When Jesus walked among us two thousand years ago, he was completely human—even to the point that he was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Despite this truth, however, we still tend to underestimate just how much Jesus needed to pray.
When it comes to temptation, we might think, "Jesus was also completely God, so it was easier for him to resist sin than it is for us." It’s easy to assume that Jesus knew how to follow his Father’s will without even asking his Father what his will was. It’s easy to think that, since he was fully God, obedience was not all that hard for Jesus.
But this type of thinking implies that Jesus really wasn’t like us in every way. It even risks minimizing Jesus’ humanity. The fact is that Jesus was severely tempted. The fact is, also, that Jesus woke up early in the morning and stayed up late into the night so that he could find his Father’s will. The fact is that it was by disciplining himself that Jesus was able to submit his will to his Father’s will.
In this article, we want to look at how Jesus prayed and how he taught us to pray. We want to find out how our time with the Lord can become the source of our wisdom and strength, just as it was for Jesus.
The Foundation for Union with God. At the Last Supper, Jesus explained to his disciples what it meant that he and his Father are one: "The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves" (John 14:10-11).
Being one with his Father did not mean that Jesus and his Father were the same person. It’s not as if Jesus was the Father in disguise. Rather, the oneness between them, rooted in their uniquely shared divine nature, involved their being in perfect agreement, having the same mind and the same heart about everything. This is why seeing, communicating, and working with one meant seeing, communicating, and working with the other. This is also what Paul meant when he said that Jesus was the "image of the invisible God." He was the perfect representative of his Father in all things (Colossians 1:15).
This, too, is why Jesus was committed to prayer. It was through prayer that he was able to maintain his unity with his Father. Prayer made it possible for Jesus to hear, understand, and do his Father’s will.
St. Paul once said, "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:19-20). With this one simple sentence, Paul was expressing the ultimate goal for his life, and for all our lives—to think and choose and act as Jesus would, not as we would. In essence, Paul was saying that he wanted to live in the same way that Jesus lived: in perfect union with God the Father.
If we want to strengthen the union with God that was given to us at our baptism, our prayers must flow from certain convictions. One way to help this along is to begin our prayer by proclaiming three central truths:
- I have been baptized into Christ, and his Holy Spirit lives in me (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- I do not want to live in any way that is opposed to Jesus. I want to choose to live for him every day (Galatians 2:20).
- I believe that God’s grace is at work in me and that I am being transformed into his likeness "from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). He will help me live the way he wants me to live.
Honoring God. When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he answered them with a prayer that has become the most-prayed prayer in Christian history: the Our Father (Luke 11:1-4). And we can safely assume that this prayer isn’t something Jesus just came up with for his disciples. Most likely, it represents a distillation of Jesus’ own entire life of prayer.
In the first half of this prayer, Jesus encourages us to praise his Father as hallowed. He encourages us also to pray that heaven will reign on earth. These words remind us of the time when he himself spoke, in prayer, about his Father as "Lord of heaven and earth" (Luke 10:21). They remind us of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, that his Father "is greater than all" (John 10:29). But even more, these words help us understand the reverence that Jesus has for his Father, as well as his desire to do nothing except what his Father has called him to do (14:31). For Jesus, to call God "Father" is to acknowledge God’s supreme authority—and to reflect the deep intimacy that he had with God.
Our "Daily Bread." In the second half of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to ask our Father for bread, for forgiveness, and for protection. In his discourse on the "bread of life," Jesus told his listeners: "This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life." He also said, "Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me" (John 6:40,45). Evidently, the Father is committed to bringing people to the Son, just as the Son is committed to bringing people to the Father. And where does this happen? In so many situations, but most powerfully in the Eucharist!
We ask our Father for "daily bread," and he answers by gifting us with "living bread," which is Jesus himself. In turn, Jesus moves us in the Eucharist to lay our lives down at the throne of our Father in praise, love, and obedience. And the cycle continues as the Father points us to Jesus yet again. What a marvelous display of love and unity between Jesus and his Father!
Seeking Forgiveness. While Jesus did not need to receive forgiveness, he offered forgiveness to countless people. Perhaps the most dramatic example came when he was on the cross: "Father," he prayed, "forgive them, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son gives us a dramatic illustration of the way of divine mercy: Our Father delights in forgiving every person who comes "home" to him. It also gives us a beautiful way to pray for our own forgiveness: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your child" (Luke 15:18-19). And, finally, this beautiful story tells us how quick our Father is to gather us in his arms and shower us with his healing, love, and mercy.
"Lead Us Not . . . But Deliver Us." As we said above, Jesus was tempted just as much as we are, but he never sinned. Through his prayerful union with his Father, he was able to remain pure and sinless. What’s more, he lives now to intercede for each of us when we face our own temptations (Hebrews 4:16). Remember when Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. Matthew tells us that after the devil finally left him, "angels came and ministered to him" (Matthew 4:11). This is what Jesus is praying for on our behalf as well. Even as we ask to be delivered from evil, Jesus is asking the Father to send angels to strengthen our spirits and refresh us with the confidence that obedience and purity are always the best answer.
Pray Always! Brothers and sisters, it really is possible to have the same kind of confidence in our heavenly Father that Jesus had. It really is possible to touch the presence of God every day in prayer. In the Our Father, through his teachings, and even in the way he lived, Jesus revealed the secret to prayer. Now we can take his secret and make it our own. We can have the same mind and the same heart as Jesus. All we have to do is ask.
Jesus has assured us that our heavenly Father wants to give us his kingdom, feed us on his own bread, forgive us, and protect us from temptation. Jesus also urged us to be bold enough to go to our Father regularly and ask, seek, and knock. He was able to say this beccause he knew that God wants to give "good things" to everyone who asks (Matthew 7:7,11).
With all the distractions in life, it can be very hard to pray each day and to follow the Lord. But Jesus knows this is the case. He knows how hard it is to avoid being consumed or burdened by the rush of the world. That’s why he is always with us, encouraging us and offering us his help.
So wherever you are in your spiritual journey, ask Jesus to help you. Even as he tells us to ask, seek, and knock, he is at the door of our hearts, knocking as well. Every day, he tells us, "Listen to my voice. Open the door, and I will come in and fill you with all the good things my Father wants to give you today" (Revelation 3:20).
So let’s pray right now: "Lord; I believe in you, help my unbelief. I give my life to you; help me not to take it back. I long to be with you in prayer; help me with my distractions. I open the door and invite you to come in."