Jesus, as a rabbi, chose disciples into whom He would pour His life—not just teach them information, but disclose His heart. These disciples observed Him in every setting. They had backstage passes to His most intimate moments. They were welcomed into His private dealings. Jesus' disciples—with all this up close access—made a connection between His life of prayer and His life of power, and they asked Him to teach them to pray.
It was customary for a rabbi to teach his disciples to pray. It was expected. It was part of the curriculum. They had many formalized prayers that were said in certain settings at certain times of day, but each rabbi would teach a more personal form of the standard prayers to his disciples. Notice how Jesus' disciples included in their request that He teach them to pray, "... just as John taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1). It was a rabbi's job to teach his disciples to pray like he prayed. They taught index prayers, or bullet point prayers, exactly like the form of Jesus' model prayer. These rabbi-taught prayers got to the heart of what the rabbi believed significant, and they encapsulated the topics he felt to be essential. How a rabbi taught his disciples to pray said much about the heart of the rabbi.
Knowing that, it catches my attention that Jesus' disciples had to ask Him to teach them to pray. Why wasn't that lesson number one? Given what a central role prayer played in Jesus' life, why wasn't prayer the primary lesson? Why wasn't prayer the first thing He poured into them?
Could it be that He wanted them to be hungry to know how to pray? He wanted them to have seen the effect of prayer and to have observed prayer's role in His life and ministry, so that when they asked Him to teach them to pray, they were not asking just for the sake of being informed, or increasing their knowledge, or advancing their standing as disciples. He wanted to teach them to pray when the desire to pray like their rabbi had grown in them to become a thirst that had to be quenched. He wanted them to have developed an insatiable appetite for prayer.
By being with Him long enough and through many and varied situations, they had opportunity to observe a direct correlation between prayer and power; a direct link from the time spent alone with the Father to the unflappable peace that carried Him; the nexus of prayer and the joy that was the hallmark of His life. (See John 15:11.)
By the time they asked Him specifically to teach them to pray, they were primed exactly as Jesus wanted them to be. They couldn't wait any longer. They couldn't be patient until their rabbi got around to teaching them to pray. It became a burning desire that could not be held in. It was more than wanting to know how to say good prayers. They wanted to know how to live with prayer as the fulcrum of their lives. It was the kind of living that flowed from praying that they longed to experience. Like their rabbi.
If Jesus was willing and eager to teach His disciples to pray like He prayes while He was in His earthly ministry, then He is equally eager to teach us to pray right now. In fact, He can teach us from inside better than He could teach the disciples who could hear Him with physical ears and see Him with physical eyes. The Spirit of Truth, whose job it is to teach us all things, lives in us with direct access to our minds and hearts. (John 14:26; 16:13) Jesus, through His Spirit in us, will joyfully teach us to pray. Just ask.
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