Although he was the Son of God, Jesus had a clear vision for prayer.
The book of Luke gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life. One particular night after he started his public ministry, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people. But he went alone up the mountain and spent the whole night in prayer. The next morning, he acted upon the result of his prayer time—he chose twelve from among the multitude to be his close disciples (Luke 6:12).
Luke 9:18 says Jesus prayed in private. Luke 9:28 says that Jesus took three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—up a mountain in order to pray. And in Luke 11:1, Jesus was praying near his disciples and after he finished, one of them said, “LORD, teach us to pray.” This disciple had observed Jesus’ vision for prayer and wanted to grow in prayer.
In his classic book about spiritual disciplines called Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes, “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” Do you have a vision for prayer? Would you be the one disciple who says, “LORD, teach us to pray?”
Learning to pray begins with a clear vision for prayer. Here are four helpful ways to think about prayer:
Prayer is the root of your relationship with God.
The heart of a person’s relationship with God is his or her prayer life. Says Foster, “Of all the spiritual disciplines, prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father.” Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re closely connected with God. Have you ever known a man and woman who were married on paper, but not really connected in relationship? They were legally married, but didn’t function relationally as married people.
The same can happen with God. You may have already confessed to God your sinfulness and asked Jesus to be your Savior. In that moment, you were justified—made right—in God’s eyes. The blood of Jesus bought you for God and you became a child of God. This, like marriage, was a legal transaction, but like marriage, the legal position doesn’t guarantee intimacy. Intimacy has to be built; intimacy has to grow. Prayer is a primary way to build intimacy with God, which is why prayer is the root of your relationship with him.
Prayer is a means of God’s grace.
Foster writes, “Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.” You can see how important prayer is to spiritual development. If you avoid prayer, you cut yourself off from the central flow that is meant to transform you. God didn’t bring you into his kingdom to leave you the same. He loves you as you are, but he has great plans for you, bigger plans than you can imagine. And he didn’t save you so you could pine away for a castle in the clouds. Eternal life began the day you started following Jesus; eternal life began on this earth.
So then, prayer is God’s chief work in you. God’s grace is a combination of his blessing and power. It is God’s grace that changes you so you are not the person you once were. You have grown in love and patience and kindness because of God’s grace chipping and adding, removing and filling in. And it is God’s blessing that has bestowed goodness and gifts upon you so they are too many to count, and if you were able to see them all stacked up, you would be forever overwhelmed. Prayer is a means of God’s grace.
Prayer is your loving place.
Prayer is God’s most consistent place to love you. What you need is not more knowledge of God’s love, but more encounters with God’s love. You can understand the love of God with your mind, but until you experience God’s love with your heart, you won’t really comprehend it. Consider the orphan. You can adopt him, give him a home, and everyday tell him you love him. But just because you say it doesn’t mean he knows it.
He won’t know he’s loved until he feels he’s loved. Until love captures his heart and kneads its way through, defying firmly-rooted ideas that he deserved to be abandoned or he’s unworthy of love. Regardless of how many times you profess love, it’s like a banging gong or clanging cymbal until he himself feels loved. And that comes only through experience. Prayer is the encounter with God that enables you to feel loved by him. Prayer is where God loves you.
Prayer is where ministry is made.
Prayer is where ministry is made. You see this pattern in the Bible. Jesus prayed before choosing the Twelve. Who would these disciples become? The founding members of the Church that became a worldwide, enduring movement. The Apostle Paul went on his first missionary trip as a result of prayer. What difference did Paul make? He wrote most of the New Testament and catalyzed the church planting movement. Jesus and Paul’s first ministry was prayer.
While prayer is God’s work in you, prayer is your chief work. It’s easy to make ministry the chief work, but this is backward. Instead, prayer is where ministry is made. Until you treat prayer as your main ministry, your activities will only be fractionally as powerful and successful as their potential. You may accomplish much on your own, but what if you’re settling for a shadow of what God intends? Your ideas and abilities aren’t big enough. Don’t promise God to people, but only give them you. Give them God and you, which will come through prayer. Prayer is where ministry is made.
If Jesus had a vision for prayer, maybe we should too.