Lord, Teach Us To Pray
March 13th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-13-88 10:50 a.m.
I am speaking this morning from a beautiful text that we just read in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke, the first verse: “It came to pass, that, as He was praying… a disciple said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1].
The first word, “teach”; He was a master teacher. In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, a friend, who belonged to the Sanhedrin, came to the Lord by night and said: “Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher who comes from God” [John 3:1-2]. In the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, even the members of the Sanhedrin, who were His bitterest accusers and enemies, said: “We know that . . . You teach the way of God…” [Matthew 22:16]
In all of the Gospels, our Lord is presented as one who went from town to town, and city to city, and synagogue to synagogue, teaching the truth of the kingdom of heaven. In one of His masterpieces called the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], Matthew closes with this observation in the seventh chapter: “They were astonished at Him because He taught as one who had authority . . . ” [Matthew 7:28-29].
So the disciples, as they listened to the Lord speaking on many, many subjects that pertain to heaven and earth, they said to Him: “Lord, out of all of those wonderful things You reveal to us from God, would You first, and above all, would You tell us, and teach us, and talk to us about prayer? Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. They were encouraged thus to ask by the example of our Savior. As they watched Him and as they listened to Him, they came to the conclusion that they had really never known what prayer really was. “Teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1].
In the Gospel of Luke, Luke will go out of his way to say that when the Lord was baptized, He was praying all through that beautiful ceremony, administered by John the Baptist in the Jordan River [Luke 3:21]. Throughout all of that ritual, Luke says, Jesus was praying [Luke 3:21]. In the wonderful choice of those twelve apostles—Peter, James, John, Thomas . . . Luke says the Lord prayed all night long before the election was made [Luke 6:12]. Luke also says that on the Mount of Transfiguration, our Lord became like the glory of God Himself; even His garments shown like the brilliance of the sun, and Luke says that happened while the Lord was praying [Luke 9:29]. And Luke is the only one who describes for us the agony of our Savior’s intercession in Gethsemane. Luke says as He agonized before God with strong crying and tears that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” [Luke 22:44].
The disciples, looking at the example of our Savior, asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. They also found, they thought, a connection, a vital one, between the outward life of our Lord so omnipotent, the power of our Savior—they found a connection between the outward ministry of Christ, His public appearances, and His secret prayer life. What the Lord did in secret, agonizing before God [Luke 22:41-45], had a repercussion, in their thinking, as it found its way into the marvelous ministry of the Savior.
There was power in Jesus. There was power in His hands. He could put His hand upon a man born blind and he’d see [John 9:1-7]. He could put His hands upon the ears of the deaf, and they would hear [Mark 7:32-35]. He could even touch the leper with His hands and he would be cleansed [Mark 1:40-42].
There was even power in His robes! The Greek word dunamis, is translated “virtue.” In the Bible, the word actually is “power.” There was virtue, there was power, even in His robes. The woman said in her heart, who had an issue of blood, “If I just touch, if I just touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed” [Matthew 9:20-21].
There was power in His voice. He could speak and the storm would be still [Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:39]. He could say a word and the sheeted dead would come forth in resurrected life [John 11:43-44]. And not only that, but His life, how He was in Himself, uncorroded and uncorrupted by the sin and the stain that mars all of mankind; He was separate and apart [Hebrews 4:15]. There was an omnipotence about Him; there was a glory about Him; there was a godliness about Him, like to the Lord in heaven Himself [John 14:9].
So the disciples came to Him and said: “Lord, could it be that we could touch that same power, that heaven would open for us its gates of glory? Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. And we have a beautiful and meaningful song like that in our hymnbook:
Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray;
This is my heart-cry, day unto day;
I long to know Thy will and Thy way;
Teach me to pray, Lord, teach me to pray.
Power in prayer, Lord, power in prayer,
Here in the earth, sin and sorrow and care;
Men lost and dying, souls in despair—
O give me power, Lord, power in prayer!
My weakened will, Lord, Thou canst renew;
My sinful nature, Thou canst subdue;
Fill me just now with power anew,
Power to pray and power to do!
Living in Thee, Lord, and Thou in me;
Constant abiding, this is my plea;
Grant me Thy power, boundless and free:
Power with men, and power with Thee.
[“Teach Me to Pray,” Albert S. Reitz]
In this Holy Book, it is nothing short of the miraculous intervention of God when God’s saints are praying.
- In the Book of Joshua, the sun stood still in its orbit, over the Valley of
Aj-alon, in answer to the prayer of Joshua [Joshua 10:12-13].
- In 1 Samuel, a precious baby was laid in the arms of Hannah, who prayed [1 Samuel 1:11, 19-20].
- In the Book of Kings, Elijah prayed fire down from God in heaven [1 Kings 18:24, 36-38], and rain from the barren sky [1 Kings 18:41-45; James 5:17-18].
