God’s people had come to rely on a mediator, a priest, to intercede on their behalf. Among God’s people, prayers to God almost always took place collectively in public and were facilitated by whoever was presiding over the gathering. But when Jesus, the Word made flesh, came to dwell among men, His intimate connection with God became sought after by His disciples.
The disciples had watched Jesus approach God on numerous occasions. Early morning private prayer sessions were a regular occurrence for the son of God. He had even prayed all night before selecting his 12 Apostles. And now they desired to meet face to face with God the Creator. This desire motivated them to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
Jesus’ response to them was very direct. Without hesitation He stated, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:2-4)
Jesus knew the disciples’ destiny as Apostles. He also understood that the success of their future ministries would be directly related to their connection with their Heavenly Father. It was for this reason that he simply said, “When you pray.” There was no question in His mind; they were going to pray.
Yet it was vitally important to Jesus that His disciples knew how to pray. The gospel of Matthew also records Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer. In Matthew’s account, Jesus states, “In this manner, therefore, pray.” (Matthew 6:9) The record of what is called the Lord’s Prayer is often misunderstood. Jesus was not telling His disciples to simply memorize this prayer and repeat it every day. In fact, in the verses preceding the account in Matthew, Jesus is quoted as saying, “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (6:7)
God never intended His people to approach Him in prayer and simply repeat words without thought. Prayer was intended to be an opportunity for His people to maintain an ongoing relationship with Him. It is something that should be alive and fresh every day. God’s mercy and grace are new every morning, and the prayers of His people should be also. For this reason, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray “in this manner.” In other words, “follow my example.” Abide by this guideline. Don’t just say the same things over and over every day.
The disciples learned that the God of the universe was to be addressed with reverence. And the words of His people were to reflect their recognition of His sovereignty. Just any old prayer would not suffice. Jesus showed by the example of this prayer how to reverently enter the presence of God and daily build a relationship with Him.