Welcome friends for the second part II of Following Jesus’ example through Prayer. If there is anyone whose prayer life we can ever emulate, it is that of Jesus Christ. Andrew Murray a 19th-20th century South African writer, teacher and Christian pastor remarked of Jesus: “While others still slept, He went away to pray and to renew His strength in communion with His Father. He had need of this, otherwise He would not have been ready for the new day. The holy work of delivering souls demands constant renewal through fellowship with God.”
In part one of Following Jesus’ example through Prayer, I had written about two moments in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus prayed. One was at his baptism and the other the night before he selected the twelve and designated them as “apostles.” In the former, as Jesus prayed, the Holy Spirit descended on him – Jesus was thus empowered for the ministry before him. In the latter, I mentioned that before we embark in making choices or decisions, we need the guidance of God – which we seek through prayers if we are to make right choices.
Today, I continue to look into moments in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus was recorded to have prayed and draw some lessons that we can learn from it. But remember the most lesson that I draw for us to learn from Jesus and his prayer life is that we have to be people who pray always – thus following his example through prayer.
We need individual prayer time in addition to co-operate prayers.
Luke 5:15-16 says “But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” My focus here is in the last part – verse 16. Again Luke 9:18-20 & 11:1-13 cites Jesus alone praying. It is interesting that Luke emphatically says “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” This clearly indicates that the times Jesus had withdrawn to the wilderness for prayers is beyond the disciples can remember, he did it quite often.
We often meet as a congregation at church Sunday services and other times at church when we can pray together. We also meet in our families were we can together pray in fellowship with each other. This is good and as much as we have the time, we shouldn’t lay aside the meeting together as Christians. Paul encouraged the Hebrews to always meet and never forsake the meeting together. He writes: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
However, each one ought to fix times when he or she can alone have time in prayer – where one can meet with God individually. Many of us have Sunday services which are structured, even if without a liturgy, there is a particular pattern in which it flows. Seldom does such a congregational worship offer time for us to express ourselves to God as one where you alone stand in prayer to God. Fixing an own time for prayer in a solitary place – which we often term “Quiet time” is therefore very significant. As Jesus often withdrew from his disciples to have a lone time for prayers, you equally need such a time.
My friend our relationship with God is both individual and collective – it is individual in the sense that there is an individual responsibility for all who comes to Christ, one of which is nurturing your relationship with God through personal fellowship with God himself in prayer. “Nowhere can we get to know the holiness of God, and come under His influence and power, except in the inner chamber. It has been well said: “No man can expect to make progress in holiness who is not often and long alone with God.” (Andrew Murray). It is collective in the sense that we [Christians] belong to a family and as it is often said, “a family that prays together stays together.” You therefore ought to participate in congregational prayers as much as you should fix time for lone devotions.
The desert experience, the mountain experience, the wilderness experience and the lone times – in prayers is not but only for Jesus, it is for all who are sons of God.
The need for close partners in prayer – small group is indispensable
The other time at which Jesus withdrew for prayers, this time in company of his three other disciples – Peter, James and John is in Luke 9:28-35 at his transfiguration. “About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:28-29).
For sure the message of transfiguration is quite far from the idea of having close prayer partners that I am emphasizing here. Rather it appears God wanted to affirm the person of Jesus to the representatives of the disciples through Jesus’ transfiguration, the appearance of Elijah and Moses and God’s voice which came from heaven that Jesus is not merely what people think and say he is. He is neither Elijah nor Jeremiah nor any of the other prophets – but rather the Son of God.
Until now, the disciples have not yet concretely known Jesus as God who has taken the human flesh. They perhaps have seen him as the good teacher, the miracle maker – worthy following. Peter has just confessed Jesus as “God’s Messiah” (Luke 9:20) and now it appears God wants to make this concrete to the disciples.
Nevertheless, there is something else besides that which I want to focus on. We have always seen Jesus withdraw to pray alone and we can now ask, why does he now choose to go with three other disciples? In addition to the primary purpose which I have explained above, I suggest the need for prayer partners. Jesus perhaps needed this less than we do as such it wasn’t really the primary purpose for his going with Peter, James and John.
We need moments where one or two friends can uphold our hands and pray with us. The congregational meeting at Church is always a very big gathering where it might even be very hard to recognise some of us. We have tens, hundreds and thousands of Christians in many congregations that makes it even practically hard for some members to be known even by their pastors. It is for this reason that we need to belong to a smaller group where we can pray and encourage one another in addition to our meeting at our nuclear families.
Many churches have customised and given such groups various names including; growth groups, cell groups among others. Some congregations make them formal in a way that the members are known and there is a particular time when they meet. While others keep it informal – encouraging members to initiate such groups. I currently belong to a growth group and I have known and experienced how much helpful it has been to my spiritual journey in a country where only about 2% attend church regularly.
When I was in my early twenties – a time when at one of my “highest energy level” spiritually, I had quite a number of friends at least about three with whom we met every week. We have had times that I treasure to date and I credit it to making me what I am today. Do you belong to any small group of two, three, four, five or so where you can meet and pray regularly? If you don’t, I encourage you to endeavour to enter one or initiate with some of your close friends.
I want to conclude. Jesus prayed, often when alone and also when he was with all or few of his disciples. We ought to pray as much as did Jesus. We shouldn’t always come to God when we are in a dire need. For prayer is not only asking. Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun says of prayer; “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.” I challenge you to pray dear child of God. “Pray unceasing” (2 Thessalonians 5:17), pray with a congregation, pray while in company of few prayer partners and pray when alone.
Are you just a new convert and do not know how to pray, simply in your prayer; you may follow the ACTS pattern – (Adore God, Confess your sins, Thank God and Make your Supplications to God). I also offer you a pray by Saint Francis of Assisi as an example.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” ― Francis of Assisi
This message is written by Rev. Julius Izza Tabi who is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He is currently a candidate of Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway. For pastoral assistance you can email him or check how you can reach him here.