Can we learn about prayer from noticing when Jesus prayed?
Posted in , Oct 10, 2021
There are no bad times to pray, except maybe out loud in the middle of a concert or movie. But, generally speaking, prayer is suitable for every occasion. Still, there are times when we may not automatically turn to prayer, even though maybe we should.
Recently I took a few moments to scan the instances when the Bible describes Jesus praying, to see if noticing when He prayed could reveal something. And I think it did. Consider these seven moments when Jesus turned to prayer:
1) On Special Occasions
Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism by His cousin John includes an often-overlooked detail. It says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21 NIV). Of course, Jesus was praying as He was being baptized; it was a special occasion. It was (forgive me for this) a watershed event and thus a perfectly appropriate moment to pray. As it was for Him, so it is for us; baptisms, holidays, weddings, funerals, reunions and other special events offer a reminder and an occasion for prayer.
2) During Demanding Seasons
We know, of course, that after His baptism Jesus entered the Judean wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There, He prayed and fasted for 40 days and nights (see Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4), which probably contributed to His success over temptation. Likewise, when we face demanding seasons—adjusting to a new job, preparing for a new round of treatments, etc.—prayer can help us face and meet the challenge.
3) Before a Big Decision
On the night before choosing His 12 closest disciples, Jesus “spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12 NIV). Such a crucial decision prompted an all-night prayer session. How often do we try to face such weighty moments all on our own, rather than turning to God for wisdom and guidance?
4) When Missing Someone
The Bible mentions that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV). He probably needed a retreat from the crowds that thronged Him, but we might also wonder if He even missed the kind of heavenly fellowship with the Father that He had enjoyed before taking on human flesh. In any case, we can learn from Jesus that prayer in “lonely places” can temper our loneliness when we’re missing someone.
5) In Concert with Others
Luke’s Gospel tells of one time when Jesus “took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). On that occasion, Jesus’ three closest friends were there to see Him in the company of two other friends—Elijah and Moses! Similarly, some of the most transformative times of prayer for us will be when we pray with others—in church, perhaps, or in a small group or even a sidewalk café.
6) When in Need
Jesus’ prayer session in the Garden of Gethsemane surely ranks as His most heartfelt—most desperate, even (see Luke 22:40-44). The Bible accounts of this event (in all four gospels) form an amazing depiction of the Son of God and Son of Man in great and urgent need. We may never face such a “Gethsemane moment,” but the Bible urges us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV), laying our needs, trivial and otherwise, before God.
7) When in Pain
Jesus prayed repeatedly while in pain on the cross. He cried out in desperation, quoting from a psalm that told the whole tale of His suffering (see Matthew 27:46). He prayed for those who were hurting Him (see Luke 23:34). And He uttered a prayer of surrender of Himself into the Father’s hands (see Luke 23:46). We follow His example when we pray in pain—even when our prayers are inartful or inarticulate.
These seven moments when Jesus prayed can help us, as we see that occasions and opportunities for prayer are all around us, wherever we go and whatever we do.