June 15, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:1-4 (NRSV)
[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
We learn to pray in many ways, from sermons and teachings, from books, devotional guides, and Bible studies. But, in addition, we learn to pray by watching and listening to others. This is also true as we work to be taught by Jesus how to pray. He gives us simple models of prayer that inspired and instruct us, to be sure. But he also demonstrates for us a consistent commitment to regular communication with our Heavenly Father. From the example of Jesus we learn to pray often, making time to be alone with God so we can openly share our hearts and attentively open them to whatever God has for us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Our passage from Luke begins with a simple description of Jesus at prayer: “He was praying in a certain place” (Luke 11:1). Though this verse doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s likely that, in this situation, Jesus had been praying by himself. Elsewhere, Luke is clear that Jesus “would withdraw to a deserted place and pray” (4:16). Though he sometimes he took companions with him (9:28), Jesus often withdrew from the crowds and even his own disciples so he could be alone as he talked with his Heavenly Father (6:12; 9:18).
In our passage, after Jesus finished praying, “one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). Apparently, John the Baptist did as was common among Jewish teachers at that time, teaching his followers certain prayers that they could use in their personal communication with God. It’s likely that the unidentified disciple who asked Jesus to teach all the disciples how to pray wanted specific instructions, including the best words and phrases to say. Jesus obliged by giving his disciples a prayer that is short enough to be easily memorized. We recognize this prayer as a shorter version of what we call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. (A longer version is found in Matthew 6:9-13.)
Before we examine closely the words Jesus taught his disciples, though, it’s worth noting that he was already teaching them how to pray by his personal example. This is what inspired one disciple to ask for additional instruction. Surely all of the disciples of Jesus were familiar with their Master’s pattern of taking time to pray, often going out into the countryside alone so he could communicate freely and intimately with his Heavenly Father. On at least one occasion, Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). (Don’t you wish you could have eavesdropped on that prayer?!). One of the things Jesus’s closest followers knew about him was that he was deeply committed to regular communication with God through prayer.
You may have learned to pray from doing a Bible study on prayer, from praying the Psalms in your personal devotions, or from reading a book on prayer. You may have heard a good sermon on prayer that taught and inspired you. All of this helped you to learn to pray, no doubt. But I expect that you learned to pray by following the example of others. Perhaps you listened as your parents or grandparents prayed when you were young. Or maybe you imitated the example of your Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and pastors as they prayed. Perhaps you didn’t even hear the words someone was praying, but you watched them closely. My friend John remembers how, when he was young, his father would come into his bedroom after John was supposedly asleep. John’s father would kneel by John’s bed, put his hands on the cover over John’s feet, and pray silently for his son. John loved those moments so much he would often try to stay awake just to experience his father’s silent prayers. It’s no wonder that, as an adult, John is a man of regular prayer.
When I think of how I learned to pray, I remember those who taught me by their example. I think of my Sunday School teachers, my junior high director Bill, my pastor Lloyd Ogilvie, and my mentor Howard Butt, Jr. I’m sad to say I don’t have many memories of my parents praying out loud, besides saying grace before meals. My parents were both deeply prayerful people who encouraged me to pray. But for some reason they didn’t pray out loud with me when I was young. When I went to a prayer conference in my late 20s, my dad attended as well. We ended up in a small group together where we were supposed to pray for others in the group. I panicked because I was sure it would feel awkward when my dad didn’t pray for me. But then he did! Out loud, so I could hear. I was shocked. And then I was overwhelmed with emotion as I heard him tell the Lord how thankful he was for me and ask the Lord to bless me in several specific ways. That was truly one of the highlights of my life.
In the devotions that will follow this one, we will be paying close attention to the words Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray. But, before we do this, I think it’s important to emphasize that prayer is often “caught” more than “taught.” We learn by watching, listening, and imitating. Thus, if we want to learn how to pray from Jesus, then we should pay close attention to his own practice. Luke gives us plenty to go on in passages I noted above and others (see Luke 3:21-22; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 10:21-22; 22:39-46). The main takeaway from these is that Jesus prayed often, in many cases finding a place of quiet and solitude where he could communicate without interruption to his Father in Heaven. If such a practice of prayer was crucial for the Son of God, surely it’s something we need in our own lives.
Before finishing this devotion, I’d like to encourage you to consider how you are teaching others to pray through your example. You may never give a lesson, write a devotion, or preach a sermon on prayer. But if you pray with others, they will learn from you. We all have the opportunity to model prayer for others. This is especially true and particularly important for those of us who are in relationship with younger people, for parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, or mentors. If you’re already praying with the people in whose life you have a major influence, that’s wonderful. If you’re not, perhaps you should might consider doing so. It’s never too late to start.
Who are some of the people who taught you how to pray through their personal example? What did you learn from them?
What experiences of prayer did you have in your family? What did this teach you? Are these good memories for you, or awkward ones, perhaps even painful ones?
Why do you think Jesus often went out into the countryside in order to pray by himself?
Are there places you sometimes go when you want to be alone with the Lord in prayer? What are those places? How often do you go there?
What hinders your prayerful relationship with God?
What helps you to pray with greater openness and intimacy?
Sometime in the next week, set aside some time for prayer, preferably a time when you can be alone and quiet. If possible, go to a place that supports your prayerfulness. This could be a park, a beach, a church, or a special place in your home. Take time both for talking to God and for listening to the still, small voice of God’s Spirit.
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive our sins,
as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. A video on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: At Dayspring Technologies Turning to God for Daily Bread Applies to Cash Reserves (Video)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.