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
The implication of this scripture is prayer is a learned experience. If that is so, were the disciples asking Jesus to teach them “how to” pray or were they asking Jesus to help them to focus upon “for what to pray?”
Whatever motivated them to ask was not as important as to pray.
How to Pray
As I reflect upon “how to” pray, I think of the tradition in which I grow up. The persons who prayed felt their prayers were more genuine and spirit led when they prayed extemporaneously. They just let it flow because what just flowed was more genuine.
They didn’t think about what to pray. What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on the surface of their minds. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or upon the people in need or distress. Those concerns did not automatically flow.
Engaging Prayer with Daily Life
What would happen if you listened to the news or read news stories to pray?
What would happen if you walked your neighborhood focusing upon your neighbors as you prayed?
Would you naturally think of the children, the gun violence, the prejudice, the hunger, or the homeless in your neighborhood?
Would you naturally think about the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel?
Without preparation, to share your feelings from the surface is to say the same thing all the time. If we do not focus our prayers, our prayers become nothing more than “just how I feel” prayers. I think that is important, but not that important.
Is this what the disciples were asking Jesus to teach them to do? Teach us “how to” pray?
Luke on Prayer
In Chapter 11, Luke has gathered Jesus’ teaching material on prayer. The same material is scattered about in Matthew, but Luke gathers the material in one place.
Immediately following what we know is as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story on persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers. The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry.
As we have discussed, Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus upon God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep our focus upon God.
Ask, Seek, Knock
Next to perseverance in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
Remember in Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way.
Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven.
Prayer & the Holy Spirit
Luke concludes the teaching material with, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Remember, in Luke’s gospel, there is a relationship between prayer and the Holy Spirit.
We see the connection in Jesus’ ministry. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the connection where the Holy Spirit comes on the church in response to prayer. Luke is letting his community know that the Holy Spirit in Jesus, and in the church, is just as accessible for them through prayer.
Do you think that the Holy Spirit could work in and through your prayers? The power in prayer is to stay focused upon God and God’s call to ministry.
Had the disciples seen the presence and power of God in Jesus? Were they asking Jesus to teach them “to pray for the power?”
Prayer Requires Preparation
Successful prayer involves special preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts.
A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this:
To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.
So, what does prayer have to do with it?
Everything! “Lord, teach us to pray!”