- In the Book of Isaiah, in the intercessions to the King [Isaiah 37:15-20], Sennacherib holding Jerusalem like a vise was sent away with 185,000 of his soldiers dead [Isaiah 37:36].
- In that same Book of Isaiah, in answer to his plea, God sent the prophet saying: “I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears; and I add fifteen years to your life” [Isaiah 38:5].
- In the Book of Daniel, God shut up the mouths of the carnivorous lions [Daniel 6:22].
- And in the Book of Acts, God opened the door for Simon Peter, in answer to the prayers of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 12:5-12].
Power in prayer: “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. We need that encouragement. Prayer seems so simple. But if you pray, you will find it increasingly abstruse and difficult. Even Paul, in the Book of Romans said, “O God, we know not what we should pray for as we ought” [Romans 8:26]. “Teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. And Jesus has opened a school in prayer. He says, “Come unto Me. Sit at My feet. Learn of Me” [Matthew 11:28-29]. And our praying Master, whom we knew in the days of His flesh, revealed to us in this Holy Word, has not changed in heaven. The Book of Hebrews chapter 7, verse 25 says that He is there at the right hand of God, making intercession for us [Hebrews 7:25]; the praying Lord.
It’s a strange thing in the life and ministry of our Savior; He never taught His disciples how to preach, but He taught them how to pray [Luke 11:1-4]. It is far better that a minister of the gospel know how to pray well than it is even to preach well. Talking to God; then speaking to man will be easy.
“Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. May I point out, that for the most part, that is misquoted. Most everyone seeking to quote that verse will put a “how” in there: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Now I’m not denying that it is an overtone in the text, but it’s not stated. It’s not what the apostles pled for. “Lord, teach us to pray”—the will to pray, the disposition to pray, the commitment to pray; “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. We are so hesitant at real prayer because we have a stubborn will. “Lord, not Thy will, but mine be done. These are the things that I want, I desire, I wish, I plan, I covet.” And to turn loose of ourselves and deny ourselves and to say: “Lord, Thy will be done. It is in Thy elective choice and purpose. Lord, You say the word; You open the door; You lead the way, and I will follow after.” Praying the will of God—how difficult it is; and how, in our humanity, we reverse from it.
And so oft times, we lack importunity in our praying. Our Lord was always a storyteller. And when He would say a great spiritual truth, almost always He would illustrate it with a parable or with a story. And twice He does that here in the Book of Luke. Out of the passage that I am expounding, “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1], and He speaks of that importunity. He tells a story. Here is a man, and a friend comes, and he does not have any bread. And he goes to his neighbor and says, “Would you give me some bread for my friend.” And it is midnight, and the man upstairs says, “It is dark, and it is midnight, and I am in the bed with my children, and I am not coming down to give you bread” [Luke 11:5-7].
But then the Lord says, “Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity”—his staying with it—the man just stood there at the door and knocked, and knocked, and knocked. And the man upstairs said to himself, “If I am going to sleep at all, find any rest, I have got to get rid of this pernicious neighbor of mine.” So he goes downstairs and gives him all the bread that he wants [Luke 11:8]; importunity in prayer.
Now that same thing happens again. In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, Jesus “spoke a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” [Luke 18:1]. Stay with it! Then he tells another story of a widow who goes to a judge who does not fear God or regard man. And he would not help, but she stays with it. And finally the judge says, “This woman is going to weary me to death!” And he avenges her of her enemy [Luke 18:1-5]. That’s the way God says we ought to pray, importunity, importunately, staying with it [Luke 18:6-8]. Lord, God in heaven!
We have some remarkable encouragements in importunity and prayer in the saints of God. Elijah—have you ever been on Mount Carmel? It juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. And on the brow of Mount Carmel there is that great, great body of water. And Elijah, after three and a half years of drought [1 Kings 18:1, 45; James 5:17-18], Elijah is down on his knees asking God for rain from heaven [1 Kings 18:45]. And he prays and agonizes before God; and he sends his servant to the brow of Mount Carmel and says, “Tell me, do you see a cloud? Is God answering prayer?” And the servant comes back and says, “The sky is brass and the earth is iron” [1 Kings 18:41-43].
And Elijah agonizes before God and sends his servant to the brow of Mount Carmel the second time, “What do you see?” And the servant says, “There is no answer.” And agonizingly Elijah pleads with God and sends his servant a third time. And there’s no answer. And a fourth time and there’s … and a fifth time and there’s no answer. And a sixth time and there’s no answer. But Elijah is staying on his knees, agonizing before God. And the seventh time, the servant came back and said, “My master, there is a cloud the size of a man’s hand” [1 Kings 18:43-44]. And Elijah turned to the king and said: “Up, up, up, for there is the sound of an abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41, 41-45]. Importunity, staying with it; “Lord God, this is right, and it is in Thy will; and I am asking You, Lord,” and then ask, and ask, and ask. Stay with it!
