Jesus: Man of Prayer!
Did He Really Need to Pray?
By Dave Butts
I will never forget the question, even though 20 years have passed since I heard it. I had just settled into an easy chair in the living room of a pastor friend to discuss the possibility of his church supporting our new prayer venture, Harvest Prayer Ministries. Before I could begin my appeal, he startled me by saying, “So you’re starting a prayer ministry. What is your personal prayer life like?”
It was a valid question. If you are going to teach about prayer, you had better be praying!
That’s why it is so encouraging to look at the prayer life of Jesus. He didn’t just talk about it. He prayed. Throughout His life, He wove prayer into both action and teaching. If we are going to dig deep and truly understand prayer, we need to examine the prayer life of Jesus and all He taught on the subject.
Jesus Gets It
Jesus has a unique perspective on prayer. He is the only one who “gets” prayer from both sides. Not only does He pray to His Father, He is also the God who is prayed to. He both offers prayers and hears prayers. And He certainly has something to say to us about this subject.
Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows us the priority Jesus gave to prayer in His own life. Consider these occurrences:
- Matthew 4:1–11: Jesus prayed during 40 days of fasting in the desert.
- Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
- Luke 5:16: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
- Luke 6:12–13: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”
- Mark 6:46: “After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
- Luke 9:28: “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.”
- Luke 10:21–22: Jesus prayed after the 72 disciples returned from ministering in surrounding towns.
- Matthew 11:25–27: Jesus gave praise to the Father.
- Matthew 14:23: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” • John 17:1–16: The entire chapter is Jesus’ most lengthy recorded prayer, and He prayed for us. • Luke 22:41–44: Jesus prayed in Gethsemane before His death.
- Luke 23:34: Jesus prayed from the cross.
It is important to consider why Jesus prayed. I often hear people say that Jesus prayed as an example for us. While He is certainly a good example, His prayer life goes way beyond that. If He had prayed merely as an example, He would not have made so many attempts to withdraw from others and pray in secret.
No, Jesus prayed, not just as a model, but because He had to pray.
Just Ask Me
Psalm 2:7–8 gives us insight into the “why” of Jesus’ prayer life. In this amazing passage, we are privileged to hear a conversation between the Father and the Son: “He [the Father] said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’”
The Father promises to give the Son planet earth as a result of Jesus’ willingness to take on human flesh and fulfill the plan of redemption. But, because Jesus is also fully human, He is under the constraints of God’s plan—that one must ask in order to receive. “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). Even Jesus had to ask in order to receive.
Prayer was an essential part of Jesus’ ministry. That makes perfect sense. It was both His plan and His Father’s plan to get things done on earth through prayer. Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to be alone with His Father and to understand what He must do. Jesus said of Himself, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19).
Teach Us to Pray
The personal prayer life of Jesus was so central to His ministry and so obvious that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Nowhere does Scripture record that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them anything other than prayer. But as they watched the amazing life and ministry of Jesus, they correctly made the connection to His prayer life. If they were to follow Jesus, they needed to learn to pray like Jesus.
So much has been written about what we often call the Lord’s Prayer that I hesitate to add anything (Luke 11:2–4). I would simply suggest this model prayer is God centered and Kingdom focused. Although Jesus certainly gives us permission in it to pray about personal matters such as daily bread and dealing with temptation, He also teaches us to focus on His Father’s agenda in prayer. As I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I find that after I have worshiped the Holy One and have poured myself into praying for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven—any bit of energy or time I have left is then given to personal issues of prayer. But my prayers focus primarily on the greater things of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us.
Some of the most difficult teachings of Jesus on prayer are found in John 14–16. It almost sounds as though, if it were possible, Jesus was overpromising when He taught these prayer principles:
- John 14:13: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
- John 14:14: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
- John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
- John 15:16: “Whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
- John 16:23: “Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
- John 16:24: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
There is a tendency to try to spiritualize these teachings away—or to simply believe that Jesus was talking in generalities. But what if Jesus meant exactly what He said? Did He really intend to say, “Ask me for anything in my name and I will do it”?
If all true prayer is initiated by God and is all about accomplishing His agenda on earth, then suddenly these promises seem very practical and doable. It doesn’t seem like overpromising at all!
Ultimately, these promises have more to do with relationship than our desire to receive something in prayer. In this same section of Scripture (John 15:1–8), Jesus teaches us that He is the vine and we are the branches. We are not separate, but connected. The only thing that flows through the branches is whatever originates in the vine. When we remain in Him, then the things that are in Him—those things that He desires—become possible for us when we ask.
It’s the same for us as it was for Jesus in His fleshly form. He said He only did those things He saw His Father doing. He spoke only those things He heard from the Father. Prayer for us becomes that connectedness through the Spirit with the Father and the Son, so that what they desire might be accomplished on earth through the praying Christian. This is what it means to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Jesus Gets Ticked Off
Prayer was so much a part of Jesus’ life when He walked this earth that we should not be surprised at how upset He became when He cleansed the temple. The Father had declared that His house was to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17). Jesus recognized that His people were failing to live up to the name and intent of the Father’s house.
