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.
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.”