I think one of the most dramatic and traumatic of all of the things that you’ll read in God’s Holy Word is found in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis [Genesis 32]. See what had happened was, Jacob, Jacob—his name means “supplanter, deceiver, cheater”—Jacob connived the birthright away from Esau his brother [Genesis 25:29-34], and then he stole the blessing [Genesis 27:1-29]. And Esau said, “I will slay my brother” [Genesis 27:41]. And Jacob fled from the face of Esau; went to Padan-aram, up there at the head of the Mesopotamian Valley [Genesis 28:2-5].
And after years, God appeared to Jacob and said, “You go back home to the Promised Land” [Genesis 31:3, 13]. And Jacob gathers his cattle, and his herds, and his sheep, and all of his belongings, and then all of his family; and coming back home, they reached the River Jabbok [Genesis 31:17-21]. And when they reach the River Jabbok, a distressed messenger comes to Jacob and says, “O Jacob, Esau—Esau is coming with four hundred armed men, four hundred of them” [Genesis 32:6].
And Jacob gathered his flocks, and his herds, and his cattle, and his sheep; and divided them into rows, into groups, and sent them to meet Esau; and then he took his family, Zilpah and her children, Bilhah and her children, and then Leah and her children, and then Rachel and little Joseph [Genesis 32:13-23]. And he himself tarried behind at Jabbok [Genesis 32:24].
Lord God! Lord God! And the Lord came down to that perverse deceiver, and cheater, and supplanter. The Bible says the Angel of the Lord—that’s another name for Jesus; that’s another name for Christ; that’s another name for God, the Angel of the Lord—the Angel of the Lord came down at Jabbok and wrestled with that stubborn, perverse, deceiver, cheater, supplanter; and could not prevail against him [Genesis 32:24-25]. And the Angel of the Lord finally touched his thigh. And when He touched his thigh, hurt and crippled [Genesis 32:25] . . . He started to go back and away, and Jacob clung to Him, clung to Him. “Oh,” he says, “do not leave me. Do not leave me crippled and hurt like this. Do not leave me!” [Genesis 32:26].
And the Angel of the Lord said: “Do not cling to Me. I must haste away. The sun is beginning to rise. The dawn is here. I must leave.”
And Jacob says, “I will not let Thee go, until You bless me” [Genesis 32:26].
And the Angel of the Lord says to him, “What is your name?” [Genesis 32:27].
And Jacob replies, “My name is Jacob. I am a deceiver, and a cheater, and a supplanter, a thief—and I am the hated of Esau, my brother” [Genesis 32:27].
And the Angel of the Lord says to him, “Your name now is Israel, a prince of God, because you have power with God and with man, because you would not let Me go without that blessing” [Genesis 32:28]. His importunity, “O God, I will not let You go, until You bless me!” [Genesis 32:26].
And that morning, Esau came with his four hundred armed men [Genesis 33:1]. And he passed by the herds, and the cattle, and passed by the families. And with a sword drawn and four hundred men, came to his hated brother Jacob. And Jacob walked to meet him. And the Bible says Esau looked upon him and burst into tears, wept, and embraced him, and kissed him [Genesis 33:1-4] and said, “My brother, welcome back to the Promised Land.”
“I will not let Thee go, until You bless me!” [Genesis 32:26]. And the Angel of the Lord says, “You have prevailed. You have prevailed. Because you have prevailed, you have power with God and with men” [Genesis 32:28]. This is how to pray; “Lord, I will not let You go until You bestow upon me a blessing” [Genesis 32:26]. And the Lord will place in your heart those things that are right to desire; those things to seek after, to give your life to, to pour your heart out after.
Just keep knocking at the door. Keep asking, keep trusting and believing, and the Lord will bow down His ear to hear, and in His time answer from heaven. “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. May we bow our heads.
SCHOOL OF PRAYER
A. The imagery of
teacher and pupil (John 3:2, Matthew 22:16,
B. Disciples drawn to
ask by the example of Jesus
Him, they came to wonder if they had ever really known what prayer is
to understand a connection between His powerful outward ministry and His
private prayer life (Matthew 9:20-21)
Teach us prayer that takes hold of God’s strength
Miraculous intervention when God’s saints are praying
seems simple, but we find it increasingly difficult (Romans 8:26, Hebrews 7:25)
things bound up in the request, “Teach us to pray”
II. The will and way to pray
A. We hesitate at real
prayer because of our stubborn will
1. Often lack
importunity (Luke 11:5-8)
B. We become faint very
easily (Luke 18:1, 1 Kings 18:43-45)
C. We must stay with it
1. Story of Jacob
and Esau (Genesis 32)
2. Jacob wrestles
with the Lord
a. Would not let go
until he was blessed (Genesis 32:26-29)