You can read all that Jesus said on prayer in a few minutes. In twice that time, you can read all the Gospel accounts of Jesus praying. However, you will never tap the God-given resource of meaningful prayer in that amount of time. You will need to put in the hours that Jesus did as he learned to pray. Jesus’ prayer life provides an excellent example of the way we should pray. He had a specific plan, place, and purpose in prayer. These are essential if we intend to pray like him.
A Specific Plan: He Prayed Early in the Morning
Jesus prayed “early in the morning.” Perhaps your first thought of the morning is how much you have to do that day. Email is loading up on your phone before you even get out of bed. Your part-time job feels like a full-time job. Kids’ music lessons and sports schedules consume your non-work hours. You volunteer at church and meet in a small group during the week. Before long, prayer is crowded out.
Jesus refused to let prayer take second place. He wasn’t alone in this practice. Consider these Old Testament believers: Moses, Job, and Ezra. Even with full schedules, they made time for God “early in the morning.” Whatever time you choose to pray, it must be a priority. In a tightly scheduled lifestyle, if prayer is the last thing you plan on doing, chances are it won’t get done.
A Specific Place: He Departed to a Solitary Location
Jesus was looking for a solitary place. The Greek word translated “solitary” can also mean uninhabited. Jesus was not known for being aloof. He loved people, enjoyed being with them, and was at ease in groups of all sizes. Yet, when he prayed, he sought to be alone.
We would do well to follow Jesus’ practice. When we pray, we need a location where we will not be interrupted. No cell phones. No texting. No Facebook. Give your conversation with God your undivided attention.
Even when you find a quiet location, your busy mind may still make solitude a challenge. You will need to consciously labor at controlling your thoughts. At times, I have taken a notebook so that if an unfinished task comes to mind, I can simply write it down and return my attention to prayer. I have found that a prayer list or journal can also help me stay focused. Wherever your location, it’s important you’re alone.
A Specific Purpose: He Needed to Make a Decision
Jesus spent time in prayer before he made major decisions. Two occasions bear this out. In the early days of ministry, Jesus was shifting locations of service. If you’ve ever made a move, you know there’s a lot involved in that decision. Jesus had previously moved his ministry operations to Capernaum, and he was getting ready to expand his teaching circuit into the hills surrounding Galilee. To do so, he would be leaving some tremendous ministry opportunities behind. When Peter points this out, notice Jesus’ answer: “Let us go to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” How did Jesus make this decision? Three verses earlier we discover the answer. Jesus was praying “early in the morning.” It seems reasonable that Jesus discovered his next steps through prayer.
Even more important than where he would do ministry is who would lead the ministry. The fact that Jesus didn’t choose perfect people is evident in the transparency of the gospel record. Thomas doubted him. Peter denied him. Judas betrayed him. All twelve argued over who would be the greatest. Yet, prior to their selection, Jesus spent the night in prayer. Luke records, “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles . . .”
Jesus not only prayed about this selection, he literally continued in prayer throughout the night without interruption. When you face a major decision, do you pray like Jesus? Do you spend more time talking to God or talking to others?
There is another truth easily missed in a cursory reading. We may assume that Jesus’ unique relationship with his Father spilled over into his prayer life, yet we don’t see the Father speaking back to Jesus during his time of prayer; we just read that Jesus prayed all night long. It’s not that the Father couldn’t audibly speak back; on three other occasions he spoke in an audible voice so Jesus could hear. Rather, the Father speaking back seems to be the exception rather than the standard.
I confess, sometimes when I’ve prayed over a decision I’ve thought: I just wish God would tell me what to do. Perhaps you have, too. Not so with Jesus. He seems to have discovered his answer through the process of prayer, not because the Father gave a quick and easy answer. He labored in prayer, and so should we.
Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well