Before answering the “why now?” question, let’s review. Through prayer, Jesus received his call and commission for ministry. Through prayer, Jesus sought direction and tested his ministry, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community.

The Impact of Prayer on Others

Luke, in his story of the feeding of the 5000, has Jesus feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relationship to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do.

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him.

In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers.

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern was to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus upon the ministry God called and commissioned him to do.

Why Now?

Here in Chapter 11, Jesus is off by himself praying.

When he returns, his disciples ask him to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. We know that rabbis taught their students to pray. Many had a style or content. It was their trademark.

The followers of Jesus knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity to ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

But, why now? Is it because they have seen John’s disciples and they don’t want to be left out? Have they observed Jesus and come to the place that if Jesus needs to pray maybe we need to pray as well?

They had just experienced amazing success. As they returned from their mission, they came to Jesus saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Are they facing the same temptation Jesus faced of trusting in his own goodness?

They had experienced their own limitations when they came down the mountain and encountered a boy with seizers. They were asked to help but they couldn’t. They didn’t have the power. Jesus healed the boy and said to his disciples, according to Mark, “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

Questions Raised as We Learn to Pray Like Jesus

Sometimes we look at this experience as an embarrassing failure.

But maybe, instead of being a failure of their prayer lives, it was the experience that leads them to recognize that to have the power of Jesus to heal and restore, they needed to learn to pray like Jesus.

But, why now? Could it be that the ugly head of competition had them arguing among themselves?

According to Luke, they broke out into a quarrel over “who was number one.” When they got home, Jesus asked, “What were you quarreling about?

They said, “We were arguing over “who was the greatest.” At that point, Jesus took a child and taught them what greatness was like. Maybe through their experiences, both positive and negative, they have become more willing to be taught to pray.

Could it be that they are having difficulty with the weight of Jesus’ announcement of his death? All their hopes have been poured into Jesus and he says he is going to be put to death like a criminal. Maybe that is it. The weight of what it means to be a follower of the Christ, the Messiah, is becoming a reality.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray…

What we know is this: Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

It is amazing that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick; but they asked him to teach them to pray.

And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. The disciples’ request and the response of Jesus is more than a reminder of the importance of prayer for them and for us.

It is also important to remember that in Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit brings power. For Luke, there is a connection between prayer and power. We have seen on more than one occasion, Jesus receiving clarity, direction, affirmation, and power through prayer.

What Does Prayer Have to Do with It?

For me, regardless of what motivates you or me to pray is not as important as to pray. Whatever it was that brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with a pattern of prayer.

As Jesus’ followers, prayer is our identity. We are who we are as ministers of the gospel through prayer. Whether lay or clergy, prayer brings clarity, direction, affirmation, and power.

So, whatever you are facing in your personal life, professional life, church life, or community life, know that when you are ready, you can ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Prayer and thanksgiving create space for us to offer ourselves in gratitude to God. We give thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Luke 9, we see a critical turning point in the life of Jesus.

Up to this point, Jesus has been seeking clarity and direction in regard to his ministry. Now, in Chapter 10, we see Jesus sending his followers out to fulfill the ministry he has been called to do.

Before we look at the prayer in verse 21, let’s look at the context of the prayer.

The Context of Jesus’ Prayer

Luke has Jesus giving instructions to 70 of his followers.

These instructions reflect the mission of the church where the early Christians must come to terms with requirements of sharing the good news with outsiders, outcasts, non-Jews, all known as Gentiles. Luke tells of the disciples being sent out, their return, and their report to Jesus. It is interesting to note that Luke does not give an account of Jesus visiting the towns and villages.

Could it be that the emphasis here is upon the “being sent” and not upon the results?

Being Sent

First, Jesus tells them why they are being sent.

“The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest” (Luke 10:2).

The seed has been and is being sown; the followers of Jesus reap the harvest, the results. It is important to understand that the whole body of Jesus, all of Jesus’ followers, is charged with the mission, not just full-time Christian workers. Many followers, not just the Twelve, are actively engaged in preaching, healing, and helping. All are involved in prayer and material support for the church’s mission.

