Prayer in Jesus’ Life…and in Ours (v. 12)
Communion with God
It was once more common to look for “secrets” of the life of Jesus – what made him tick, the source of his strength, the center of his personality. Our Lord’s person and work gripped our faith far more than concern about our feelings. If there is a secret, I think it is simply that he was the perfect embodiment of the truth he spoke through his lesser father, David: “I have set the Lord always before me” (Ps. 16:8). No one has ever made communion with the Father more the center of his life. It could not be otherwise, for “I and my Father are one.” He could not think of himself without thinking of and loving his Father. This essential, eternal oneness of life and love manifested itself during our Lord’s earthly life. As the Son of man, he humbled himself to enter fully into our condition. He subjected himself to every weakness of life, every temptation by which we are outwardly besieged, and every misery and trial we have brought upon ourselves by our rebellion against God. In each of these seasons, our Lord sought out his Father, as we find him doing here. Luke is captivated by our praying Savior. Let us remember each time we find him praying that the secret of his life, the source of his strength, and the leading edge of his personality was that he constantly sought communion with his Father. And this is what prayer is, for Jesus and for us, not twisting God’s arm to get what we want but seeking renewal of life and purpose and strength in fellowship with our God and Father.
Yet, this is also the reason we find prayer so difficult, especially the “effectual fervent prayer” that shuts and opens heaven, closes lions’ mouths, and moves kingdoms. We do not desire communion with God. It is not the most important thing in life to us. It is talked about a great deal, but reams of paper will never substitute for seeking God with such longing that sleep and food are forgotten because the soul seeks him and will not let go until it obtains his blessing. Divided hearts want but do not want communion with God. Something about the promise of communion draws, but then something about the world draws away. In our weakness, let us remember that Jesus our Lord entered into this abysmal weakness for our sake. He had a critical choice to make, multitudes to serve, and the most wonderful sermon to deliver. He sought from his Father all the guidance, strength, and wisdom he needed. It is, after all, in God’s strength, in quietness before him, in seeking him, that we find all the strength we need to serve God in the world, undergo the most difficult trials, and endure the bitterest persecution with patience – even with joy (Col. 1:12; Isa. 40:31).
Obtains His Promises
There was for our Savior – as there is for us! – a necessity about prayer. I am not aware that he ever said, “I must be in prayer to my Father,” but he acutely felt this need. His Father said, “Ask of me, and I will give you” (Ps. 2:8). This was the condition of his sonship, his saving mediation for us, of his obtaining all that the Father had promised to him. He had to ask, and therefore, he had to pray. This “must” was so that he could learn obedience and dependence, as we must learn it. It was so that he might sympathize with us in every conceivable way. But lest we think of this as negative, remember that it was his delight to please his Father (Ps. 40), so this condition was the joyful way that he obtained every promise, for himself and therefore for us. He learned that the secret of joy in difficult places is making his prayer to the God of his life. Did he need guidance – and whom among us can pass barely a day without having some important choice before us? His Father promised to lead him by the Spirit of counsel. How did our Lord obtain this promise? By asking. His Father promised him strength for the horrors of the cross. He promised him the nations for his inheritance. Again, he did not obtain these promises by snapping his fingers but by his obedient seeking of his Father in prayer. And thus, he says the same to us, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7). If we find it hard to pray, let us remember that all the guidance, wisdom, and power that Jesus needed for the next day, he obtained through prayer the night before. Let us also remember the joy of communion with God. In union with our Savior, we shall obtain everything that he did, for he has gone now into heaven to make intercession for us (John 16:24).
Conforms Our Wills to His
And we thus learn something else very important about prayer. Prayer in the life of our Savior was not so much about asking for what he wanted but for what his Father wanted. This will become explicit in the most critical moment of our Savior’s earthly life, in Gethsemane, where strength for Calvary’s bitter conflict was obtained. And how? In yielding to his Father’s will, asking for his Father’s will to be done, to do what it pleased him to do. Looked at in this way, through believing prayer, we seek for God’s will to be done and for our wills to be subservient to his will. This is not the subservience of fatalism but the yielding of love and trusting that his will is the best for us. Can there be a more necessary lesson for sons and daughters than to seek God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven? To express our believing desire in prayer for his glory to fill our lives and the earth? And as we commune with him in this way, we learn one of the great secrets of life – that all our true pleasure is living for his pleasure, seeking to please him in all things, and making our wills joyfully submissive to his wise, good, and loving will for our lives. When we remember that his plans for us are good, that he delights in our prosperity and peace, and rejoices over us with singing, should we not desire prayerful communion with him above all else in this life?
