Learning to Pray

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1)

Prayer, like conversion, is a turning to God.  This turning to God is very difficult for human-focused, individualistic Euro-Americans and those culturally influenced by the secularism of traditional Western education.  We are taught to rely on ourselves rather than on God.

How then can we learn to pray, to turn to God?  The answer is imitating others who depend on God, modeling their examples.

Prayer – Imitating Jesus

The early disciples learned to pray by watching Jesus.  They watched him go to a solitary place to pray (Luke 4:42).  They witnessed that he “often withdrew” from proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the sick “to lonely places” to pray (Luke 5:15-16).  They learned that before Jesus selected twelve of them to become his apostles that he “spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12-15).  They heard his prayers before his death, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you!” (John 17:1), and his death had the power to give them “eternal life” (John 17:2). They did not fully understand this prayer, but the words stuck in their minds.

But the journey to his death was not easy.  He urged his disciples to pray that they would not “fall into temptation” (Luke 22:39-40) and then withdrew “a stone’s throw away” and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42).  Luke says that he prayed so earnestly that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  This took place in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus habitually took his apostles to pray (Luke 22:39).

Jesus’ journey was typified by prayer to His father and was witnessed to by his disciples!

Prayer and Disciple-Making

Learning to pray cannot be done merely by studying prayer, telling people to pray, or teaching the components of prayer.  It is best done by imitating those who are walking in a dependent relationship with God.  Learning by imitation thus becomes an inextricable part of our disciples-making.   Expectant prayer must be modeled in both community and ministry.

I am currently learning how to more effectively huddle church planters and ReVision church leaders for the purpose of disciple-making and leader-equipping.   In this process I am like “a sheep from the front and a shepherd from behind” (p. 40, Building a Discipling Culture – Huddle Guide by Mike Breen and Steve Cochram).  In other words, I am following those who disciple me while simultaneously guiding others on the road to becoming mature disciples and leaders.   In these various huddles I am learning prayer both from the vantage point of a follower and a leader.

Currently I am honored to facilitate a huddle for the leaders of a church in the San Antonio area, who are going through the Mission Alive ReVision ministry.  This weekly huddle takes place via conference calls because of distance.   As church leaders, we recently spent two weeks disciplining ourselves to pray.  We concluded during this time that it is easier for us to talk about prayer than to discipline our lives to commune with God in prayer.  We, like the disciples in Luke 11, requested “O Lord, teach us to pray!”

The obvious beginning point is the Lord’s Prayer, his model prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13.  This prayer, given specifically to teach us to pray, has six elements, each teaching us an important truth about the father (Breen and Cockram, Building a Discipline Culture, Chapter 11):

  1. The Father’s Character:      “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
  2. The Father’s Kingdom:      “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
  3. The Father’s Provision:  “Give us today our daily bread.”
  4. The Father’s Forgiveness:  “And      forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  5. The Father’s Guidance:  “And lead us not into temptation.”
  6. The Father’s Protection:  “But deliver us from the evil one.”

Before one huddle I sent an email with my prayer for them expressing all dimensions of the Lord’s Prayer.  During the huddle, we discussed how we learned to pray.  Consistently the response was from listening to mother, father, and teachers.  Others had no strong models.  One said that he had never heard his parents pray.  Some learned from the ACTS prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication — http://www.prayerguide.org.uk/actsmodel.htm).   It became apparent that prayer was something learned, or not adequately learned, by imitation.

The Divine Connection

We also discussed which parts of the Lord’s Prayer were naturally used when we pray and which were largely neglected. They observed that prayer for them (and for many of us) was a combination of Provision and Protection—of asking God for what we need and asking him to protect us.  We too often prayed as consumers rather than fellow participants with God in His mission.  We discerned that we frequently neglected prayer because of self-sufficiency, our lack of dependence on God.  We, therefore, committed ourselves to becoming God’s kingdom people willing to learn the fullness of prayer.During the first week we committed ourselves to fervently praying through all elements of the Lord’s Prayer, expanding our habits of prayer.

During the second week, we focused on praying through one element of the Lord’s Prayer each day.

During each of these huddles I prayed through the Lord’s Prayer on their behalf.

God is teaching us—evangelists, elders, leaders—to pray!!

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Facilitator of Church Planting and Renewal

Mission Alive

3 thoughts on “Learning to Pray

  1. Gailyn is spot on. There is a freshness and depth that praying Jesus’ model prayer brings to one’s prayer life. As each element is prayed – not necessarily word for word – there is a sense that we’re touching on the most important facets of our lives with God. While we do pray, “give us…,” we are also praying, “Your kingdom/reign come…on earth as it is in heaven.” Intimacy, praise, submission, dependency, relationships and so much more is where praying Jesus’ way will take you. The two weeks of focus on the elements of Jesus’ prayer was a wonderful reminder that prayer is like bread and water – we cannot be without it.

    • I forgot to say, “Thank you, Gailyn, for your leadership and care for both our Huddle group and the Boerne church of Christ.”

  2. Good thoughts, Gailyn and Randy. I certainly agree that “prayer is like bread and water.” Through it God sustains us in our deepest lows and gives us perspective at the heights.

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