Packing Instructions

Second, Jesus gives them instructions on what to take with them and the urgency of their mission. With the words, “Go! Be warned…I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals,” Luke pictures those in mission as absolutely dependent, defenseless, and vulnerable.

With the words, “Don’t greet anyone along the way,” Luke is symbolically speaking of the urgency of the mission. To not speak to strangers or fellow travelers would be outrageous. The implication is don’t waste time in idle conversation. You have work to do.

The Response

Third, Jesus gives them instructions on how to respond to those who accept them and reject them.

“Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person…Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you” (Luke 10:5-8).

These instructions were literally contextual. During the time of Jesus, there would have been a period of military buildup and political unrest. “May peace be on this house” would refer to the followers of Jesus who rejected the military revolt against Rome, who loved and prayed for their enemies, and refused to participate in the war.

During the time of Luke’s writing, those words would have lost their political connotation and referred to those followers of Jesus who shared the peace of God by participating in the Christian community. But even at that, the words were still connected to the life and ministry of Jesus.

Prayer and Thanksgiving

In verses 17-20, Luke refers to one of the characteristics of the Christian community. “The seventy returned with joy…” They are excited, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”

It is at this moment, at the return of the 70, that Jesus prays. What does prayer have to do with it?

At that very moment, Jesus overflowed with joy from the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies. Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.”

It is interesting that this story is found in both Luke and Matthew (Matthew 11). I think it is interesting because in Matthew the story follows Jesus being rejected. In Luke, the story follows Jesus being accepted. It is the same story, but in one gospel it comes after failure and in another gospel, it comes after success.

The seventy disciples have returned from a successful mission. Although Jesus begins to rejoice in the Holy Spirit, he warns them, “Don’t rejoice that you have been successful. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, the point is not your success but your faithfulness.

The Holy Spirit Takes Center Stage

To understand what Jesus is saying, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is important in the life, work, and ministry of Jesus. Luke uses phrases like, “led by the Spirit,” “filled with the Spirit,” “in the power of the Spirit.”

Not only in the gospel but in the Acts of the Apostles, prayer and Holy Spirit go hand in hand. Luke talks about the Holy Spirit more than all the other gospel writers combined. It is Luke who has Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.

Remember Luke’s gospel begins with the Holy Spirit creating inspired speech. Before Jesus is born, Mary his mother, Elizabeth and Zachariah, Anna and Simeon are each inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are Spirit inspired songs being sung, bursts of praise, prayers, insights, revelations, and blessings.

Holy Spirit and Thanksgiving

In this scripture, thanksgiving is an expression of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives thanks, not for the many acts his followers have performed but, for the many persons who have come to faith in God.

In Luke, Matthew, and Paul, the Holy Spirit brings faith. In Matthew, the words, “You are the Christ. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,” are words that express, “You did not come to this conclusion by your own observation.”

Paul, in I Corinthians 12, wrote, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” For Paul, being wise and having intelligence is not equal to having faith or being a Jesus follower.

In Luke, the words, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth” is an expression of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and in the mission of the 70. The words, “you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and shown them to babies,” is a common expression for those whose faith depends upon God.

Saying that these things are hidden from the wise and intelligent does not discourage education or serious reflection. But it does offer rejection of our claims that we can attain knowledge of God and God’s ways by our own achievement.

For Luke, we know God because God has graciously revealed Godself to us, first through Israel, then through Christ, and then to and through the church. Our faith is not based upon our own calculations. Our best efforts and best thinking is simply responding to God’s invitation to love. Afterall, it is planted there by God in the first place. We do not arrive at faith because we have worked out our proofs. The proofs might support where we arrive, but proofs are not the way of faith.

What does prayer have to do with it?

It is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. You and I give God thanks for our faith in and through prayer. It is through prayer we thank God for the opportunity to put our faith into action by loving and serving in the name of Jesus.

As with Jesus, we will be tempted to think we can love and serve on our own. But through prayer, we will keep our focus. Through prayer, we will offer God the praise and give thanks for what God is doing in us and through us.

In this prayer, Jesus is giving thanks for those who have come to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Who are what are you giving thanks for today? Perhaps you’ll give God thanks in prayer today.