For Direction to Lay the Church’s Lasting Foundation (vv. 13-16)
Jesus Chooses 12 Apostles
After praying through the night, our Lord chose his twelve apostles. He undertook nothing without seeking his Father’s direction (John 5:30), and a decision of this magnitude required the most fervent and consecrated seeking. Did he not fully know the mind of his Father? As the Son of God, he surely did, but he entered fully into our needy condition in order to face and overcome our willfulness, learn obedience, and set an example for us, which joined to his resurrection power by the indwelling Spirit, enables us to walk as he walked. And then, when we consider that he was laying a foundation for his church for all time, we can well understand that he continued in prayer all night to his Father. From the broader group of his disciples, perhaps the seventy, he chose 12 men. Peter is always listed first, not because he had the most authority, but because he typically and especially later served as spokesman for the apostolic band. James and John are always listed with him, so perhaps we should not so much focus upon Peter but upon the trio of men who were always with Jesus in his most defining moments – transfiguration, Gethsemane. Peter could be rebuked by Paul and humbly received the admonition. Peter might be considered “first among equal.” Simon the Zealot was an interesting choice – from a Jewish nationalist, sometimes with a very revolutionary bent, to a herald of the gospel – let us pray for more of these transitions today! And then Judas – why would our Lord choose him? Is this one reason he continued in prayer all night – must, Father, Psalm 41:9 be fulfilled in this way? Must I take a viper into my own bosom in order to save my people? How glorious was our Savior’s submission to his Father’s will, that in order to fulfill all righteousness, he knowingly chose his own betrayer! Let this also teach us not to avoid the hard way, should the Lord make it plain that it is his way for us. Our Lord chose the narrow and difficult way. He might have spared himself much trouble, humanly speaking, and the great embarrassment of being betrayed by one of his chosen men, but he willingly bore this cross to honor his Father and to sympathize with us in our earthly betrayals.
The Significance of the Apostles
In choosing apostles, our Lord had an eye to the foundation of his church, which is built upon the apostolic foundation, with him being the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). To speak of the church being built upon the apostolic foundation means chiefly the doctrine of the apostles (Acts 2:42), for the apostles were clothed with Christ’s own authority and spoke as his representatives. What they preached or wrote in their official capacity was the “commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:38; 2 Pet. 3:16). Against giddy and false men who now call themselves apostles, we must remember that the apostolic office is now ceased, for none can now possess the required qualifications: with Jesus in the flesh the whole time from the baptism of John to his ascension, specifically called by him to the office, and having seen him alive after the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). For men today to claim to be apostles is to lead us away from Christ and the one foundation that he has laid for all time. It is to despise his night of prayer and to doubt the wisdom and direction he obtained from his Father. The apostles are still among us if we speak the truth Jesus Christ communicated to them for his church for all time. All others are thieves and robbers, and the true sheep do not listen to them (John 10:8). Faithful pastors and elders will watch out against wolves that lead us away one inch from God’s truth and drive out the false so that we may hear the voice of Jesus Christ alone (Acts 20:28-29)!
For Power to Heal the Multitudes (vv. 17-19)
Later that day, his need for the night of prayer is seen in the vast numbers of people that came to him for help and healing. Remember that he drew all strength from his Father. This was perhaps an early high point in his popularity, as not only Jews but apparently also Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon gathered around him. They wanted to hear his word, and they also sought healing. Many came who had unclean spirits; demon possession was Satan’s response to the coming of light into the world. The brighter the light, the greater his torture of men, but Jesus healed him all. Great power came out of him. This is an instance not of the personal encounters we have already seen but of mass healing and release from demonic possession simply by the presence of Jesus Christ and the great power he has. If he could heal multitudes at one time, then he can certainly hear our prayers, making availing intercession for us at the Father’s right hand, and help each one of his sheep at any time. Let us pray that he will exert his great power in our day to draw multitudes to faith and repentance, heal our diseased, worldly hearts, and strengthen us by his Spirit so that we might overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, living to please God in all things and fruitful in every good work.
