Last week, I mentioned in three years of following Jesus, the only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. They may have asked Jesus to teach them other things, but this is the only one recorded explicitly in Scripture.[Luke 11:1] Today, many Christians pray, but how many of us were taught to pray by people with demonstrable results in their prayer lives like the disciples? That’s a question I hadn’t considered until recently. But, that exchange between Jesus and His disciples indicates that Christians need to be taught how to pray if we’re to pray effectively. So, who taught you how to pray, and what qualified them to teach you?
These questions might be somewhat uncomfortable for most of us who have been Christians for decades and have been praying for a long time with little to show. Nonetheless, I believe that it’s never too late to change what’s not working for you. If you read my previous blog on effective prayer, it hopefully prompted some self-examination about the quality of your prayer life. So, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learnt in my study. As I mentioned last week, an unfruitful prayer life leads to despair [Proverbs 13:12]. However, I can attest from personal experience that when you receive an unequivocal supernatural answer in the place of prayer, it changes you and your outlook on life. When I realised through experience that I can get Heaven to invade my situation with positive results, my desire to pray increased exponentially.
It’s noteworthy that Jesus’s teaching on prayer is multifaceted. In Luke 11, He responds to His disciples’ plea to teach them to pray by giving them what is fondly known as the Lord’s prayer. Several sages have written volumes on this well-known prayer which covers less than three verses. It’s worth an extensive study, but this was just one of at least three dimensions of prayer Jesus taught His disciples. In this dimension of prayer, we approach God as our Father who hears us [Psalm 65:2], is willing to meet our needs and can do what we ask [Ephesians 3:20]. Jesus modelled this beautifully when He blessed the five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand [John 6:11]. He had unshakable confidence in His Father to do the seemingly impossible, and He invites us to do the same.
Shortly after teaching the Lord’s prayer, Jesus presents another dimension of prayer where we can approach God as a Friend [Luke 11:5-10]. He gives an example of a friend who acts as an intercessor for another. In the parable in this passage, the recipient has no relationship with the benefactor. The recipient was assisted because of the friend’s relationship with the benefactor. Abraham, a man God called His friend [James 2:23], models this beautifully in Genesis 18 as he negotiates with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from judgement [Genesis 18:22-33]. Scripture is replete with great intercessors like Moses [Deuteronomy 9:9-19], Nehemiah [Nehemiah 1:1-11], Jehoshaphat [2 Chronicles 20:1-30] and Daniel [Daniel 9:1-19]. God continues to seek intercessors today [Ezekiel 22:30-31], and there’s a reward for those who respond [Genesis 18:17]. As friends of Jesus [John 15:15], we can accomplish much for others through prayer if we’re willing to set aside our needs and advocate for them.
Seven chapters later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches another dimension of prayer unfamiliar to me until recently. In this dimension, we approach God as Judge [Luke 18:1-8]. As I’ve written previously, much of the Bible is written in judicial language. We find in Scripture that there’s a court in Heaven [Daniel 7:9-10], an accuser or adversary who accuses us continually before God [Revelation 12:10], and an Advocate [1 John 2:1], who lives to intercede for us [Hebrews 7:25]. In this dimension of prayer, we obtain victories over our adversary, the devil [1 Peter 5:8], through our understanding of our standing in Christ and our knowledge of God’s word and integrity [Isaiah 55:10-11, Psalm 138:2]. Mastering this dimension of prayer is essential for certain victories in the life of a believer [Revelation 12:11].
I’ve often heard seeking a breakthrough in prayer equated to standing before a locked door. That’s an apt analogy because a locked door opens with a unique key. Access is straightforward once you know which key to use. However, without the correct key, legitimate access may become impossible. I realised that much of my prayer life was shadowboxing because I didn’t really know how to pray. My experiences were akin to standing in front of a locked door with a set of keys, not knowing which key opened the door. Unsurprisingly, I was often frustrated. But, through those experiences, I’ve learnt that effective prayer is implausible if I lack understanding. I must understand how to approach God as Father, Friend or Judge to obtain desirable results in my prayer life. I must also learn the principles that govern each dimension of prayer and apply them with faith and wisdom if I desire a fruitful prayer life like Jesus.
It’s interesting that though Jesus obviously knew how to pray, He didn’t offer to teach His disciples until they asked. Of course, Jesus desired His disciples to be able to pray as He prayed, but that wasn’t enough. The disciples had to be insightful enough to identify that they were missing something and humble enough to ask to be taught what they didn’t know. That simple, yet transformative principle, plays a crucial role in our spiritual growth. There are people today who pray with notable results. Some of them have taught and written helpful volumes on the subject. Let’s emulate the willingness of the disciples to eliminate areas of ignorance in our spiritual lives. Don’t be content with a fruitless prayer life.