Prayer is a learned activity. All of the New Testament writers address the subject — the evangelist Luke most of all. The pages of Luke-Acts are punctuated with the prayers and praying of the faithful. At the heart of Luke’s Gospel is the familiar occasion when Jesus’ disciples, having witnessed His praying, requested that He teach them to pray (11:1). We are blessed to have recorded in Luke not only the Model Prayer given in answer to their request, but numerous occasions when Jesus gave prayer-instruction through His teaching and example. The Spirit’s catalogue of times, places and situations in which Jesus prayed reveal much to encourage and educate our praying.
First of all, Jesus’ example teaches us that prayer is crucial to all other service. Though (because?) Jesus’ earthly ministry was to be brief and busy, He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed,” even (especially?) when “crowds of people” were coming “to hear Him” (5:15-16). Like Him, we should be praying servants.
Prayer was His priority in another way, too. Jesus prayed before. Prior to choosing the Twelve (6:12-13), He prayed all night — teaching us to pray before making decisions. Prior to feeding the 5000 (9:12-17), Jesus gave thanks — teaching us to pray before meals, and to express our gratitude to God. Prior to setting His face toward Jerusalem where He would die for our sins and be raised for our justification, He “went up on a mountain to pray” (9:51,28) — teaching us that our first step in seeking to save others should be prayer. Prior to His betrayal, arrest and trials, Jesus prayed repeatedly and earnestly (22:39-44) — teaching us to pray in the face of difficulty. Prior to breathing His last in death (23:46), Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
In all of that praying, Jesus’ example not only instructs but assures us. As He prayed alone and with others (4:42; 9:18, 28) we get to see that prayer prompts providence. In Jesus’ life we see in startling clarity that God provides special help and comfort when His children pray. When Jesus prayed on the mountain before setting out for Jerusalem, Moses and Elijah appeared to discuss His departure with Him (9:30-31). When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “an angel from heaven appeared to strengthen Him” (22:43). Indeed, these occasions show us that during prayer God often transforms His children. On one mountain Jesus was “transfigured” and on the other His anguish became resolve (cf., Mark 14:34, 42). And, as if to assure us that God will transform ‘ordinary’ people like us while we pray, Jesus’ prayer-transfiguration experience in Luke 9 is followed by His disciples praying for evangelistic laborers in Luke 10 and becoming such laborers themselves (10:1-3). On top of all this, Jesus’ intercessory prayers show us that prayer can also prompt God to provide for others. Especially noteworthy are Jesus’ prayers for Simon in advance of his being sifted as wheat (22:31-32), and His praying for those who crucified Him even as He hanged on the cross (23:34).
It’s within the context of all of this praying that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. In addition to His familiar Model Prayer (11:1-4) are instructions such as, “Pray for those who mistreat you” (6:28), “pray and [do] not give up” (18:1), and “pray that you will not fall into temptation” (22:40, 46). Clearly Jesus’ instructions serve to highlight what He did. He Himself is our Prayer Model, showing us that our prayers and lives should focus on God, address Him, praise Him, and express physical and spiritual dependence upon Him. For the good of ourselves, those we love, and God’s cause, let us read and meditate on Christ’s life as we plead, “Lord, teach us to pray”!