Taking Jesus’ Praying to Heart
If Him, Then Us
The “Word became flesh” not for himself, as if he lacked anything to complete himself, but for our sake, in order to redeem us. Also, by his Spirit, we are conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29), so that “as he was, so are we in the world” (1 John 4:17). The goal of our redemption is Christ-likeness – not a silly and impossible reduplication of everything he did, but a real transformation into his image of holiness, meekness, and obedience to his Father. Jesus Christ never leaves his disciples as they were, and it is one of the great lies of our age when men say things like, “God loves you just like you are.” No, he does not, and this is the reason he sent his Son into the world – to make us other than we are in our sins and to set up his kingdom of righteousness in us. And therefore, when we see our Savior praying all night, we should take this to heart – that his seeking, his not sleeping so he could pray, is a model for us of the desire and focus with which we should seek God.
But since we find ourselves far from his purity, let us not hesitate to ask him to give us of his Spirit, who shall work at least some of his praying spirit in all true disciples. If we doubt the necessity of us, remember that he was full of strength and virtue. He was wholly consecrated to the will of his Father. But from where did he obtain these things in our flesh, but from seeking them from his Father and the constant support of the Spirit? We are utterly empty of all that is good. We have no ability or desire to reject evil and choose good. The slightest wind of temptation throws us completely off course. The world’s worst sins sometimes find a very unpleasant echo of desire in our own hearts. Do we not need to learn to pray as our Savior did? If not all night, at least consistently and fervently. Ask him for this grace, for all our strength and true happiness are to be found in quiet communion with our Father in heaven. Remember, prayer is a joy, when viewed like this, for the main thing we seek is God himself.
Let God Guide You
Along with his beautiful example, we also have a promise from him in his praying all night – that whenever we need guidance, if we pray in his name – which means to follow his example to pray, to pray trusting his intercession, and seeking above all our Father’s will – we have his pledge that we shall not fail to obtain the guidance we require. This pertains to all matters, great and small. It is because we are such strangers to prayer as communion with our Father, to prayer as a fervent asking for his will to be done and to guide us so that we can do his will, that we seem to lack the guidance we require. Or what is worse for believers, we muddle through in our own strength, which is really no strength at all, with everything seeming to turn out acceptably in the end but never really knowing the joy of the assurance that our God is shepherding us, even as he did our Savior. By not praying, we are not being our Savior’s disciples, for we are not following his example. But also by not praying, we shall not enjoy the guidance we otherwise would and the pleasure of seeking our Father’s will.
Some believers have said that when they looked back upon their lives, it seems to them that God made all their significant decisions for them. This is not because the Lord wrote the answer in the clouds or because they sat back and did nothing. Yet, they found that by seeking him earnestly and waiting upon him to guide them, in time he did make plain the path they should take – directly by the Spirit’s leading or indirectly by circumstances. This was rarely in the way they would have anticipated, but remember that God is not simply a bigger version of us. He is the holy, living, and all-wise God. If we would understand and anticipate all the ways he would take us, we would have to be God. We are not, but we are his children and his sheep, and we have our Savior’s powerful example of the way the Father leads his children – through focused, believing, and persistent praying, praying that wants above all for his will to be done and asks him to guide us in the way that will most honor him and fulfill his holy and eternal purposes.
