What Did Jesus Teach About Prayer?
The New Testament authors, who provide the earliest reliable information about Jesus of Nazareth, noted that Jesus often prayed during His life, especially at critical points in his ministry (Luke 5:16; 9:28).
The Gospels also provide information about what Jesus taught about prayer. For example, Jesus told his disciples, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
This is a glorious promise, one that applies moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. It is understated, and perhaps by some, under examined and underutilized. Prayer is the means by which we develop our relationship with the Savior, and by which He is enabled to offer the additional assistance He freely loves to give. Prayer is the conduit to God’s power, His perspective, and His peace. It is the antidote to pride, for it speaks of our reliance on the Savior and his sacrifice as we pray in His name, and through His merits.
In one of His many parables, identified often as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge,” Jesus taught, “men ought to always pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
In that parable, a woman asks for redress from an avenger. She does not tire in her pleas and eventually the judge responds. We are encouraged to continue in prayer, knowing that God knows the reason for His perfectly timed responses. In some cases, when our wills are aligned with God’s, other processes are at work that affect our lives and answers come when it is most beneficial for us and when it offers the most chance of spiritual healing for others.
Jesus followed this parable with another, the “Parable of the Pharisee and Publican” (Luke 18:9-14). In this memorable one, Jesus asked his hearers to question their motives in prayer; indicating that what we say does not matter so much, but the condition of our heart is central to whether or not prayers are effectual.
During His last visit to Jerusalem, Jesus Christ identified the central Jewish institution, the Temple, as “My house” and indicated that it should be “called of all nations the house of prayer” (Mark 11:17). Mark also noted that Jesus taught, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). He added that the disciples should not “for pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40).
Matthew provides a similar overview of Jesus’ teaching on prayer when he recorded, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men” (Matthew 6:5).
He added, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7), providing a nuance to his earlier teachings of the Parable of the Unjust Judge for men and women to pray often and “not to faint” (see above).
Sometimes we worry about “vain repititions.” If Aunt Jo is ill for a long time, all of our prayers will include Aunt Jo, so they will be repititious. That’s alright. The word “vain” means both useless and self-oriented. These are the words that don’t have any meaning except to be heard or to sound right. Those are the “vain repetitions” Jesus referred to.
During his last evening with the disciples, Jesus told them, “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Luke 22:40). He emphasized it again only moments later when he found them sleeping, “And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46).
By example and by precept Jesus taught that prayer was important and that God listens and answers prayers. Additionally, Jesus taught that a proper attitude and a pure motive was essential when addressing God if one was to be blessed by praying.