We have opportunity in our ministry to interact with numerous people through conferences, online discipleship classes, Bible study groups, Sunday services, and meetings with business leaders. We encounter so many wonderful believers who have an earnest desire to live a life pleasing to God and effective in His kingdom. Very often they express to us a deep burden to understand and grow particularly in the area of prayer.
These Christians enjoy reading their Bible, serving in their local church or ministry, and sharing their faith, but again and again they tell us that they don’t see victory in their prayer life. Even when they spend considerable time in prayer, they often fail to sense that their prayers are vital or effective.
As we’ve heard these longings from God’s people, God has placed a burden on our hearts to write this book. In doing so, our goals are these:
1. To open afresh your mind and heart to the prayer life of Jesus.
2. To help you anticipate and recognize the activity of God in your prayer life as He conforms you to the image of His Son.
3. To exhort you to obey and respond to all of the fullness of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as He develops your prayer life.
4. To help you see the immediate urgency of the hour in which we live, and the impact we can have through our prayers.
5. To show that immediate and thorough obedience is key to your prayer life.
Our desire is that Experiencing Prayer with Jesus will not be simply more information about prayer for you, but that it will lead you to a life-changing encounter with Christ…and therefore forever rearrange your prayer life into continuing fellowship with our Lord. While there are many wonderful examples of prayer and passages on prayer throughout the Scriptures, we know of no better model and demonstration of what the heavenly Father desires for our prayer life than the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. And at this critical time in history, we don’t need simply “more prayer” from God’s people; we need specifically the kind of praying exemplified in the life of Christ. Therefore we’ll be focusing especially in these pages on closely observing our Savior in prayer.
In any such study, it becomes immediately evident that there’s a significant difference between how Jesus prayed and the prayer life of many Christians today. Recognizing this gap, it’s easy to feel that His heart of prayer and the dynamic characteristics of His prayer life are things that will never become a part of our own experience.
However, as you become more aware of this gap in your own life, we urge you not to become discouraged. Instead, press ahead to ask, “Why is there this difference?” and especially, “How can I allow the Holy Spirit to change my prayer life to be more like the Lord’s?”
Be assured that God not only desires that we pray in a Christlike manner, but He also enables us to do so. Through His Holy Spirit within us, the Father is working to conform us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29; see also Galatians 2:20), and this transformation will preeminently involve and affect our prayer life.
When we look at the people God used in the Scriptures as well as those He used throughout Christian history, we see their lives marked by a deep awareness and practice of prayer with their heavenly Father. In most of the biographies and testimonies from people whom God has used in mighty ways in the past, there’s a confession that the key to their work and to the measure in which it honored God is directly linked to prayer that mirrored the prayer experience of Jesus.
We believe this link is needed today as much as ever. There’s an urgent necessity for the requests and supplications of God’s people to reflect the prayer life of Jesus Christ as we see it unfolded in the Scriptures.
Probably no Scripture in recent years has affected me as much as the last verses of Hebrews chapter eleven. Having given us earlier in this chapter a whole catalogue of the great men and women of faith, the chapter concludes, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39–40).
There are those who have gone before—and now it’s our turn. There are those who have carried the torch, who have prayed through the night and wept through the night, praying for revival in our land. However, they did not see what God promised—and now it’s up to us. If we don’t continue the vigil to pray, we delay even more the completion of what was begun by those who’ve gone before us.
I’ve often said to the Lord, “O God, many others have begun and never saw the completion of your promises in their generation. O Lord, help me to be faithful in my generation that when I pray, I hear from You…and that when I hear from You, I immediately adjust my life accordingly.”
The twelve disciples whom Jesus chose were no doubt men who prayed. They had been raised in a culture that valued and practiced prayer, and each of their hearts must have been prayerfully tender toward God for each man to leave everything and follow after Jesus when He extended His call to them.
And yet, as the disciples went on to closely observe Jesus, they consistently noticed a stark difference between their way of praying and the prayer life of the Lord.
In the presence of these twelve men, Jesus both taught and modeled a radical life of prayer, and it caught their attention. We see this, for example, in Luke 11:1. Jesus “was praying in a certain place,” and when He finished, “one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” They wanted something better than they already had; they wanted the same reality and vitality of prayer that Jesus experienced.
So He taught them. And everything He taught, He also lived out before them.