Why We Fail, Lose, Are Overcome
Now, if our Savior so humbled himself, we must take seriously that almost all our failings, short of those due to God’s testing, are in some measure the bitter fruit of not continuing in prayer. I do not by this mean that we should never sleep. There are aspects of our Lord’s person and work that we cannot imitate, and to make the attempt would be foolish and presumptuous. But there is another sense in which our failure to “ask, seek, and knock” is the most basic explanation for our misery as Christians, our weakness in resisting temptation, our inability to resolve longstanding relational sins, and our inability to forsake longstanding personal sins. Our Savior shows us that there is only one way forward – whether we need guidance, or a heart to receive the Scriptures humbly, victory over Satan and sin, or simply a greater presence of mind to call upon the Lord when we feel the first surge of temptation coming upon us. We cannot overcome anything without God’s help. Without our Savior, we can do nothing (John 15:5). The way we find God as our refuge, obtain the help of our Savior, and walk in the Spirit is through prayer. Nothing could be clearer than that this is the way our Savior walked in the days of his flesh. He had the resources of heaven and earth at his disposal, and it would have utterly shocked us to see him prostrate on the ground, seeking his Father’s help, desiring nothing but for his Father’s will to be done, groaning and crying out for mercy.
Here is a truth that each generation of believers must learn about themselves, but it is usually the truth we are slowest to learn. All steps forward in knowing and obeying God, glorifying and enjoying God, are on our knees. This is not simply the posture of humility and dependence, although it is this, and we must repent of our high and mighty thoughts about ourselves. Shall we obtain anything from God without passing through the same self-denial as the very Son of God, who “in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7)? Sadly, some of us think we shall be able to see Satan’s millions of slaves released from bondage by talking about prayer and condemning moral evil without entering into the serious and Christ-like work of praying day and night. Some of us think we shall be able to overcome our sins without having to prostrate ourselves before God, as our Savior did. He has made us a kingdom of priests, and we must follow the trail he has blazed for us. There is no way up except down on our knees, no honor before humility, no victory without calling upon God for help, no joy without communion with him, no strength unless our resurrected Savior shares with us of his fullness. And he shares when we pray.
Perhaps one reason for our hesitance to make the attempt to more praying is that we realize, frankly, that the Lord did not exaggerate when he said that we do not know how to pray, for what to pray (Rom. 8:26). The Lord’s disciples once asked with some urgency, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Praying no longer comes naturally to us, for our sins have broken our communion with God. Our minds are a muddled mess when it comes to thinking of heavenly things, and our attention can be diverted by the silliest thoughts. I think this is one reason that we have so much examples of prayers in the Bible – the Lord’s prayer, Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 2), Daniel’s prayer (Dan. 9), Paul’s prayers (Eph. 1:15-20; 3:14-20; Col. 1:9-12), and our Lord’s majestic prayer in John 17. And when to these we add the book of Psalms, we should rejoice that the Lord has already supplied our need. He has given us prayers to pray, shown us for what to pray, and given us examples of praying men to follow. And he has given us two other things: the assurance that our Savior never ceases to intercede for us in heaven (Heb. 7:25) and the pledge of the Spirit’s inward groaning and intercession when we pray (Rom. 8:27).
But we must pray to enjoy the powerful and transforming fruits of their combined intercession for us – truly, if God be for us, it does not matter who is against us! Since we find it hard to pray and harder to persist, I suggest making fuller use of the prayers recorded for us in Scripture. By this I do not mean simple repetition but personal engagement. When Daniel sets out to confess his sins and the sins of his people, follow his lead and earnestly judge yourself (1 Cor. 11:31) and turn to God. When Paul prays for the Spirit’s strengthening and wisdom, take up this prayer that you will find in Ephesians and Colossians – make it personal for you, your family, and congregation. As you look for more content for maturing prayer and communion, take the Psalms – one each day on that day of the month: on the 7th of the month, begin with Psalm 7. Pray through it – praises, thanksgiving, pleas for God’s intervention and judgment upon his enemies and deliverance for his church, and resting in him. Make the petitions yours; apply them to the needs of the church and world in which you live. Add 30, and this will take you to Psalm 37, and so through five Psalms for that day. If you cannot complete five in a day, use these as your guide and watch the Lord strengthen you as you follow his example and seek for God’s will to be done and his glory to fill your life and world. Remember that God rules this world, and he rules this world through his Son’s praying kingdom of priests. In his weakness, our Savior has shown us the way, and let us follow him all the way to an open heaven through prayer, where we shall find him praying for us and with us.