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The Personal Prayer-Life of Jesus

Julian Kinkaid

 



During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Hebrews 5:7

Perhaps the purest definition of prayer is 'communion with God', although it is true to say that prayer is a general term for worship encompassing "all attitudes of the human spirit in its approach to God".[1] It is therefore not surprising to discover that the underlying theme of Jesus' life, and particularly in the various accounts of prayer, is that of His relationship with God, His Father. For even though he himself was God, in his humanity it was necessary for him to live a wholly consecrated life of total dependence upon His Father (John 5:19 & 30). In this discussion I have separated the events of Jesus' life into three basic areas, namely: i) the purpose of prayer; ii) the practice of prayer, and iii) the pattern of prayer (teaching from experience).

What is made more and more apparent through the reading of the Gospels is the intimacy of Jesus' relationship with His Father, and this is especially true in John's Gospel, where references to 'father' alone out-number those in all three Synoptic Gospels. In the same way this intimacy is brought out in prayer: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you" (John 17:1; cf. 3, 12, 15 & 16).[2] If prayer was intimate it was also personal and is often recorded that Jesus spent time alone with God (1, 3, 7, 8), time that was not easy to come by, but he recognised the importance of spending quality time with His Father to maintain the relationship he had established. So Jesus lived a disciplined life, rising early (4) and if necessary praying through the night (9). The effect of such devotion was that Jesus could boast of a unique relationship (Matt. 11:27).

The second reason for prayer was to determine the will of God in order that he might accomplish God's purpose in every way and therefore remain obedient. When Adam disobeyed God in the 'Garden' the relationship he had once enjoyed was destroyed and only continued obedience would have caused it to flourish. So Jesus sought the will of his Father, that which was pleasing to God (Eph.5:8 & 10), that he might fulfil it. This is made evident in the Garden of Gethsemane (3; cf. 9) and was the sole intent of his ministry (John 6:38). His whole life and ministry were the outworking of God's divine plan and purpose for him, and this he not only obtained in prayer (18 & 19), but regulated by his constant communion with the Father (20). Consequently, he faced all of life's crises with the assurance that God's will would prevail (16 & 10).

Jesus recognised the frailty of his humanity and therefore confronted all the major events of his life in prayer. Both the beginning (6) and the end (15) of his ministry were met in prayer and the culmination, upon the cross, was perhaps only accomplished by the battle in prayer, while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (3). Before Jesus chose the future leaders of the Church he prayed all night (9); he was seen to pray at his transfiguration (11) and the raising of Lazarus (16). Similarly he prayed during and after the feeding of the five thousand (10) - a time when He would have been physically and spiritually weak and susceptible to attacks from Satan.

By the pattern of His life Jesus demonstrated the practical outworkings of a life lived in communion with God, for out of a relationship with God stems a knowledge of His nature. Therefore, for those who know the Father all things are possible, since as a loving Father He delights in answering the petitions of His children (Matt.7:7-12; cf. 21-22). Jesus not only prayed for Himself, but he interceded for others. Children were brought to Him that he might pray for them and bless them (2), a deaf and mute man was healed through His prayer (5) and as well as praying for Peter specifically (14). John records Jesus' intercession for all who believe in Him, including the disciples (17). Jesus also offered up praise and thanksgiving to His Father for answers received and to show his gratitude: "rejoicing greatly in the Holy Spirit" (12; cf. 10 & 16).

It was Jesus' exemplary life of prayer that prompted the disciples' request for teaching on prayer (Luke 11:1-14) and so from his practical experience Jesus gave them guidance on the rudiments of prayer. Petitions would only be answered if delivered in faith (Mark 11:24); and therefore flowing from a knowledge of the Father and His faithfulness, enemies and those who persecute you (Matt.5:44; cf. Luke 23:34). Sometimes persistence is required (Luke 18:1ff.) especially when the answer is not immediately forthcoming (cf. 3). Prayers are to be succinct; there is a place for honesty when we are alone with the Father (Mark 12:40), so we should approach God in humility with an awareness of who He is (Luke 18:10ff.; cf. Jesus who knelt with His face to the ground (8). God knows what we need before we ask Him and is unimpressed by vain repetitions and lengthy speeches (Matt.6:5-8). Finally, although Jesus gave little teaching on the content of prayers He sanctioned prayer for the strength to overcome the ills of the world (Luke 21:36 & 22:46) and also for workers to bring God's purposes to fruition (Matt. 9:38).

To make any real distinction between the life of Jesus and the specific references to His prayers is to misunderstand the nature of the true human life, and although for the purposes of this discussion I have isolated the individual accounts of Jesus' prayers, this in no way undermines what has previously been stated. Jesus' whole life was one of communion with God so that he not only enjoyed fellowship with His Father, but He also ascertained the daily purposes of God for His ministry, in order to walk in obedience. Therefore, rather than being a discussion of the personal prayer life of Jesus it becomes Jesus' personal life of prayer, for his whole ministry was an outworking of his relationship with the Father.

© 1992 Julian Kinkaid


Table 1: Key to Numbering System

No.

Matthew

Mark

Luke

John

1.

14:23

6:46

 

6:15

2.

19:13

10:16

   

3.

26:36, 39-44

14:32-42

22:40-46

 

4.

 

1:35

   

5.

 

7:34

   

6.

   

3:21

 

7.

   

4:42

 

8.

   

5:16

 

9.

   

6:12

 

10.

14:19; cf. 15:36

6:41; cf. 8:6

9:16

cf. 6:11.

11.

   

9:28ff.

 

12.

11:25ff.

 

10:21ff.

 

13.

   

11:1

 

14.

   

22:32

 

15.

27:46 & 50

15:34 & 37

23:34 & 46

 

16.

     

11:41f.

17.

     

17

18.

     

7:16-18

19.

     

12:49f.

20.

     

14:10-14

21.

     

15:7 & 16

22.

     

16:23-26

References

[1] J.D. Douglas, ed. The New Bible Dictionary, 2nd edn. Leicester: IVP, 1988, p. 958.

[2] For key to numbering system see Table 1 above.

Please note: This essay is was submitted as oart iof an undergraduate course in theology. It is provided for information only and should not be cited directly in other articles.