Prayerful: Praying Like Jesus
We’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a prayerful people. We’ve talked about being confessional, and being persistent in our prayers. And we’ve talked about how we’re bound together in prayer in the act of communion, bound together across time and space in the body of Christ. Next Sunday, we’ll practice praying through music. In two weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayers of Thanksgiving. Some of you have had experiences, even over these past few weeks, of the power of prayer, as you gave thanks to God for some prayer answered. Some of you have offered prayer at one of our meetings or studies – I’ve really been encouraging everybody to feel comfortable offering a prayer to God on our behalf. And so far, everyone has survived the experience! Today, though, I want to spend a little time thinking about Jesus, and how Jesus prays. Jesus does a lot of praying, and it seems like we can’t find a better example to mold ourselves after, right? So what can we learn about praying like Jesus?
I found this to be a more challenging question than I thought. The scriptures mention Jesus praying often, but they don’t always, or even usually, tell us exactly what Jesus is praying about, which makes complete sense, because most often, when Jesus prays, he has drawn away, by himself, away from the crowds, away from even his disciples, often. We know he does it frequently. And we know it seems to be a way he gives himself fuel, strength, for the work before him. What does it mean to pray like Jesus? I asked this question on facebook, and got some good answers:
“I have always been struck by the fact that Jesus went away to pray; away from the crowds, away from the disciples, all alone with God.” “To pray like Jesus is to love each other through our daily trials and joys and to never judge each other.” “To be one with God.” “To pray without ceasing...to know that Your Father hears you and knows the desires of your heart. Talking to (sharing your heart with) someone who KNOWS you.” “Pray without ceasing...why is that is so hard to do sometimes? Like the disciples drifting off in Gethsemane...” “Pray with our sacred Story and Tradition so often and deeply that it becomes a part of who you are: the Story becomes my story. I am struck by the way [Jesus] has the sacred Story as his own vernacular (as did his mother, see the Magnificat and Hannah's song in Samuel). Perhaps also to pray the word so completely that you/I become the wordless living word-we incarnate and live the word/Word. And the quiet contemplative going apart from the noise to simply be with God. “Praying with your mind, body and soul.” “Becoming one with the prayer.” I’m blessed to have some thoughtful facebook friends! What about you? What do you think it means to pray like Jesus?
Jesus teaches about prayer a few times – and we’ve shared in some of those passages in worship – Jesus teaching us to pray persistently. Jesus teaching us to pray for forgiveness and offer forgiveness to others. Jesus teaching us to ask, and search, and knock, and expect answers in our prayers. In passages we haven’t read together in worship, Jesus talks about praying like a tax collector, who prays for mercy, rather than like a Pharisee, who tries to load up his prayer with telling of his good deeds, in order to somehow impress God. And of course, in our text for today, we hear that rather than trying to pray with the fanciest, most eloquent words we can find, actually, a good prayer to pray is quite simple. It’s the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer. Most of us pray it by rote – we pray the same exact words, probably one of the first prayers we learned. And often, without realizing it, our informal prayers cover many of the areas the Lord’s Prayer does: praising God; seeking strength to avoid evil; asking for forgiveness; asking for enough to get by each day. And, without realizing it, I think we see throughout Jesus’ life his embodiment of the prayer he teaches us.
So what does it mean to pray like Jesus? Although we may not know the whole content of Jesus’ prayers, his most intimate conversations with God, between what he teaches and the discipline of prayer he demonstrates, I think we glean a lot.
First, prayer is a pattern of his life. It’s necessary to him. He’s compelled to pray. He needs to pray. Jesus needs to spend time with God in serious conversation, and he needs to do it regularly. And the more full, the more packed the rest of his life is with the relentless needs of those around him, the relentless demands, the more Jesus prays. He doesn’t get too busy to pray. In fact, he can sustain his pattern of life because of the way he is grounded in his relationship with God. I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make in our life with God is when we view our time for prayer, for reading the scripture, for deepening our faith, for talking to God as optional, or extra, the first thing that gets “cut” when we are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. It’s tempting, and easy to do. But the pattern of Jesus’ life tells us that immersing our life in conversation with God needs to be first, not last.
Jesus teaches us here and elsewhere to pray not for show, but for God. Not to try to impress God, but with humility. We don’t need to explain to God how good we are. God doesn’t listen to one prayer more than others based on our goodness. Our prayers are for God, and we don’t have to worry about impressing God. But all the same, we see that Jesus prayed always with confidence. His confidence was not in himself, but in God, and his relationship with God. Praying with confidence is different than praying with the belief that God will do everything we want, like filling all the requests on a giant wish list. Praying with confidence in God means trusting that God knows us, knows our hearts, loves us, and wants us to experience good, abundant, deeply satisfying life. That’s what we have confidence in. And we have confidence that nothing is impossible with God. That God can do anything. Knowing that, we pray with confidence in God.
What did Jesus pray for? We don’t know everything. But we know a lot. He gave thanks to God many times. He asked for what he wanted and needed, for comfort, for God to make things easier. He prayed for his disciples, for the people he saw all around him who seemed lost and vulnerable. He prayed to ask for forgiveness for others He prayed that others would forgive each other, that they would experience unity and reconciliation instead of brokenness. He prayed for new life to come where it seemed death had won the day. He prayed again and again for God’s kingdom, God’s reign to be realize on earth. He prayed that he and his followers would be able to carry out God’s vision for the world. And he prayed, finally, that what he wanted most was for God’s will to be done on earth, even when it was so hard that it would cost him his life.
I think we can, should, do pray for the very things Jesus prayed for. We can always ask God for just what we want and need. We pray for one another, and especially for those who seem lost, who are searching, who are vulnerable. We pray for forgiveness and that we might be more forgiving, that we might reconcile with each other. We pray that God’s reign is realized on earth – that God’s kingdom is made visible right here at Apple Valley – that we embody God’s hope for the world in this place, as much as we are able, as much as we can respond to God’s call. We pray for clarity about just what is God wants for us to do. And we pray, ultimately, that it is what God wants, God’s will, that is carried out.
As much as we can, let’s pray like Jesus: with thanksgiving; with confidence; with hope; with constancy; with listening ears; with open hearts. Amen.