JESUS AND PRAYER
Jesus made the statement that if we believe in him we will do not only the works he has done, but even greater works because he is going to the Father. (John 14:12) How could it be possible to do even greater works than those of Jesus? A promise is then given concerning those works. Jesus says that he will do whatever we ask in his name. The reason, Jesus says, is so that our Father may be glorified. (John 14:13) It’s important for us to notice that, in these verses, answered prayer is assured in relation to doing God’s work.
Are we Christians possibly falling short somewhere, because the above verses indicate that working believers who understand the power that is available to them through prayer could change the world? Jesus repeats the promise, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:14) He continues his proclamation with an additional promise. “If ye love me keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16) A promise is given, but notice that little life altering word, if.
In these few verses Jesus has assured us two things, our prayer requests granted and the comforter. It would make sense then to say that understanding what, or who, the comforter is could be of great assistance to us in our prayer life. This is disclosed in verse seventeen. The comforter is described as the spirit of truth, and in verse twenty-six it states that he shall teach us all things. We find that the comforter is not necessarily illustrated as a physical or emotional feeling. It is said to be truth placed in our minds. Not, that the truth will suddenly be dropped into our minds and we will immediately know and understand all things, but that he will teach us. Being taught takes some time, but to know the truth concerning prayer may well open a door in our life that could materialize into great joy, success and peace like we never imagined possible.
Jesus spoke often concerning prayer during his walk here on this earth. Continuing in the book of John, he gives this pledge to those who abide in him and in his word; once more we are confronted with the word, if. The truth is, if, is the connection that we must identify with in order to receive the promises concerning prayer. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)This is a tremendous promise but, in reality, the only way for his word to dwell in us is to read his word, allowing the spirit of truth to be at work in us.
Speaking to his disciples, Jesus stresses the importance of asking the Father in Jesus’ name. He said: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16) And, again he repeats the point: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (John 16:23) In verse sixteen Jesus is speaking in the contents of bringing forth fruit. Thus, we are taught from this that the pursuit of reaching lost souls for the kingdom, which again is works, is connected to answered prayers.
The words and promises, which Jesus spoke, concerning prayer,
works, loving him, keeping his commandments and abiding in him, are spoken to all of us, not just the disciples, or priests or preachers. And, the works are not necessarily some spectacular miracle. Basically, the works we are asked to do are very simple. Jesus summed it up for us. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:27-29) Belief is a work. Because of our belief, on the one who sent Jesus, the everyday life of each of us can represent the work of God. Actions, such as a kind word, a smile, a positive statement, and a thoughtful gesture, quieting gossip or deferring a person from making a drastic mistake are works. One of the most valuable works might involve praying a silent prayer.
Jesus presents another important element concerning prayer in the book of Mark. We must have faith and believe. “Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24) This concept is also brought forth in the book of Hebrews. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It is clear that faith pleases God and lack of faith displeases him. A comment made by Jesus in Matthew points out the importance of faith in prayer. “Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it; Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away? Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:18-22) Are we ready? Let’s begin moving mountains. Thus far we have learned that a Christian worker, who believes and is being taught God’s word by the comforter, is eligible for granted prayers if they are praying in Jesus’ name.
The significance of faith is confirmed in all three gospels, where we read the account of a lady who had a health issue for twelve years. Jesus informs the woman that her faith brought about her healing. “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.” (Matthew 9:20-22) This account can also be found in Mark 5 and Luke 8.
Faith is also referred to when Jesus heals two blind men. “And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.” (Matthew 9:27-29)
The disciples became panic-stricken when a severe storm developed while out on a boat with Jesus. Jesus was sound asleep when, in their fright, the disciples woke him. Jesus rebuked them for their fearfulness and then prayed. Immediately the weather became serene. The disciples were dumbfounded that the weather obeyed him. “And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matthew 8:24-27) Imagine their awe as the disciples watched the storm dissipate before their eyes? Jesus’ words, “Why are you fearful?” brings to light the concept that having faith eliminates our fears. This makes sense. If we know and believe in our heart that everything is going to be all right, then why would we be afraid?
It seems it would have been lot easier for the disciples to have faith than it is for us today since they had Jesus right there with them, but we read often of their doubts. Thomas, one of the disciples, did have doubts when told that Jesus had risen from the dead. These doubts were dispelled when Jesus told him to, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas did so and believed. It was at that time; Jesus made a proclamation that pertains to all of us Christians today. “Thomas, because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believed.” (John 20:29) What a special phrase. We are blessed because we have not seen and yet believe.
Jesus reveals to us, concerning praying with another individual or in a group, the equivalent promise of our prayer requests being granted. “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)The awareness of his presents with us when we pray together is a valuable treasure. Along with that we have the promise that anything we ask in his name shall be given to us. As with our individual prayers we should not neglect to always keep in mind the, ifs, we read about earlier.