Jesus urged these disciples to always pray and never lose heart (Luke 18:1), to “cry out day and night” to God (18:7), and to keep asking and seeking and knocking with confident assurance of the Father’s loving heart (Matthew 7:7–11). Hearing Jesus say these things, the Twelve could not forget that even while He ministered to “great multitudes” through continual preaching and healing, “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16). They had witnessed how the Lord rose “a long while before daylight” and “went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35). They knew their Master as One who “went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
The conclusion was inescapable: Jesus’ prayer life was the key to both His life and ministry.
Throughout the scriptural record of the ministry of our Lord, it’s clear that prayer is one of the most marked characteristics of His life. At each major juncture, at every key decision point, we find Him in prayer.
It was true in the very beginning: At the time of His baptism, it was “while He prayed” that “heaven was opened” and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him like a dove while the Father audibly assured Him, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21–22). And it was true as well at the end, as Jesus continued praying on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:34,46). Every part of our Lord’s life was centered and guided by His continuing communication with the Father.
So often, as we read about Jesus, we fail to make the connection between His example and our own experience. From God’s perspective, however, the characteristics of His Son’s prayer life are to be true for every believer and every church.
We easily dismiss that fact. We tell ourselves, “Jesus was the Son of God; of course His prayer life was outstanding. But I’m only human; I can’t be expected to pray as Christ prayed.”
There are plenty of Scriptures to counter that argument, and one of them is a profound passage we’ll refer to often in this book as we explore it phrase by phrase. For catching the heart of Christ’s prayer life in relation to the Father, we know of no passage better than Hebrews 5:7–9, which describes the intense manner and momentous results of the prayers Jesus offered. These verses pull together the entire prayer life of Jesus into a single, powerful statement for our instruction. It teaches us the essence of prayer, so we can more fully experience the intimate fellowship with the heavenly Father that Jesus knew.
We want to draw your attention first to the significant phrase that introduces this passage: “in the days of His flesh.” This expression emphasizes the human nature Christ embraced during His earthly ministry. That word flesh identifies Jesus with you and me; we have a Savior who can identify with us because of the human form that He assumed as He emptied Himself of His divine privileges and came to earth as a man (Philippians 2:7–8). As we study His prayer life, we’re seeing Jesus in His humanity praying to the Father, just as we pray to Him in our own humanity.
A few verses earlier in Hebrews we read how Jesus, as our High Priest, can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Whatever weaknesses, failings, and weariness we’ve ever experienced in our prayer life, Christ understands! He was tempted in His prayer life as well, and He knows how to help us faithfully resist those temptations in the same way He successfully resisted them.
Our passage in Hebrews goes on to tell us that “in the days of His flesh,” Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears.…” (Hebrews 5:7). The Amplified Bible words it this way: “In the days of His flesh [Jesus] offered up definite, special petitions [for that which He not only wanted but needed] and supplications with strong crying and tears.”
The clear emphasis is that the Son of God actively and consistently prayed! And He did so with various kinds of prayer and supplication (strong entreaty and pleading) to His Father.
In the days of His flesh, Jesus understood the seriousness of communicating with His heavenly Father. In the days of His flesh, He chose not to allow anything to discontinue or hamper that fellowship.
What can be said of your life—in the days of your flesh? Have you come to understand the importance of maintaining communication with God above everything else? What things have you let distract you from daily communication with the Father?
If Jesus was convinced that His own life and ministry depended upon His prayer life with the Father, we as well must set our hearts to maintain uninterrupted time in prayer with our Lord, for this is the key not only to our ministry but to our very life as God intends it.
Watching my parents over the years, I would definitely characterize them as people of prayer. If you asked any of the five children in our family what our dad was doing in the early morning hours, each one would answer, “He’s praying and studying his Bible.”
To this day when I visit their home, I know that no matter how early I get up in the morning, my father will already be in prayer and the Scriptures in his office. One night last year our daughter became very ill. Some time after midnight we decided to take her to the hospital, where it was determined that she needed to have an IV put in. Our daughter is very afraid of needles and we knew this would scare her.We immediately wanted to telephone Mom and Dad and ask for their prayers.
By then it was about three o’clock in the morning, and about five o’clock where my parents live. We called them—and they were already awake and ready to pray, just as I expected.
It was such a comfort to me to know I could call at such an early hour and know they would be praying as we walked through a difficult sickness with our daughter.