“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Jesus taught His disciples many things during his three years with them, but Luke 11 captures one of the only times in the Gospels when the disciples asked Jesus for instruction on a specific activity. The Bible says, Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).
Notice about what these men didn’t ask. Theology was not their first focus. Church growth and leadership were not at the top of the list either. They were not interested in healing, preaching, or walking on water. Why? The disciples had learned that prayer was the source of all things. Of all the things they could have selected to be taught by Jesus Himself, they chose the discipline of prayer. Through observing Jesus’ prayer life—His commitment to spending time with His Father and the way He spoke to God—they were eager to pray as He prayed. Since Jesus demonstrated power in His prayer life, His closest followers desired to learn from Him. His example caused them to thirst for something more in their own lives and ministries. And because they asked, Jesus used the opportunity not only to instruct them, but us as well.
Pray the Way Jesus Explained It
Imagine how you would have felt at this moment. The disciples were about to listen to the greatest prayer warrior of all teach on the subject of prayer. All were silent, and Jesus held their undivided attention. Picture the twelve sitting around the Lord with their sharpened pencils and opened notebooks. They were ready for a lengthy lecture on prayer, but before they could even get comfortable in their seats, it was over, and Jesus moved on to His next point. Surely both their pencils and their mouths dropped as they thought, “What?”
In just forty English words, Jesus had explained how to pray. What Jesus didn’t say still speaks louder today than what He actually did say. Our Lord’s brevity teaches the most vital prayer lesson of all:
Prayer is not learned in a classroom. The most crucial words in this crash course are the first three: “When you pray…” We do not learn how to pray by going to prayer conferences. We do not learn how to pray by reading books on the subject. There is only one way to cultivate an intimate, effective prayer life: Pray, pray, pray.
Even though you may study a foreign language, the only way to learn it thoroughly is to speak it. Prayer is similar; you learn it by doing it. Prayer is learned experientially. Jesus, through His silence, is saying, “Listen, prayer is not about filling your mind with knowledge on ways to pray. Prayer is about doing it, so start praying.”
Andrew Murray, speaking of the practice of prayer in his book With Christ in the School of Prayer, commented, “Reading a book about prayer, listening to lectures and talking about it is good, but it won’t teach you to pray. You get nothing without exercise, without practice. I might listen for a year to a professor of music playing the most beautiful music, but that won’t teach me to play an instrument.”1 A powerful prayer-life is developed through the practice of actually praying.
Aren’t you grateful that Jesus had a prayer-life? If he did, shouldn’t we?