As we have worked through the book The God Who Hears*, it has been a pretty thorough examination of all aspects of prayer and ideas related to prayer. However, the book has yet to focus directly on the personage of Jesus Christ and the prayers He prayed.
What can we learn from a careful examination of Jesus’ prayer experience? Can we read of His life and examine His prayers and learn something that would help our prayer lives?
Christians are not united on this topic, believe it or not. Some cite that Jesus’ experience is just too different from ours to be applicable. Others feel that the personal nature of Jesus’ prayers are just too private for inquiry.
Let’s address those concerns.
First, let’s look at the argument that Jesus was God’s Son and His experience was unique and His taking on humanity hardly makes His life relatable. The reason some say this is a problem is Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. W. Bingham Hunter says “He was divine and sinless, we are neither.” This attitude is motivated by a desire to declare the divine nature of Jesus and that is not a bad thing. Yet in declaring His divinity, we don’t need to deny that He was also human. Hebrews 2: 14-18 “He had to be made like His brothers in every way . . .that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Since Jesus in the fullness of His divinity took on our humanity, we should not fear that following the example of His humanity will demean His divine nature in any way. Maybe the best way to look at this is the major difference between Jesus as human and us as humans is that Jesus faced the same temptations as we do and yet He remained sinless. Otherwise, His humanity was no different than ours and His prayers can definitely be instructive.
The second objection is that His religious experience was so personal that we can glean little from the prayers of Jesus. W. Bingham Hunter says prayer is prayer. Words are words. Human nature today has not changed much from Jesus’ day, so when one talks with the “immutable God” what is said is still relevant, no matter how long ago the prayer took place. His contention is that we can definitely learn from how Jesus prayed and we can seek to make His words our own. Jesus intended to instruct with His prayer words: see the Lord’s Prayer.
So with the two objections met and overruled, what can we learn from the prayers of Jesus?
One thing is Jesus prayed to God as Father. Jesus prayed as a child of God and we should have the same child-God relationship.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge that Jesus prayed in an obedient manner. Jesus was humble and submissive and we should be too as we approach the Lord in prayer.
Thirdly, Jesus’ prayer life was informed by God’s Word. In situation after situation, Jesus proved He knew Holy Scripture. The “bottom line” for us today is we will have more Christ-like prayers if we spend more time in the Bible, reading and studying.**
After mentioning the two objections to the study of Christ’s prayers, we have seen that His prayer is worth emulating.
Yes, the prayers of Christ are divine prayers but they are also the prayer of a man, living on earth. They are intended to express human ideas to a Divine Father and studying them and modeling them is worthwhile. Yes, the prayers of Christ are “personal.” My prayers are personal too. If one listens to me pray and they understand English, they should be able to understand what I am saying.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to mimic my prayers but as I read the prayers of Jesus from the first century, I certainly think His personal communication to God is interesting and definitely worth copying.
Certainly Jesus can be our example as a man of prayer.
For Christians, He is the best example that any of us can find.
*by W. Bingham Hunter
** Another upcoming post will elaborate on these three things that we can learn.