Prayer is of paramount importance in the Human experience. While some spiritual disciplines are significantly different across various times and places, nearly every single culture relies upon prayer. Some pray to a god, some pray to their ancestors, some turn inward and ‘pray’ unto themselves. People groups have almost innumerable differences between them but one of the common threads between all of us is prayer.
Beyond this, prayer was a crucial element in the life and teachings of Jesus. Luke’s record in particular highlights how frequently and intensely Jesus devoted himself to going to his Father in prayer (Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 10:21-23; et al). On one occasion after Jesus had been praying his disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lu. 11:1). Fortunately for them and for us, Jesus did just that. If we want to cultivate the same sort of closeness to God that Jesus had, then we would do well to pay attention and learn how to pray.
Keep it simple. (Lu. 11:1-4)
Reverently honor God as you approach him. Seek the progress of his Kingdom rule in your own life and in the world at large. Ask for what you need that day — needs of your body and needs of your soul. As you go, pray that he will make you able to treat others with the same goodness that he has treated you.
It’s nearly shocking to see just how simple prayer is according to Jesus. Certainly there are times that lengthy or poetic prayers may be appropriate. (E.g. Psalms) After all, when you pour out your heart to God sometimes the thoughts just keep flowing. But don’t think that your prayers need to cover every subject under Heaven; there is no need to use language or statements that would impress God (how could you impress the Sovereign Creator of all things anyway?); you won’t get extra points for how long you go in your prayers.
One of the important reasons that it is important to learn to be simple in our prayers is that it reminds us of our position before God. Simple prayers make for humble hearts, ready to submit to the Father in whom we trust for all things.
Be persistent. (Lu. 11:5-12, 18:1-8)
Have you ever thought something like this? “I shouldn’t keep on asking God about all that. He knows anyway and if I keep coming to him with this issue, it probably will either annoy him or make him mad that I don’t just trust him.” If so, congratulations — you’re a normal person. We probably all have thought that way at some point, but we were wrong.
Jesus tells two stories that emphasize the importance of persistence, repetitively coming to God in prayer (even coming to him with the same requests). In Luke 11 the illustration Jesus gives is of a Friend knocking on a Neighbor’s door asking for food to give to an unexpected visitor. Jesus says that if the Friend persistently keeps knocking then eventually the Neighbor will get out of bed to answer. Similarly, in Luke 18 Jesus pictures a Woman who continually comes to a Judge asking for justice. Even if the Judge doesn’t care about pleasing God or giving justice to citizens, he will eventually grant the Woman what she deserves because she won’t give up.
The point of these stories is certainly not that God is disinterested in our prayers like a begrudging Neighbor or an unrighteous Judge. Rather, Jesus is saying, ‘If even worldly people will eventually answer those who persistently make requests of them, how much more do you think the good God who created you and loves you will answer you who remain persistent in prayer?’
Look, I know that sometimes when you pray it seems pointless and you\’re pretty sure that God isn’t listening. It’s easy to give up either in frustration or despair. But don’t stop praying. Countless faithful people throughout history have sought God in prayer and not seen answers for a long time — some never even saw the answers in their lifetime! But don’t give up on prayer, keep coming to God. He wants to hear our prayers and he will answer them in the ways he knows best.
Trust the Father. (Lu. 11:2, 13; 18:8)
In Luke 11 Jesus gives one of the most helpful mini-parable descriptions of the heart of prayer. He said that we should think about prayer as a Child asking their Father to take care of them and give them what they need. This is such a critical framework for prayer that in this discussion Jesus underscores the concept of God as our Father three times (Lu. 11:2, 11, 13).
When you pray, you aren’t trying to impress a distant deity who cares very little for you. (That’s why prayer isn’t about how beautiful or complicated or lengthy you word your prayers.) When you pray, you aren’t submitting a one-time, formal request for service. (That’s why you should keep coming back, persistently expressing your fears, desires, and gratitude.) When you pray, you are calling on your Father who loves you and wants what is best for you and is wise and powerful enough to address your every need.
Prayer becomes a potent force in our lives when we entrust ourselves by faith in the goodness of our Father. If you pray in a worldly manner or stop praying altogether, you are no longer placing yourself in the Father’s hands. When you pray as Jesus has taught us to, you are laying yourself at the feet of the One who made you, loves you, and wants to bring you home.
Jesus taught these things because we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lu. 18:1). Now each of us must consider the challenge Jesus gave us all regarding our prayers: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the Earth?” (Luke 18:8).