Three Prayer Lessons From the Life of Jesus

Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says, “If you can read this, thank a teacher”? Maybe we should say the same thing about prayer. Jesus is addressed 90 times in the Gospels, and 60 of those times He is referred to as “Teacher.”

Kie Bowman

Jesus had a lot to teach, but His disciples asked Him to teach them only one thing. “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). 

There are about 20 biblical examples of Jesus praying. Here are three that serve as lessons for our prayer lives.

Prioritizing prayer (Mark 1:35)

Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus had “Mondays,” too? On those days, Jesus prayed. 

In Mark’s gospel, we are introduced to the prayer life of Jesus (Mark 1:35). The day before had been the Jewish Sabbath — their day of worship.

Jesus taught in the synagogue. He cast out a demon. He healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill. The “whole city” brought the sick and demon-possessed to Jesus for healing. It turned out to be a long day. 

But the next morning, Jesus got up and prayed! “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus prioritized prayer by rising “very early in the morning, while it was still dark.” The phrase “early in the morning” is a technical description of the “fourth watch” of the night — between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. The word for “dark” is from the Greek word nux. It’s the source of the English word “nocturnal.” In other words, it was closer to 3 a.m. than 6 a.m., but Jesus got up to pray.

We reveal our priorities about prayer not by what we claim to believe about prayer, but by what we do with respect to prayer when it feels inconvenient. As Craig Groeschel reminds us, “It’s the small commitments no one sees that create the big results everyone wants.”

Decision-making in prayer (Luke 6:12-13)

Jesus prayed to make decisions. Luke tells us, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). 

Jesus knew the apostles would carry His message to the world (Acts 1:8). So Jesus spent the entire night in prayer, apparently to decide which followers to designate as apostles. 

Jesus prayed to know the will of God. He was teaching us how to live by prayer.

Knowing the will of God may be unclear at times, but how to discover the will of God doesn’t have to be so mysterious. One writer summarized it like this, “The most obvious answer to the question, ‘How can I know God’s will for my life?’ is to ask Him. Turn to God in prayer and ask Him what He wants you to do.”

When Jesus faced big decisions, He prayed all night. You can pray when you’ve got decisions to make. 

Praying through the pain (Matthew 26:36-46)

Augustine is credited as having said, “God had only one Son who never sinned, but He never had any sons who didn’t suffer.” The pain of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was horrific. He gathered His closest friends and confided, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther, he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39). 

When His pain was the greatest, Jesus turned to prayer, and so can we. When we pray when suffering seems unbearable, we are choosing to surrender to God’s purpose rather than to our pain. Jesus repeatedly prayed in surrender to the will of God (vv. 39, 42, 44). 

Viktor Frankl, the 20th century Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist who spent years in German concentration camps, famously wrote, “He who knows the ‘why’ for his existence, will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” In prayer, our faith is declaring that God’s ultimate purpose is greater than our immediate pain.

In every situation of life, Jesus prayed. So can we.

— Kie Bowman, senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, is the SBC National Director of Prayer. This article first appeared in Baptist Press Toolbox.