The year was 1896 and Charles M. Sheldon decided for his Sunday night church services that he would write a story that continued one chapter per week. The story would be about different people who decided to model their life after Jesus. He was soon preaching to a packed crowd. Eventually the chapters were combined and published with the title “In His Steps.” One of the main themes in the book was people making decisions in their everyday lives by answering the question “What would Jesus Do?”
The popularity of this book and the eventual fad of the bracelets, hats, t-shirts and tattoos tells us something about the Christian faith. We don’t just want to BELIEVE in Jesus. We want to LIVE like Jesus. In fact this is what 1 John 2:6 tells us the Christian life is all about, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did”
This is particularly true when it comes to prayer.
Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).
When was the last time you and I did that? When was the last time we powered down all of our devices, got alone and settled into a conversation with God?
Jesus prioritized communication and communion in his relationship with his heavenly Father. And so must we.
But what did Jesus’ prayer time look like?
If we look closely at the accounts of his life we will see that Jesus used his prayer time for (at least) three things.
1) First he used it to bring IMPORTANT DECISIONS to his heavenly Father.
2) Second, he used prayer to DEAL WITH FEARS.
3) Finally he used his prayer time to INTERCEDE for his enemies and friends.
First let’s look at his decision making. Luke 6:12 Jesus goes out to a mountain to pray, and all night he continues to pray to God. In the morning he calls his disciples and chooses from them 12 whom he called as his apostles. This may have been one of the most important decisions Jesus made and we see him spending an incredible amount of time in prayer just before it.
Do you have a major decision? Get out away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. Find a trail, find some trees, find a mountain and pray it out with your heavenly Father.
This gives us an important insight into the nature of prayer. We often define prayer in terms of talking to God, but major decisions require that we also LISTEN. Psalm 81 has a theme of listening.
God says in verse 8 “Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, If you would but LISTEN to me!” And then again in verse 13 we see God lamenting, “Oh that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways.” In typical Hebrew parallelism we see Psalm 81 equating Listening to the LORD with walking in his ways.
When we pray over big decisions our prayer must include both speaking to God and then listening to God.
One way to listen to God is through stillness and silence.
Psalm 46:10 says “be still and know that I am God” This is why it tells us that Jesus would withdraw to isolated places to pray (Mark 1:35).
Another way to listen to God is through his written word. He has already spoken through the prophets and the apostles. If you have a big decision- read the book. Often there is a clear answer in there. Recently I was talking to a husband about difficulties in his marriage. He wanted to know what God’s will was. We looked at Ephesians 5 where it says “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” This was the answer he needed for his big decision. Prayerfully reading Scripture in a listening posture is how to deal with big decisions.
One of Jesus’ most well known prayer times was right before his crucifixion. He goes into a grove of olive trees and takes his three closest friends, Peter, James and John. Once they are alone he becomes anguished and distressed. “He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me..’ He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying
‘My Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.’”
As the passage unfolds we see Jesus went and prayed that same prayer three times. Jesus brought his most raw and disturbing desires to God in prayer.
And so can we.
Psalm 51:6 tells us that
God desires honesty.
Pray out your fears.
Pray out your ungodly desires. Pray them over and over each time declaring, “but not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus spent some of his time in prayer lifting others up to his Father and standing in the gap on their behalf. He told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you Simon, that your faith should not fail” (Luke 22:31). This was so key to Jesus’ prayer life that we see him doing it on his death bed as it were. From the cross we hear Jesus praying for his enemies.
The very people who hammered the nails in his feet and mocked him and spit on him now overhear him at prayer.
“Father forgive them,” he prays “for they don’t know what they’re doing”(Luke 23:34).
He taught us to do the same in Matthew 5:44,
“Pray for those who persecute you”
Pray for your friends that they will be able to deepen their faith in Jesus. Pray for your enemies that God will forgive them. This is what Jesus would do with his day.
NOT ON YOUR OWN
As we look at Jesus’ life and we desire to become like him, it will quickly dawn on us that there is no way we can do this. He was perfect and we are not. But there is good news.
He has given us his Spirit.
Jesus lived the life he lived by the power of the Holy Spirit and he has given us who believe in him the same wonderful gift.
Pray like Jesus? Yeah right!
Pray like Jesus by the power of the Spirit? Absolutely!
That is our hope of becoming a praying people. Our only hope.
Romans 8 puts it this way,
“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us.” (Romans 8:26). We do not know how we should pray but the Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to get alone and to settle down into communion with God.
If Jesus can conquer death, he can certainly make prayer-less people pray.
Take your fear, your decisions, your friends, and even your enemies to God in prayer, and do it now by the power of the Spirit who lives within you.
“Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you” - Psalm 32:6