It’s a simple enough request. Like so many times recorded in the gospels, Jesus was praying and when He came back to His followers, they knew where He had been. So they asked Him: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). What follows is Jesus’ answer to their request, a prayer that has been often analyzed, repeated, emulated, and dissected.
That’s not the purpose of this post.
Instead, think about the question itself. It’s debatable what led to their question; maybe it was some kind of spiritual jealousy: “John’s disciples have a special way to pray – we want one, too!”
Maybe it was an effort to get Jesus to tell them some kind of perceived secret He was holding onto: “What is it you do out there, all by yourself? We want to know what’s going on! Let us into the loop!”
Or perhaps it was just good curiosity springing from a genuine desire to pray. We don’t really know. But the fact that we don’t know the true intentions of the disciples actually only serves to make the request, and what happens after, all the more encouraging for me because I certainly know what it’s like to have mixed motives in prayer. Maybe you do too.
– We pray to get God to do things for us.
– We pray more about our own comfort than for the good of others.
– We struggle to pray with confidence because in our hearts, we don’t really think God will answer.
– We have no idea what to pray for. In fact, our hearts are so deceitful we often find ourselves praying in a contrary fashion to the will of God.
Given our weakness (and I’m lumping you in here with me now) in prayer, here are two ways that this request can encourage us in prayer, and then a simple point of action that flows from it:
1. Prayer is a learned skill.
These disciples asked Jesus to teach them something. That means that prayer is learnable, perhaps even as learnable as trigonometry or changing a tire. If it’s learnable, it means that it’s not necessarily natural. So our inability to pray isn’t something we have to just live with. It’s something that can change.
2. Jesus wants to teach us the skill.
This is the fifth time recorded so far in the book of Luke that Jesus has been praying. In fact, the book records Jesus praying at most of the big events of His life. So the disciples asked Him to teach them. Now often when someone asks Jesus a direct question, He will answer them with a parable or a seemingly unrelated teaching. He’ll force them to think about the heart of their question, taking them to a deeper level emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. But here?
Here Jesus answers them. Straight out. Jesus wants to teach us to pray.
So here, I think, is one simple action point, given the above things are true:
We should practice.
I have fallen into a sort of grudging acceptance for the poorness of my prayer life. I guess some people have it, and some don’t, I tell myself, as if praying is like shooting a beautiful jump shot from beyond the three point arc. But if prayer can be learned, then there’s nothing wrong with actually practicing. That’s how you get “better” at anything – you practice.
And evidently, the disciples practiced. It’s funny that this same group of followers, here so inept at the practice of prayer, are praying all the time in Luke’s companion volume, the book of Acts. Here they’re not asking to be taught any more; here they have learned. And here, the Holy Spirit is at work in incredibly powerful ways as they prayed.
They must have learned after all.
So today, I’m telling God about my prayerlessness. I’m asking Him to help me practice. Like a 4-year-old who wants his father to help him throw a ball the right way, I’m going to put myself to the work with the ready assistance of my dad. And, like that Father, I believe God is not going to berate me for my inabilities, but to encourage me to keep going.
Because you don’t throw a 90-mph fastball overnight.