If we are to be Jesus’ disciples, then by definition, we are to learn of him. How then are we to learn from one we have never met?
We cannot hear the words that come out of his mouth as those described in the Gospels did; but we can read those words, and hear those instructions and commands as we read the Gospels. How much we can learn as we read, for example, the Sermon on the Mount or the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16).
But there is another way in which we can learn from Jesus, and that is by his example. Peter tells us that Jesus was an example in the way he suffered (1 Peter 2:21); not in the way he suffered to atone for sin, but in the way he bore suffering when it was the will of God. Jesus himself told his disciples that in washing their feet he was setting them an example (John 13:14,15). They needed to humbly serve one another as he had done.
Jesus was our example in many ways, but I want to focus on one area — his prayer life. The fact that he prayed at all is an amazing thing. Here is the Son of God; the Creator; the sovereign Lord. Why would he need to pray? Surely he could do all things by himself without asking for help.
Yes he could, but when he came into this world he took on true manhood and became a servant of God (Philippians 2:7). He put himself in a position of absolute dependence on his Father (John 5:30), and his prayer life shows that as much as anything. Prayer demonstrates dependence. If we are slack in prayer, we are implying we can do things ourselves. What can we note about his prayer life that is an example for us?
He gave prayer a high priority
Just read the Gospels, especially Luke. At least eight times Luke refers to Jesus at prayer. We know our Saviour did not waste time: everything he did was important, and he spent much time in prayer. If the Son of God needed to pray, can we neglect it? It certainly should have a high priority in our lives.
We are often so taken up with activity that we do not take the time to wait upon God. There is so much work to do that we dare not waste time in unimportant activities. That is right, but it is easy to make prayer one of those ‘unimportant’ activities. Our service for the Lord will be unfruitful if we do not put prayer at the top of our priorities. I read recently: ‘It is not that we work too much, but that we pray too little’ (J.R.Miller).
When and how did he pray?
(a) He prayed regularly. After the disciples had observed Jesus praying, they asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). It was clearly not a new thing. They had often seen him praying, but they sensed this was important, and something they needed to do a lot more. Are we regular and disciplined in our prayer life?
Life is busy and so many things demand our time: but here is an area we cannot afford to neglect. We must set aside time each day to seek the face of our God. Many of us are busy — too busy: our days are full. When each day begins we wonder how we will fulfil all our engagements. We rarely miss breakfast, but all too often we miss that time with the Lord because there is so much to do, and we don’t have time for prayer.
(b) He prayed in times of special need. He prayed at his baptism (Luke 3:21). He prayed at the transfiguration (Luke 9:28). He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane as he approached his death (Luke 22:41).
(c) He prayed at times of important decision. The choosing of the twelve apostles was a very important decision. His Father did not send him a list of the twelve. He needed heavenly wisdom in this choice, and he spent the night in prayer before that decision (Luke 6:12,13).
(d) He prayed at times of unusual pressure. Read Luke 5:12-16. There was great pressure to preach and to heal, and, even though that was time-consuming, he took more time to withdraw from the crowds and pray.
So while Jesus was disciplined and regular in his prayer life, there were also occasions when he needed extra times of communion with his Father. In all these things he is our example. Prayer should be as natural as breathing. We need the regularity and discipline of prayer: we also need to see situations when we need to spend extra time in prayer.
We can’t always give ourselves to special times of prayer. It may be that we need to maintain regular communion with the Lord and, like Nehemiah, offer up spontaneous prayers when the situation calls for it (Nehemiah 2:4,5).
What did he pray for?
(a) He prayed when he performed miracles. At Lazarus’ tomb he prayed before he raised him from the dead (John 11:41,42). He had said that he could do nothing on his own (John 5:30). For all his teaching and for all his miraculous power, he was utterly dependent on his Father.
We too, as we serve the Lord, need to realise that we are not self-sufficient, but must depend on divine power if we are to be effective and fruitful. Once again I ask, if Jesus needed to pray for divine enablement in everything he did, how much more do we?
(b) He prayed for his disciples. He prayed for Peter that he might be kept from the destructive results of Satan’s attacks (Luke 22:31,32). What an encouragement that must have been! How we need to pray for our fellow-believers! He prayed that the disciples would be made holy by the truth (John 17:17). He prayed for their unity (John 17:20-23). He prayed that eventually they would see his glory and share it (John 17:24).
Listening to the prayers of God’s people for one another, most of the time the prayers are for healing or for help in some circumstance. It is not wrong to pray for such things, but studying the letters of the apostles, and especially seeing the prayers of Jesus, the emphasis was on the spiritual.
How often do we pray for someone to become more holy? Do we pray regularly for unity among God’s people? If we have unity, we should pray that the unity would be preserved (Ephesians 4:3).
(c) He prayed for the glory of the Father (John 12:28, 17:1). So often we pray for our own success, personal or in the church. Even if we pray for spiritual things, we need to go one step further and pray that whatever spiritual success we experience, God might be glorified.
(d) He prayed for unbelievers (Luke 23:34). Perhaps this is not a prominent feature of Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the gospels, but it is clearly an area where much prayer is needed.
Well, what an example the Saviour sets before us! We do well to read the gospels frequently and carefully. We marvel at his person and work. We rejoice that we have salvation and forgiveness through his death, but we also rejoice that we have a wonderful example in his life. May God enable us to follow that example, especially in prayer.
Roger Fellows ministers in Baptist and Orthodox Presbyterian churches in Ontario, Canada