When we look at the New Testament scriptures, we see a pattern that reveals the importance of prayer, not just corporate prayer during Sabbath services but private, personal, intimate prayer with our Creator, Savior, Loving God. In all things, Jesus is our example, so we look to Him for our understanding of personal prayer.
Jesus prayed intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane before being betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, and He asked three of His disciples to support Him during this time.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.“
Matthew 26:36-44 ESV
He was sad, sorrowful, asking the Father if there was a way that His assumption of our sin could be avoided. In other words, “isn’t there some other way?” Haven’t we cried the same thing to our Father?
But Jesus’ prayer didn’t stop with a refusal to do what the Father directed – He continued to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, saying, in essence, “Your way is the best. If you want me to do this, so be it. I will obey.”
We have all had the experience of confronting a huge problem, frightening news that upends our universe. Perhaps it is news of a deadly disease, or the fracture of a marriage that had seemed perfect. Perhaps the violent, unanticipated loss of a child or spouse, or perhaps the agonizing vigil with an aging parent who no longer knows who you are. We pray hard during those times. We seek the Lord’s face and ask the hard questions, most of which begin with the word “Why”.
There are a myriad of reasons that God allowed the difficult circumstance and we will never ever know all of them, but we can have confidence that they are all directly tied to His plan for your life. He loves you and, even in the hard times when all logical arguments fail and it is sheer pain, unadulterated panic, and fear, if you are His child, He is holding you in His hand. He wants you to understand that His grace is available and that His power is all-sufficient … trust Him and let Him hear all your fears, pain and panic. Don’t try to sugarcoat your thoughts and feelings — He already knows them. He will hold you and respond saying “my grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Jesus not only prayed when faced with the agonizing ordeal of the cross, He prayed, routinely, regularly, even when His ministry was at its peak and he was beset by many who wanted to be healed and to hear Him teach.
“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
Luke 5:15-16 ESV
In fact, He often would withdraw from people so He could be alone with His Father, in prayer.
“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.“
Matthew 14:23 ESV
“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.“
Luke 6:12 ESV
Jesus even told His disciples and those around Him that private prayer between them and the Father is more important than praying before others, as the hypocrites did.
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:6 ESV The disciples understood that prayer was important, so in Luke 11:1 we have the record that, after Jesus had been praying, they specifically asked Him to teach them to pray. It is this request that gives us what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”.
Private prayer was important in the Old Testament — David said:
“But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”
Psalm 88:13 ESV
Private prayer was important in the New Testament — The New Testament church also prayed earnestly for the spread of the Gospel and for the growth of the church.
“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”
Acts 1:14 ESV
“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”
Acts 12:5 ESV This is the humorous scenario that we read about, when Peter was miraculously released from prison and came to the house where people were praying for his release, but the maid would not let him in because she didn’t recognize him as the one for whom they were praying!
If prayer was important to Jesus, if prayer was important to the disciples who lived and walked with Him, if prayer was important to the early church, it should be important to us.
Individual prayer – it is important. Take time to be away from work, household chores, telephone, television, children, spouse, even well-meaning prayer partners … have dedicated time to talk with God on an intimate, individual basis. Then listen. Prayer is a benefit that Christ has secured for His sheep. Don’t ignore it.
So, have you prayed today?
Father, forgive me when I have ignored spending time with You. Forgive me when the trivial has overridden the important, when materialism has crowded out the eternal, when I have sinned by saying a “prayer” that is a thinly veiled demand that You act on my behalf in a certain way. Forgive me, Father. Help me to put Your desires ahead of mine so that You will is done in my life and in the lives of those with whom I come in contact. May I sincerely say “Your will be done”.