Have you ever found yourself so captivated by someone that you wanted to be just like them? Maybe a friend who has a natural talent for something you find very difficult. Or a family member who appears to learn new things instantly in a subject for which you to struggle to understand the basics.
Did you know that the only thing the disciples of Jesus ever asked to learn was how to pray? Not how to teach, or organize a movement, or start a church, or perform a healing. What was it about the nature of how Jesus practiced prayer that made it the one thing his disciples desired?
Jesus clearly had an extraordinary relationship with God, from which flowed everything that empowered him. Rueben Job (A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Upper Room Books: 2003) suggests that the disciples, who spent their days at his side, could see it was the prayer life of Jesus that made him so extraordinary. Perhaps they made this request because they recognized in Jesus a depth of “confidence, peace, security, and love” that radiated from his connection to God.
Another factor that led to this request was the outcome of what Jesus was able to do for others. People who interacted with Jesus found forgiveness, healing, and hope. All of these seemed to be the consequences of the powerful prayer life Jesus developed and practiced, day in and day out.
I find prayer is a topic in Christian circles that many express having a general awareness, but few really desire to explore deeply. The general interest in prayer tends to focus on seeking intercessions –that is praying for the needs of family, friends, or one’s self. When Jesus offered the disciples a template for how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) its focus provides far more.
It first challenges me to stop remember the order of the universe – that God our Creator is still at work creating, and his plan is to bring heaven to earth. As I have given this regular reflection over a lifetime, I am convinced that God’s will and plan is to establish something of the Kingdom of God here and now – but the consummation of all things at the end of time. This calls for an awareness and concern of truth and ethics in my actions and the world around me.
Secondly, the Lord’s Prayer reminds that my daily needs (food, shelter, and safety) are gifts from God that I should not take lightly. This includes being reminded that Jesus promised to be present in three places: 1) amid those seeking to be reconciled with one another (Matthew 18:20); at the Communion Table (Matthew 26:26-28); and in service to the least, the last, and the most vulnerable (Matthew 25:31-46). This means being concerned for the welfare of those around me who are homeless, sick, shut-in, imprisoned, and held captive by oppression or their own addictions.
These two challenges work together to help me remember that if it were up to me, there is too much to do. The needs in my life, and the demands of the world around me crying out for God’s love are just too overwhelming. But that is why God is God, and I am not. The template for prayer that Jesus gave the disciples helps me refocus on a world with God in the lead. It is also a world where the followers of Jesus are called to a deeper focus of becoming love to others.
I believe it also challenges us to see the difference between believing in God and engaging the deeper connection. For anyone willing to practice the Lord’s Prayer as a model for seeing life through God’s eyes, it offers specific direction. A pastor friend of mine says it best: “All people are children of God. But not all are disciples of God. It’s not that God doesn’t desire for all people to be his committed followers, but that few choose to be.”
God brought you into this world by his grace, sustains you every day through his mercy, and seeks to redeem you through his love – which is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The prayer life that Jesus practiced radiated a powerful love and connection to God, which he desired for all followers to have, too. But few choose it.
I invite you to seek the deeper life of following Jesus. Begin with praying the Lord’s Prayer as a daily practice, along with ample time to contemplate its meaning for you. And carefully study the scriptures again to see how Jesus lived (especially Matthew 25:31-46). Become the love you seek for others and yourself.
Dr. Neil Routh is pastor at Grace Moravian Church.