Ever wondered why the Apostles asked him, 'Lord teach us to pray'? This is why.
Since Jesus was like us in all things but sin, he models prayer that is spiritually and psychologically healthy.
He himself will teach us how to pray, how to talk to him, giving us his own example. That is why the Apostles asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Lent is supposed to be a time to deepen our prayer life, but have we? Or do we need still to go deep and get real with the Lord? Perhaps we just don’t know how. Christ doesn’t need our babbling, our many words (cf Matthew 6:7). He needs, wants, the real me.
We can learn how to truly be present in prayer from Jesus crucified. On the cross, he teaches us how to be vulnerable before the Lord, to give him access to our hearts — for our transformation and his glory.
In his darkest moment, when he is near death, he cries to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mt. 27:46).
With this single phrase, Jesus teaches four elements of “honest prayer.”
Jesus says what He thinks, which beats dancing around an issue as if the Lord can’t handle our honesty. Transparency is safe because what happens in our lives really matters to the Lord. The Lord eagerly waits for us to accept and articulate our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances. While it can be difficult to figure out what is going on inside of us, the Lord loves it when we pray the truth of our lives. Facing our sin, fears, pain, and brokenness allows Him to meet us where we are at in order to lift us up. It’s the enemy who would like believers to be in a shallow, pseudo relationship as if the Lord doesn’t care, listen, or respond. Yes, Jesus bothers His Father with what is on His mind and in His heart, without feeling any need to “impress” Him.
It’s okay to yell at God; he can take it
Jesus recognizes what He feels and includes this in His prayer. Rather than repress or unleash, Jesus teaches us to channel (constructively manage) our feelings. (a) Feelings are part of a normal psychology, every human existence, and a good indicator of how deeply something affects us. It’s healthy to be aware of, accept, and label feelings. (b) Feelings are neutral: positive if leading to fullness of life with God and others and negative if dragging us down. Awareness and reflection bring understanding. What is going on in and around us? Where is this coming from? Is this taking us to or away from the Lord? (c) Feelings are handled with right action. We accept (go along with) feelings that correspond to reality/truth and reject (let go of) feelings that correspond to lies/illusions. Indeed, Jesus models a healthy integration of feelings in His prayer and life.
Jesus talked with and listened to His Father regularly. If God is real and prayer is heartfelt dialogue, then why not? Interactive prayer is not just for great saints with fantastic missions, but for each of us in our daily lives. Yet, to question is to risk. The Lord may respond with: silence, inviting us to wait; unanswered prayer, because “no” is really best; or with a “yes,” offering affirmation and instruction. While He communicates uniquely with each of us (through Scripture, our spouse, our circumstances, nature, an image, etc.), we all recognize His Word in the depths of our being. The Lord is not abstract and distant but we often keep Him at arm’s length by failing to ask. Like us, Jesus questions His Father because He needs individual direction and reassurance.
The cry of Jesus on the cross, while expressing His thoughts, feelings, and questions of abandonment, is the beginning of Psalm 22, which ends with words of trust! For Jesus, the night was dark, the mystery was incomprehensible, and death was looming. Yet, He knew that He had to pass through to the other side. While there are times to fix things, there are also times to accept what is. Honestly, we aren’t God – so, right relationship with Him means attentive listening, radical trust, and patient obedience when it matters most. Paraphrased, this sounds like, “OK, Lord, I know you see the big picture and have this under control. It doesn’t make sense to me and feels like a ‘dying’ right now, but You are my God and I trust you to work through this.” Isn’t resistance itself often a great source of pain? Jesus’ teaching on honest prayer is that of surrender in the moment, resting in the Lord Whose ways are superior to our own in every way.
This Holy Week, let’s learn from Jesus how to pray — deeply and honestly — about our actual reality.
After all, a superficial, sterile, vague, and avoidant relationship isn’t much of a relationship. Honest prayer knits us to the Lord — just as clean communication bonds us with our spouse or close friends.
Thankfully, Jesus showed us how to be vulnerable and nervy in dark moments – trusting that the Lord loves us unconditionally. Thankfully, we already know the ending for those who walk with the Lord to the end — after the cross comes the resurrection.