Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 NLT)
Those were the words spoken by the disciples, and Jesus’ response is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” It’s a simple, yet powerful prayer that is prayed every Sunday in many churches around the world. Most of us have memorized the Lord’s Prayer. We can recite it without even thinking about what it says. Books have been written about it, and thousands of sermons have been preached about it, as well.
Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray? They never asked Him how to preach or perform miracles – but they did ask Him to teach them to pray. I suspect they must have realized that prayer was an important part of His life and ministry. After all, Jesus stated in John 5:19, that He does “nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing,” indicating He spent time listening to God the Father.
The Bible tells us that Jesus would often get alone to pray. At times He would rise early in the morning to pray and on other occasions He would spend the entire night in prayer. He often spoke about prayer during His earthly ministry. So, I’m sure by this time in their journey with the Lord, they wanted to know His secret of how to pray.
Someone once said, “Prayer is more caught than taught.” I think both are true, but the caught part is more inspirational. Prayer doesn’t come naturally to most people. It is something we must learn to do. So, praying with others can help us learn how to pray and also be inspirational. We have a close friend that is part of our ministry team. He often mentions that years ago he thought fifteen minutes was a long time to pray. Now he will tell you that an hour or more is not enough. He has learned to pray through studying the Bible and praying with others.
I learned the importance of prayer from reading the Scriptures, but I was inspired to pray by reading books by people like E.M. Bounds, Andrew Murray, Madame Guyon, Brother Lawrence, Paul Billheimer, Reese Howells, Smith Wigglesworth, Elizabeth Elliott, and many others. They helped me understand both the importance and the power of prayer. However, it wasn’t until 1978, when my wife and I attended a prayer conference in California called “Change the World School of Prayer,” that my prayer life arched upward. That conference changed my life. The teaching was good, but what happened at the end of the conference really impacted my life. At the close of the meeting, we were challenged to make a commitment to pray x number of minutes a day. I was extremely busy attending seminary, working 30 hours a week, serving as an intern pastor, and raising a family. Yet, the Holy Spirit prompted me that day to commit an hour a day in prayer. In the natural it seemed impossible, but by His grace, I was able to keep that commitment. Prayer became a priority that would forever change my life.
I have to say learning to pray was really a God thing for me. I didn’t have any personal mentors that inspired me to pray. I don’t even remember any sermons on prayer, at least any that moved me to pray. But by reading books on prayer, I was inspired by those who lived a life of prayer. And through that, I began to realize that prayer, especially intercessory prayer, may be the most important ministry we can ever do. E M Bounds once said, Prayer moves the hand of God. I’m now convinced he was right.
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for over fifty years, and I can honestly say that in all those years, I’ve been like a hound chasing a rabbit. By the grace of God, I haven’t slowed down in my pursuit of God. My wife and I have been involved in church planting, pastoral ministry, overseas mission work, prayer ministries, counseling, and other kingdom endeavors. At this point in my life, I can absolutely say that God answers prayer – prayers of faith. And yet, many Christians have no vision for prayer. The average Christian in the West might pray a few minutes a day, unless of course, there is a crisis. In that case, when all other options fail, we turn to prayer. When we get desperate, we pray.
Prayer seems to be the most ignored work of the church in this generation. Many churches have abandoned prayer ministry. Others have relegated it to a back room where few attend. In my experience, if the leadership of the church is not involved in the prayer meetings, they are usually short lived. In a survey from WordPress.com in February 2017, the average pastor in America prays seven to fifteen minutes a day. A most generous survey reported thirty-seven minutes a day. Many pastors see themselves as too busy to devote time to prayer, especially to pray with others.
And yet, Jesus said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:17 NKJV)
Think about that verse for a minute… Jesus was quoting from what God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “Even them I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7 NKJV)God described His house, the place where He would dwell, as a house of prayer.
When Solomon dedicated the temple he built in 2 Chronicles 6, he declared that the main purpose of the temple was to be a house of prayer. The words “pray and prayer” are used fifteen times in his dedication of the temple. Here’s a summary of what Solomon prayed that day:
- When we pray, may Your eyes be open toward this temple day and night.
- When the people of Israel pray toward this place, hear from heaven and forgive.
- When the people of Israel are defeated by their enemies, if they return and confess their sins, then hear from heaven, forgive their sins, and bring them back to the land.
- When the heavens are shut and there is no rain, hear the confession of Your people when they pray, and send rain.
- When there is a famine or plague or whatever sickness there is, hear from heaven, forgive, and heal.
- When foreigners come and pray, hear from heaven and answer them, that all the people of the earth, may know Your name.
- When Your people go to battle and pray toward this temple, hear from heaven, and maintain their cause.
- When Your people sin against You and You become angry with them, and if they are carried away captive, hear them when they pray and forgive their sins.
- May Your eyes be open, and Your ears be attentive to the prayers made in this place.
Solomon understood that the temple, above all else, was to be a place of prayer. It represented God’s dwelling place on earth – and it was there that God would reveal His glory to the nation of Israel and answer their prayers. God must have been pleased with Solomon’s prayer of dedication that day. Check out what happened next…
“When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever.”” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3 NKJV)
Today, the Church is the body of Christ and the temple of the living God. In 1 Peter 2:5 we are told, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.” (NLT) God has shifted His dwelling place on earth from a building made of stones to a spiritual house made of living stones, His people. And yet, God’s purpose for His house has not changed.
In Matthew 21:13, Jesus said, “My Temple will be called ‘a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” (NLT) I often wonder what Jesus would say about the church today… Would He still say we have turned it into a den of thieves, or maybe a great preaching platform, or a worship center – or anything but a house of prayer?
I believe the church will once again become a house of prayer. God spoke that to me on July 7, 2007, at the close of “The Call” in Nashville, TN. It was an all-day prayer event at Titan Stadium with over 70,000 in attendance. I heard the Lord say to me that night, “My house will once again be a house of prayer.” But before the church will ever become a house of prayer, we as individuals need to become people of prayer. And for that to happen, we might need to get desperate for God. That could very well be the case in the coming days…
So, my prayer is that every believer would catch a vision for changing the world – through the power of intercessory prayer. Would you join in learning how to pray? Jesus is still willing to “teach us to pray,” if we will but ask.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7 NKJV)