By Victor Knowles
When I was a young Christian I sometimes wondered, Why did Jesus take time to pray? Wasn’t he the Son of God? Didn’t he say that his Father had given him ‘all power’? Couldn’t he heal the sick and raise the dead? If that was true, and it was, why would Jesus spend so much time in prayer?
The magnificent prayer life of Jesus was (and is) incredible. I say “is” because Jesus is still interceding for us at the Father’s right hand (Romans 8:34;
Hebrews 7:25). The thought that the Savior of the world lives to pray for us should fill us with awe, gratitude, and holy boldness. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
Prayer was the habit, heartbeat, and hallmark of Christ. He prayed before, during, and after great events in his life (his baptism, choosing his apostles, the transfiguration, feeding the 5,000, the crucifixion, the ascension, and more). At times Jesus spent entire nights in prayer (Luke 6:12). On other occasions he would arise early in the morning for the express purpose of getting away to pray (Mark 1:35).
So, why did Jesus devote so much time and attention to prayer? If we understand that prayer is communication with God, then Jesus prayed because he wanted to talk to his Father. Any Christlike child who has been blessed with a faithful father will understand this. A little boy once walked into his minister-father’s study. The father paused from his studies and said, “Why are you here?” The lad replied, “Just to be with you.” Jesus had come to earth on a mission for his heavenly Father and I believe he missed him. He longed for that wonderful fellowship and happy union they had enjoyed together in Heaven. That is why he prayed so often and so fervently. He wanted to be in constant communion with God. Dwight L. Moody declared, “We talk about Heaven being so far away. It is within speaking distance to those who belong there.”
Jesus “emptied himself” when he came to earth to do the will of his Father (Philippians 2:7). He testified, “By myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30). That is why he needed to pray. “While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him” (Hebrews 5:7, The Message).
There are at least 15 recorded prayers of Jesus in the New Testament. Interestingly, they were not uttered “in church” (the synagogue or the temple). Nearly all of them were offered in the cathedral of nature or in someone’s humble home. Three times he prayed from the cross. Seven of his prayers are recorded for us in the Gospels.
The Prayer of Shared Joy
When the 70 “returned with joy” from their Christ-ordained mission, Jesus was as happy as they were.
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do’” (Luke 10:21).
The success of the disciples caused Jesus to praise his Father. It is reasonable to think that our spiritual successes today evoke the same divine response.
The Prayer at Lazarus’ Tomb
The man of sorrows was “deeply moved” when he approached the grave of his friend Lazarus. The stone was rolled away and Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41). Indeed, the raising of Lazarus caused many of the Jews to “put their faith in him” (v. 45). Jesus had every confidence that his prayers were heard by his Father. His prayers—then and now—are for the benefit of those who put their faith in him.
Prayer Prompted by Seeking Greeks
Non-Jews also desired an audience with Jesus. Some Greeks came to Philip with a request: “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus’” (John 12:21). Jesus recognized their seeking him as a divine sign of his suffering to come. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (v. 23). He then likened his death to a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying, only to produce many seeds. So Jesus prayed: “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say. ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (vv. 27, 28).
Prayer for a Disciple Under Assault
Following the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus told Peter he was praying for him. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31, 32). Would it surprise you to know you are on Jesus’ prayer list? Satan also desires to sift us like wheat, but Jesus remains fervent in prayer on our behalf. He is our compassionate High Priest who lives today to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:20-25). He prays for us by name, just as he did for Simon Peter.
The Prayer of the Great High Priest
John 17 contains the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The Father-Son relationship is extremely strong in this prayer. He addresses God as “Holy Father” in verse 11—the only time those words are found in Scripture. He calls God “Righteous Father” in verse 25. This is a prayer that grows and builds in intensity and fervency. He prays that his disciples might be protected from the evil one and be sanctified by the truth (vv. 15-17). Then, looking down the long corridor we call “time,” he prays for the unity of all believers—a blessed unity that might result in the salvation of the world. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (vv. 20, 21).
Seth Wilson asked, “Who can read Jesus’ prayer for unity without feeling that an unbelieving world is the dreadful price we pay for our sinful divisions?” We owe it to the crucified Christ to honor this earnest prayer.
The Agonizing Prayers in Gethsemane
None of us can ever understand the extreme anguish of Jesus as he prayed on the Mount of Olives. He began on his knees (Luke 22:41) but ended on his face (Matthew 26:39). The physician Luke notes that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). The image of a dreadful cup loomed large in Gethsemane—the place where olives were crushed. In awful fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The crushing load was almost too much for Jesus. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). The prayer was repeated three times (v. 44). The disciples slumbered—but not all, for Judas led the soldiers to arrest Jesus. The cup of Gethsemane soon turned into the cross of Calvary.
The Three Prayers From the Cross
Dying for the sins of the world, Jesus prayed to his Father three times from the prayer chamber of the cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
In his book All the Prayers of the Bible (Zondervan, 1959) Herbert Lockyer writes,
His closing breath was used to pray. Each of these prayers holds oceans of truth for our hearts as those redeemed by his blood. He prayed for his enemies: do we? He had a dread moment of loneliness as he bore our sins, yet in the darkness he could still pray, ‘My God.’ Dying, he committed himself to God. May our end be as his!
E. M Bounds charges that prayer is a lost art. “It is out of date, almost a lost art, and the greatest benefactor this age could have is the man who will bring the preachers and the church back to prayer.” We are never more like Christ than when we pray as he prayed.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, MO.
This week, spend some time studying Jesus’ prayers. Look up the passages referenced in this article and others you know of. Reread them with a fresh perspective and seek some details you never noticed before. Also consider:
• What seems to be Jesus’ motivation for each prayer?
• What people and circumstances surround each prayer?
• What can you learn from each prayer? How can you apply what you’ve learned to your own prayer life?