Question: "What can we learn from the prayers that Jesus prayed?"
Answer: The prayers Jesus prayed give us insight into His nature, His heart, and His mission on earth. The prayers of Jesus also inform and encourage us in our own prayer lives. Far more important than where He prayed, when He prayed, and in what position He prayed is the fact that He prayed. The theme of His prayers is instructive for all of us.
Prayer was an integral part of Jesus’ time on earth, and He prayed regularly: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). If the Son incarnate found it necessary to commune with the Father frequently, how much more do we need to do so? Jesus faced persecution, trials, heartache, and physical suffering. Without regular and continual access to the throne of God, He would surely have found those events unbearable. In the same way, Christians must never neglect to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
What is often called “The Lord’s Prayer” is actually a teaching tool of Christ as part of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9–13). In this model prayer, Jesus teaches us to approach God as “our Father”; to hallow God’s name; to pray for God’s will; and to ask for daily provision, forgiveness, and spiritual protection.
In addition to His regular times of prayer, Jesus prayed at some important events in His life: He prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21–22); before feeding the 5,000 (Luke 9:16) and the 4,000 (Matthew 15:36); and at the moment of His transfiguration (Luke 9:29). Before Jesus chose His twelve disciples, He “spent the night praying to God” on a mountainside (Luke 6:12). Jesus prayed at the return of the 72 disciples: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do’” (Luke 10:21).
Jesus prayed at Lazarus’ tomb. As they rolled away the stone from His friend’s tomb, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41–42). This is a good example of prayer prayed in the hearing of others for the sake of the hearers.
In Jerusalem the week of His arrest, Jesus predicted His soon-to-come death. As He spoke of His coming sacrifice, Jesus prayed a very short prayer: “Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28). In response to Jesus’ prayer, a voice from heaven said, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
Spending a last few minutes with His disciples on the night of His arrest, Jesus prayed an extended prayer known today as His “high priestly prayer” (John 17) on behalf of His own, those given to Him by the Father (verse 6). In this prayer, Jesus is the Intercessor for His children (cf. Hebrews 7:25). He prays “not . . . for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours” (verse 9). He prays that they would have His joy (verse 13) and that God would keep them from the evil one (verse 15). He prays for His own to be sanctified by the truth, which is the Word of God (verse 17), and to be unified in that truth (verses 21–23). In the John 17 prayer, Jesus looks to the future and includes all those who would ever believe in Him (verse 20).
Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest (Matthew 26:36–46). He had asked His disciples to pray with Him, but they fell asleep instead. Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden is a model of submission and sacrifice: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (verse 39). Three times Jesus prayed this.
Jesus even prayed from the cross, in the midst of His agony. His first prayer echoes Psalm 22:1 and expresses His deep distress: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27:46). Jesus also prayed for the forgiveness of those who were torturing Him to death: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In His final breath, Jesus continued to express His faith in God: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Several themes are apparent in Jesus’ prayers. One is the giving of thanks to the Father. Praise was a regular part of Jesus’ prayers. Another theme is His communion with the Father; His relationship with His heavenly Father naturally resulted in His desire to spend communicating time with Him. The third theme in Jesus’ prayers is His submission to the Father. Our Lord’s prayers were always in accordance with God’s will.
Just as Jesus gave thanks, we should in all things pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6–7). As God’s adopted children, we should naturally desire to talk to God (Ephesians 3:12). And in everything we should seek the Lord’s will above our own. Jesus prayed in a variety of settings, public and private. He prayed in times of joy and times of sorrow. He prayed for Himself, and He prayed for others. He prayed to express thanks, to petition for needs, and to commune with His Father. Jesus set the example of how we should trust God, submit to God, and seek fellowship with God.
To this day, Jesus continues to pray for His own from His exalted position in heaven at the right hand of God. Scripture says He makes intercession for those who belong to Him (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). It is significant that, at Jesus’ ascension, He was taken away from His disciples into heaven “while he was blessing them” (Luke 24:51). That blessing has never stopped. Jesus will continue to bless those who come to God through faith in Christ until He comes again.