“Lord, teach us to pray” was first whispered by one of Jesus’ disciples (Lk. 11:1). The disciples had just caught Jesus praying, and they looked on in utter admiration. They had never seen anyone pray like this before. Sure, they had heard plenty of prayers. They had perhaps become glassy- eyed or even dozed off during some of the long-winded prayers of the Pharisees. But this day, as they gazed in opened-mouthed amazement at Jesus talking with His Father, they probably elbowed each other. “Check Him out! Have you ever seen anything like it?”
Perhaps it was His passion or intensity. Maybe it was His persistence, or the priority He gave to His time with the Father. It might have been the visible effect His prayer brought to His countenance. Or it may have been the results—by this time it was widely known that Jesus received answers to prayer. We can’t be sure what first attracted the disciples to beg, “Lord, teach us to pray.” But we can be sure that Jesus had them right where He wanted them. This was the defining moment, for both their personal lives and their ministries.
Like little birds chirping in the nest with their beaks opened wide, the disciples begged Jesus to teach them what they were seeing when He prayed. Their soul-bellies were empty. Their prayer lives were famished and impotent, and they knew it. Look at the significance of every word as they cried out, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
“Lord.” Jesus was the master prayer. Not only was He the best qualified teacher, He was the only qualified teacher. The disciples recognized that prayer like Jesus did it was humanly impossible. They needed supernatural help. They had found someone who could do for them what they were unable to do for themselves.
“Teach.” The word “teach” means “disciple,” and it describes the very essence of the disciples’ relationship with Christ. They were essentially saying, “If we are to follow You, Lord, we want to follow you into your prayer life. We want to enjoy the intimacy with the Father that you obviously enjoy!”
“US.” The request was corporate. It was not, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Elsewhere, Jesus taught them about private prayer: “But when you pray, go into your room . . . and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Mt. 6:6). But this day they were asking Him to take them into His house of prayer, where they could learn to pray with brothers and sisters.
“To pray.” Scripture doesn’t record the disciples ever asking Jesus, “Lord, teach us to preach” or “teach us to heal” or “teach us to raise the dead.” They don’t seem to have asked Him, “Lord, teach us to walk on water” or “teach us to feed the thousands.” Neither did they ask, “Lord, teach us about prayer” or “Teach us how to pray.” They were not interested in theory; they wanted reality. They had known prayer as a duty and a discipline; they now wanted to experience it as a delight.
“Lord, teach us to pray” was music to Jesus’ ears. He knew it was a defining moment, and He seized the opportunity. He gave them a prayer pattern through which to pray (Lk 11:2-4); He gave them a powerful picture of prayer, which encouraged boldness and tenacity (Lk 11:5-8); He gave them powerful prayer promises to raise their confidence about what would happen when they prayed (Lk. 11:9-11). The real punch line, however, does not come until verse 13: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
It was as if Jesus were saying, “Okay, you want to learn to pray? Ask the Father to give you the Holy Spirit; He will teach you to pray.” This was not a casual answer to a first century question; it was the consummate answer to the heart-cry of disciples through the ages who have begged, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The only hope for any of us to enjoy a meaningful prayer life is to cultivate intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Effective prayer is supernatural; it requires divine intervention. This principle is reflected other places in the New Testament, where we often see Jesus praying under the influence of the Holy Spirit. At His baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon Him while He was praying (Lk. 3:21-22). When He went to the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray, it was the Holy Spirit who led Him (Lk. 4:1-2). On the mountain where Jesus was transfigured, the Holy Spirit came on Him “as he was praying” (Lk. 9:29). John the baptizer also prayed under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is not a coincidence that John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (Lk. 1:15) and that he had such a dynamic prayer ministry that he taught his followers to pray (Lk. 11:1).
During the final week of His life, Jesus taught His disciples extensively about praying under the influence of the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16); and “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (Jn. 15:26); and again, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about” (Acts 1:4), a charge to stay and pray until they received the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit’s Influence
Buried deep inside every Christian throughout the centuries has been a desire to communicate with the Father. Accompanying that is the painful awareness that such spiritual intimacy is humanly impossible. More than 100 years ago, in his book The Prayer Life, Andrew Murray put his finger on this dilemma: “The sin of prayerlessness is one of the deepest roots of all evil. In it are embedded all the other sins of pride, arrogance, independence, self- sufficiency, unbelief, and rebellion. . . . And it is the one sin to which we must all plead guilty. . . . The greatest stum- bling block in the way of victory over prayerlessness is the secret feeling that we shall never obtain the blessing of being delivered from it.” These words have accurately described the spiritual condition of millions of believers throughout the millennia. Perhaps they describe you. There is only one answer to this tragic condition: learning to pray under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
A Prayer-Prepared People
When Jesus ascended into heaven, all He left behind on earth was a prayer meeting. God sent His Holy Spirit to a prayer-prepared people. They were devoted to prayer prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and they were devoted to prayer following Pentecost (Acts 2:42). Prayer leads us to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit leads us in Spirit. It is not a coincidence that John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (Lk. 1:15) and that he had such a dynamic prayer min- istry that he taught his followers to pray (Lk. 11:1). During the final week of His life, Jesus taught His disciples extensively about praying under the influence of the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16); and “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from prayer. These two themes—prayer and the Holy Spirit—are woven through both New Testament books written by Luke: his gospel and the book of Acts. Following Pentecost, the Apostle Paul picks up this same theme. He exhorts the Ephesian believers to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph. 6:18). To the church in Rome, he writes, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Ro. 8:26).
In today’s world, leading demographer David Barrett documents that “Worldwide there are about 170 million Christians who are committed to pray every day for spiritual awakening and world evangelization. Of these, 20 million believe that praying in that direction is their primary calling and ministry within the body of Christ. Worldwide there are at least 10 million prayer groups that have a major focus every time they meet to pray and seek God for a coming world revival.” This means that today not only are Christians crying out, “Lord, teach us to pray,” but God is answering this heart-cry by sending His Holy Spirit. Increasingly, both individual believers and entire congregations are learning to pray under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
A Defining Moment for the Local Congregation
“Lord, teach us to pray!” Praying these five little words can be a defining moment for every believer and every local congregation. For when we ask it, we are:
•Making our need for intimacy with the Father a priority;
•Acknowledging the desperation of our inability to pray effectively on our own;
•Moving from private prayer to corporate prayer;
•Tapping into Christ’s supernatural prayer life under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
We can all mouth prayer-words. We can string together religious phrases and make them sound impressive. But when it comes to mountain-quaking, heaven-moving, hell-binding, knee-bending, life-transforming, history-shaping prayer, it won’t do the job. There has never been a “natural-born” prayer, and there never will be. We all need Holy Spirit help if we are going to become effective in prayer, and it begins by asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
These five words provide us with a new paradigm for church ministry at the beginning of the 21st century. Pastors and parishioners are waking up to the stark reality that the only hope for the church is revival—and the only hope for revival is a sovereign move of God through mighty, prevailing prayer. God is eager to hear us ask; He is eager to answer through the Holy Spirit.
“Lord, teach us to pray!” ♦
A B O U T T H E A U T H O R
Fred Hartley is a Lead Pastor in Atlanta, Georgia and President of the College of Prayer International. He has written twenty books including Prayer on Fire and God on Fire. Leading people to an encounter with the manifest presence of Christ is his life’s passion. He also enjoys running, golf, and playing with his grandchildren.
Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © 2003, Issue 36, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com.
Photo Used by permission of Pray! Copyright © 2009, Issue 70, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com