Teach us how to pray
Part one of a series of studies on the Lord’s Prayer
One 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.”
Luke 11:1 (NIV)
In what context was this request made? The disciples had been watching Jesus pray – and it probably wasn’t the first time. Praying, with Jesus, was a frequent event. He was talking to his Father, with all the familiarity that is part of a loving father-son relationship. It’s not as if the disciples hadn’t seen prayer before. It was a regular part of worship in Second Temple Judaism and had been for over 500 years. The ‘Tefillah’, or ‘18 Benedictions’ was – and still is – prayed three times a day, with some variation depending on the day and the situation, and it would have been done so, in the time of Christ. The disciples could not have missed it and were probably praying it themselves. So what was it about what they saw or heard with Christ that made it different to what they saw or heard from the religious leaders of the time?
The second of the 18 Benedictions explicitly references a resurrection, speaking of the Lord who brings the dead to life. In this, the prayer challenged the Sadducees, ‘who say there is no resurrection’ (Mark 12:18). Through listening to the repetition of this prayer, and reciting it themselves, the disciples would have been aware that the God they worshipped and obeyed would, at some time, bring the dead to life. They did not realise at the time that they were standing next to the one who would bring that to pass in a way that nobody had imagined.
And maybe they felt a little disappointed when Christ had responded to their request with what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, because it mirrored in so many ways the overall content of the Tefillah – although a good deal more succinctly. The ‘benedictions’ begin with three prayers praising God. These are followed by a number of prayers of petition: forgiveness is asked for, healing is requested for the sick, and there’s even one that prays that the Sadducees, among others, would be struck down. Finally there are three prayers of thanks that acknowledge the supremacy of God.
But the overall thrust of these 18 Benedictions was to petition God for the Messiah who would defeat their enemies, free them from captivity, grant them the blessings promised in scripture and return them to the past glory in the land they had lost through disobedience. Right from the beginning Christ’s prayer has a different direction. He addresses the God he prays to as ‘Father’ and if we have any doubt about what kind of ‘father’ he is praying to, we only have to look at the comment he made to Philip, one of his disciples, who had asked to be shown the Father: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9).
The prayer that Christ shares with them looks forward to a glorious future that is not a repeat of the past. Things had changed and the gospel accounts show us that the disciples did not really grasp the enormity of the change until after the death of their leader, and his resurrection.
Father in heaven, help us to pray as your Son, Jesus Christ, did; to have that close relationship with you, as a child has with their father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Study by Maggie Mitchell
About the writer:
Maggie Mitchell attends the Northampton congregation of Grace Communion International and is Chair of the Pastoral Council
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