Prayer Waves 1: Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke
I have been thinking about prayer in the book of Luke and also of Acts (given the relationship of the two). I had already observed how there was a definite connective string of prayer running throughout the two books and I think holds the subtle key to the incredible ministry that we witness in those books, of the Lord Jesus and the apostles. Right from the beginning you have people of prayer including Simeon and Anna in the temple; later you have Jesus running off to pray alone, or praying so that the heavens open at His baptism, and so on. Unsurprisingly we find His disciples then taking up this pattern from Luke 24:53 and on into the book of Acts where it clearly becomes a continual part of their life, and I believe acts as that which sustains the incredible move of the Holy Spirit they begin to witness of course from Acts 2:4 onwards.
They had obviously seen the power of prayer in the life of Jesus, and yet we read quite a number of verses about Him praying before He finally comes to teach on it. I suddenly wondered why this was. If it forms such a central part of ministry and life in general (and I STRONGLY believe that it does!), and if Jesus loved it so much that it says He ‘would often slip away to the wilderness and pray’ (Luke 5:16), then why didn’t He tell His disciples about it for a while?
What got me along these lines was thinking again about the request put to Him when He finally did teach on it. In Luke 11:1 we find that again Jesus was praying in a certain place, and so finally one of His disciples says in so many words, “so come on then Jesus, John taught His disciples about prayer, why don’t You too!” There is some hunger perhaps to his words. Perhaps he was thinking about the power he had witnessed on Jesus’ life. He had seen Jesus often slip away to pray, and here He was at it yet again. Had it been Peter, James or John, they would even have witnessed the transfiguration occurring out of Jesus’ prayer life (9:28-29). I think it’s fair to say he probably thought it was about time, given how much Jesus prayed, and given that John the Baptist taught his disciples about it, that Jesus should do some teaching too.
It didn’t take any more than this one request from this disciple for Jesus to give a fantastic little discourse on prayer, ending wonderfully with a promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit (11:13) – and I am sure that there is no coincidence in that, seeing as we have the pattern of Luke and Acts, where prayer is clearly linked to the release of the Holy Spirit. He gives other instruction later on too at the beginning of chapter 18 where He teaches again on persistency in prayer which He touched on in 11:5-8.
But it made me wonder that Jesus hadn’t taught on this important subject before. He clearly lived it, and it was obvious to the disciples that praying was what He did when He slipped away – and sometimes of course in their presence too (3:21; 9:29 and 11:1 being the examples already mentioned). But He only opened His mouth about it after one of the disciples – and it was only one – demonstrated hunger and a real desire to know about prayer. That way, His teaching wouldn’t fall on disinterested ears – guaranteed.
This strikes me as amazingly tactful and beautiful of Jesus – He was clever! Usually we think of subjects as being so important that we have to share and teach on them. But Jesus saw this one at least, prayer, as being so important (perhaps in a certain way) that He wouldn’t teach it until He was decidedly called upon by a disciple who truly wanted to know about it. Jesus, you’re wonderful! Wasn’t that smart of Him?
So it makes me think freshly about the way that I ‘teach’ (whatever capacity that may be in as I’m not exactly a regular teacher/preacher at the moment but I sure can disciple people). Maybe it can apply to other subjects we might share with people but I think it’s significant that Jesus did this specifically when it concerned prayer – because as we have seen it is that which stands behind everything else that goes on in the life of the disciples/church (ie. most other things that Jesus taught on, which were not through these tactful means).
I guess you can be pretty much guaranteed that if you know someone is hungry for the word you have to share on a subject, they’re going to get it. We have the word of God spoken every week in churches yet most of the time we’re not transformed by it because we’re not truly hungry for it. And perhaps the word we need to be most hungry for is the word on prayer and what it is, and to get hungry we need to look for those who live the life soaked in prayer, and – surely – witness the power that is present as a result, for “the earnest prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available.” (James 5:16)