Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

   Paul, Ephesians 3:12

Now Jesus himself was a joyous, creative person.  He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent or a policeman on the prowl.  One cannot think of God in such ways while confronting Jesus’ declaration, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”  One of the most outstanding features of Jesus’ personality was precisely an abundance of joy.  This he left as an inheritance to his students, ‘that their joy might be full’ (John 15:11). 

– Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

The Encounter

 1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 

 2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
   ” ‘Father,
   hallowed be your name,
   your kingdom come.
 3Give us each day our daily bread.
 4Forgive us our sins,
      for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
   And lead us not into temptation.’ “

 5Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 

 7“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 

 9“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 

 11“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Luke 11:1-12

Some Observations

The disciples find Jesus praying, as they often have in the past when Jesus retreats to a place of quiet for prayer.  They ask Jesus to teach them to pray.  Interesting to consider this – we assume that the disciples knew how to pray, but this suggests otherwise.  They were certainly aware of how the religious leaders prayed in the synagogues, but here they are perhaps more interested in learning Jesus’ way of praying.  They are likely seeking the same degree of intensity and intimacy Jesus had with his Father versus the formal and eloquent, but perhaps distant (and oftentimes hypocritical), prayers of the Pharisees and others.

The simple outline Jesus provides is instructive on the basic themes that should be reflected in our own prayers.

“’Father, hallowed be your name” recognizes and praises God’s holiness.  When we pray, we are speaking directly to the all-powerful Creator of the universe.  This verbal acknowledgment at the beginning of prayer focuses our attention on this amazing reality and leads to a heightened sense of concentration and reverence.  Harder to drift off to sleep or have your mind wander in six directions when prayer begins with this anchoring.

“Your kingdom come” expresses our desire for God’s kingdom and to see its continued coming on earth as followers of Jesus become instruments of his sacrificial love, grace, healing and compassion, and the Spirit works within and around them.  We are asking that our wills become united with the will of God, that his desires to become our desires.  We yearn for the kingdom of love, grace, justice, peace, healing and righteousness.

“Give us each day our daily bread” declares our dependence on God for daily provision. We often mistake our ability to reason, think and act as self-generated, yet these very faculties are gifts from God.  Note that Jesus focuses on our need for God’s provision in this very day, not getting all ducks in a row for the future and eliminating all uncertainty.  Daily bread is different than a storehouse full of a lifetime of provision with all possible contingencies covered.

“Forgive us our sins” is an acknowledgment and confession of our sins, recognizing our need of God’s grace and our utter dependence on this grace to be made clean and enter into relationship with God.  Our inclination is typically to focus most confession on sins of commission, but a primary focus of the teaching of Jesus encourages a more holistic repentance that also includes sins of omission, what we have left undone – love of neighbor, love of enemies, giving to all who ask, being uniformly merciful, etc.

“For we also forgive everyone who sins against us” acknowledges that we are indeed forgiving those who have wronged us, just as we are mercifully forgiven by God.  This should prompt us to identify, confess and address any unforgiveness in our own lives.  We should follow our prayer by immediately taking action to forgive (or to seek forgiveness) from those who we believe have wronged us or we have wronged.

“And lead us not into temptation [but deliver us from evil]” acknowledges the very real power of evil and the daily temptation we face, while affirming our desire to be obedient with God’s help.

As I reflect on my own prayer life, I recognize how quick I am to go right to the third item (my own needs/problems) while overlooking praising God, expressing desire for him and his kingdom, confessing sin and seeking God’s help in greater obedience and righteousness.  

I have found using Jesus’ prayer very helpful to frame my own and avoid pure “request list” prayer.  I will endeavor to repeat each of Jesus’ words and then pray more specifically off these themes.  I will pray, “Father, hallowed be your name” and then begin to praise God for various things, including blessings in my life that have been evident over the last day; I will pray, “your kingdom come” and lift up specific people who are following Jesus and their walks, and intercede for those not yet in Christ and for various ministries; I will pray, “give us our daily bread” and ask God to meet certain needs in our own lives and the lives of our families and friends; I will pray, “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” and confess my own sin and ask for God’s help in forgiving others if there is any outstanding unforgiveness; I will pray, “lead us not into temptation” and then reference specific things I may be struggling with or expect to encounter that day.

After teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus then begins to expand upon the point about approaching God in prayer for our needs (maybe the disciples struggled the same way I do in dialing right in on my own needs).  Rather than discouraging the disciples to ask God to meet their needs, Jesus challenges them to ask boldly and believe that God will respond liberally to give each “as much as he needs.”  It is worth considering what we “need” versus what we “want” – Jesus addresses the former, not the latter here. 

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Jesus implores us to take prayer seriously . . . to ask, seek, knock and believe that God will truly respond to what we ask. This requires a change in mindset from the pro-forma, half-distracted prayers that has characterized my own praying at times.  As we often find Jesus going off alone to quiet places to pray, we should do the same if we are to concentrate to truly ask, seek and knock.

At the same time, Jesus does not correlate the length of prayer with its effectiveness – his outline is short and inclusive.  There is an element of quality over quantity here.  It is better for us to be completely focused during prayer, believing we are speaking to and being heard by the Maker and Master of the universe, and praying inclusively as Jesus taught us (i.e., not all about our needs and nothing else Jesus outlines).  Similarly, we approach God as his beloved children, obviating the need for great eloquence or formality.  

I pray that each of us will be filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore growing in our ability and desire to pray in this way as it represents a central element in the life of the disciple of Jesus.  I am asking, seeking, knocking and believing that God will respond to this petition as this is a very real need (not an optional “want”) for each of us in growing closer to Christ and becoming more like him. 


“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thoughts to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.  A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thoughts to his steps.”

  Proverbs 14:8, 15

A Prayer

 “Against you, you only, I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.”

  Psalm 51:4-9