Jesus explains to us that we are to ask and we will receive, to seek for an answer and we will find it. We are then instructed to demonstrate faith by tapping on the door and receiving the answer. He gives us the example of how much we enjoy giving to our children, pointing out the fact that we wouldn’t consider giving them something dreadful. He continues on to say that our Father would not give us something terrible either in response to our requests. Jesus said: “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. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.” (Matthew 7:7-11) When we consider what pleasure we receive, giving to our children, we can identify more easily with him when he says how much he enjoys, in the same manner, giving to us.
There are two parables, which Jesus shared with us pertaining to prayer that encourages us not to give up but to keep praying. He first uses the example of a neighbor who doesn’t want to be bothered, but because of the friend’s persistence, and a sense of shame, he gives the friend what he needs. “And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity (*sense of shame) he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” Jesus continues with the same words we read previously in Matthew. “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 everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10) (*Strong’s Concordance)
In the second parable, which encourages persistence, Jesus speaks of a widowed lady who is asking a judge to avenge her against an enemy; much in the same manner we ask God to make things right, when we have been wronged by a particular situation or person. We see the judge in this circumstance was not even a believer. “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus gives us confidence that God will quickly make things right for us. Jesus then questions whether or not he will find faith on the earth when he returns, emphasizing once more the importance of faith, especially in the end times.
Jesus stresses the importance of humility in prayer as he continues to share with us another parable. “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14) We see that the first man in this parable was self-centered and self-righteous. The second man was humble before God. This truth regarding humility in prayer is also brought forth in the Old Testament book of Psalms where it says: “LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:” (Psalms 10:17)
Jesus gave us these instructions concerning our prayers. “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. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8) “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; these shall receive greater damnation.” (Mark 12:38-40) From these scriptures we learn that we are not to pray to impress others, but are to pray privately to our Father and he says he will openly reward us. He wants us to talk to him, not in repetitive verses or statements, but from the heart. The expression, vain repetition, doesn’t mean that we are not to be persistent on a particular request, because previously we were told to be persistent, but that we are not to repeat words over and over, like repeatedly chanting empty words.
Prayer was a significant, essential part of Jesus’ life. We find three examples mentioned in the gospels where Jesus went off alone to pray. Most often he went up into the mountains. There were times when he prayed all night. Being human, a person has to wonder, what did he talk about all night and how did he manage to go without sleep? How often have we prayed all night? Prayer is meant to be a valuable part of our lives also. Below the examples are given where Jesus went off by himself to pray.
(1) “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)
(2) “And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)
(3) “And it came to pass in those days that he went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)
At one point Jesus did take three of his disciples John, Peter and James, with him to pray. An extraordinary thing happened while he was praying. His appearance changed, plus two individuals from the Old Testament appeared with him. The three discussed Jesus’ upcoming death. “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28-31)
When speaking to the Samaritan women at Jacobs well, Jesus explains that man no longer needs to go to a building or a place to pray and worship. “The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24)
At the beginning we read, the Comforter, also called the spirit of truth, was promised, who will teach us all things. God, Our Father, is seeking true worshippers that pray in spirit and in truth. He in turn promises to teach us and grant our requests.
It was a voice of authority that Jesus demonstrated when raising Lazarus from the grave. He thanked the father for doing it even before he asked. “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:41-44) We see that Lazarus did not physically walk out of the grave, but somehow floated because when he came out, his hands and feet were still bound. It was a unique blessing for those who were present. It would have been amazing to watch.
Shortly after Lazarus had been raised from the dead, Jesus prayed a prayer with reference to his death. There was then a voice from heaven that spoke back to him. Several people around him heard it. Jesus informed those individuals that the voice was for their benefit. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.” (John 12:27-30)
Jesus, in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke repeated the words from Isaiah fifty six, regarding the temple, or church and prayer, when he went in and tossed over the tables. Jesus said: “It is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:13) “And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:45-46) (Also found in Mark 11) Jesus was unhappy with what was going on in the temple and warned that the temple was meant to be a place of prayer.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father requesting, if it be possible, the cup he was about to drink would be taken from him, but he submitted to the answer. As difficult as the situation was, Jesus displayed no doubt that the Father’s will was accurate and excellent. Jesus’ agonizing experience is revealed in these scriptures. “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39) “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42) “And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, And said unto them, Why sleep ye? Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:41-46) Here again, Jesus expressed the importance of praying that we will not enter into temptation. We can conclude that it is extremely important to pray about this. Instead of the word enter, enticed or lured into temptation, may possibly communicate the thought more adequately. Jesus used this same expression in the Lord’s Prayer.
Prior to his being taken into custody, Jesus made this forthright declaration concerning the power he had available to himself through prayer. He said: “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:53-54) Jesus was in control, but he proceeded willingly to bring about salvation for man as well as to fulfill the Old Testament scriptures.
Even as most mocked him while he was being crucified between the two malefactors, Jesus prayed for those who executed him. “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus spoke his last words in the flesh while he was dying on the cross. This was his final prayer. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46)