It is important to recognize we are dealing with something of supernatural significance here. Jesus’ reaction to the lack of prayer in the temple demonstrated that something powerful was going on. When He saw something totally opposed to His and the Father’s plan, He could only respond in godly anger.
Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple opens the door to a deeper understanding of this. In Mark 11:11 we read, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”
The next day Jesus came back with purpose, cleansing the temple of the merchants who were defiling the place of prayer. Could it be that He and the Father had a long talk the night before about what was happening in their house? Rather than a spur-of-the-moment flare up, I believe Jesus’ action was a carefully considered move that the Father directed.
There is a reason all four of the gospel writers recorded Jesus’ temple cleansing. God intended the temple to represent the way God chose to do His work in this world—through the prayers of His people. When the place of prayer is perverted into something different, it arouses the righteous anger of God. It is clear in Scripture that we, as Christians, both individually and gathered as the church, are called to be a new temple, God’s house. And God’s house is still called to be a house of prayer for all nations. We have to wonder if the Lord walked through our churches as He did the temple, would He agree that we have been faithful to God’s purposes—or would He characterize us more as a “den of thieves”?
Our Role and Partnership
God (Father, Son, and Spirit) has invested something of great significance in prayer. It is His way of bringing about change on earth and at the same time, bringing His children to maturity. Understanding His purpose and His ways will not only change our perspective on prayer but also on the purpose and nature of the Church.
Jesus walked upon this earth, modeling the life of prayer that the Father intends for all His children. His prayer focused on the Kingdom and its advance in the world. On a personal level, Jesus demonstrated a balanced prayer life; private and public prayer blended together for maximum impact.
Remember that startling moment when my preacher friend asked me about my own prayer life? I satisfied his curiosity by telling him about my spiritual disciplines and prayer practices at the time.
I would answer that question today by saying, “I’m trying to pray like Jesus.” I want to continue to learn and grow as I model and teach others about prayer. Ultimately, I want all my prayers to sound like Jesus: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
DAVE BUTTS is president of Harvest Prayer Ministries and the chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee
. He is the author of several books, including his newest book, When God Shows Up: Essays on Revival,
available from prayershop.org
What Is Jesus Praying?
By Jonathan Graf
Scriptures tell us that Jesus is ever living to intercede for us. As I have thought about this, I have wondered, what is Jesus praying for us? I wonder, if in some way, we can get a picture of what He is praying now if we look at the ways He prayed while on earth.
In the Gospels, 45 times it says something like “Early in the morning, Jesus went off by himself to pray” or “Jesus went to a solitary place to pray.” We are not privy to Jesus’ prayers in these times, but if we look at what Jesus did before and after the time of prayer, we find clues about what He prayed. I see four areas on which Jesus focused His prayers.1. He prayed for direction.
The night before He narrowed the number of followers to the 12 disciples, He went off to pray. “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12–16). I wonder if He and the Father went name by name through the list until Jesus knew which ones His Father wanted Him to select.
On another occasion, Mark records, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:35–39). Note that Jesus ignored a perfectly good ministry opportunity to go in a new direction. The disciples came looking for Jesus because a crowd was gathering and waiting for Him. Jesus said, “No, we have to go elsewhere.” He got new marching orders.
I wonder if Jesus is praying for direction for us—that we will understand and be willing to obey whatever God wants us to do.2. He prayed for God’s strength to overcome temptation.
After the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew records: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray “ (Matt. 14:22–23).
What did He need to pray about? John’s Gospel gives us a hint. “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Being a leader is heady stuff. People wanted Him to become king (which He was ultimately meant to do—but in a different way). I think Jesus went away with the Father to pray about His true ministry and regain perspective. He prayed for victory over the temptations coming His way.
I think Jesus is praying that we will be kept from the evil one and given strength to overcome temptation—and not think more of ourselves than we ought (Rom. 12:3).3. He prayed about overcoming His own will.
We all know the garden prayer on the night Jesus was betrayed: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’” (Matt. 26:39). But three days earlier it was clear He was wrestling with what was to come: “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27–28).
Surrendering our wills is one of our most difficult struggles. I believe Jesus is continually praying that we will submit to the Father in complete surrender.4. He interceded for others.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32). While our tendency is to pray, “Lord, get them out of this,” or “Please fix this mess,” Jesus never prays that way for Peter. I suspect He is right now at the right hand of the Father praying on our behalf: “Strengthen their faith through this situation.”
It is comforting that Jesus is perhaps praying these things for us. But it should also challenge us in how we pray for ourselves and others—as Jesus would pray.
–JONATHAN GRAF is publisher of Prayer Connect