What is Advent?

Advent_WreathWhat is this thing called Advent?

In 4th and 5th century Gaul and Spain, Advent was a preparation not for Christmas but for Epiphany. That’s the early-January celebration of such diverse events in Jesus’ life as his Baptism, the miracle at Cana, and the visit of the Magi. In those days,  believers spent Advent’s 40 days examining their hearts in worship.

It was not until the 6th century that Christians in Rome began linking this season explicitly to the coming of Christ. But at that time, and for centuries after, the “coming” that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but anticipation of His Second Coming. It was not until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Lord’s advent or coming did not replace the older sense—the Second Coming.  The muted, somber anticipation of waiting remained alongside the joyous celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

So, modern liturgy divides Advent into a period, through December 16th, during which the focus is Christ’s Second Coming, and a period, from December 17th to the 24th, focusing on His birth. We light candles in anticipation of His Second Coming and in celebration of His incarnation. It starts with the Old Testament passages foretelling the birth of a Messiah and New Testament passages trumpeting John the Baptist’s exhortations and the angels’ announcements.

Christ came with great anticipation and with plenty of prior notice! See Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. Prophets and angels joined to proclaim his coming! And now we can join too, with the cloud of witnesses in the same proclamation!

Waiting in the LordAnd in the protected, quiet times of meditation, I can respond as I imagine believers have done on every Advent since the tradition began: I can bow my head and prepare for the return of the One who is always present, but who seems distant in my mind during the busyness of the season. I can mourn for my hardness of my heart. I can hope in His grace. And I can rejoice that in answer to the cry, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” He came.

During Christmas, we’re rushing around, busy with parties and programs and presents and plans. It seems like there’s hardly time to wait. But celebrating the waiting and longing for “the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ? (Titus 2:11-14) is precisely what Advent is all about.

Discouragement

Have you ever been discouraged? The days are lonely and the nights are long.

Discouragement typically comes to us because we’ve looked outward and found that our expectations of life or expectations of others have not been met. Problems, especially relational problems, tend to isolate us and discourage us. So after looking outward and becoming discouraged, we then look inward only to discover that we really can’t help ourselves either. The only solution for days of discouragement is to look upward to God. And that’s exactly what David did in Psalm 142.

The superscription of Psalm 142 identifies the time when David wrote this psalm. He did so when he was “in the cave,” evidently while Saul was pursuing him. He was not necessarily alone; 1 Sam 22:1 tells us that David “took refuge in the cave of Adullam. When David’s brothers and his father’s whole family heard, they went down and joined him there. In addition, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented rallied around him, and he became their leader. About 400 men were with him.”

CROWDSA cave (or a home, a cafeteria, an office,  or a church) filled with the echoes of demanding voices can be lonely. Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? It may seem a contradiction in terms, but the greater the number of people present, the more intense the feeling of loneliness can be. Psalm 142 suggests to us that even though David saw his family & friends around him, he felt alone. For David, his sense of isolation was like a knife in his heart. No one understood the depth of his emotions. No one seemed to care what he felt or how he suffered. He was discouraged.

The psalmist spoke as one who had no other hope of deliverance but the LORD God. He looked upward. He calls this prayer Maschil—a psalm of instruction, because of the good lessons he had learned in the cave, learned on his knees, which he desired to teach others. One of the reasons we wear out the pages of the psalms is that it helps us simply to know that somebody has gone before us—even thousands of years before us. We find comfort in recognizing the emotions we’re feeling here and now displayed in a man who lived so long ago. David gives us a biblical perspective for when we experience days of discouragement, too.

There are days we feel down (vs. 3) David said, “my spirit is weak within me” The Hebrew words literally mean “the muffling of my spirit.” What vivid terminology—have you ever felt a muffled spirit? David has come to a place where he has begun to distrust his powers of judgment. He is no longer certain where to turn or what course to take. Life has become a great flood rushing in upon him, and he struggles to stand firm against the current. David closes his eyes with a sinking heart. He puts his head farther down in his hands and whispers, “O Lord God, what now? What would You have me do?”

discouragedThere are days we feel deserted (vs. 4) David shared, “no one stands up for me; there is no refuge for me; no one cares about me.” This may be one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Everyone around him seems indifferent to his desperate need. No one seems to care for his life. It is really a haunting cry, “No one cares for my soul.” Have you had days like that? I know I have.

There are days we feel depressed (vs. 6) “Listen to my cry for I am very weak,” said the psalmist. Isn’t that what the condition of depression is all about? David, a man deeply loved by God, a man of profound spiritual experience and wisdom, grappled with depression throughout his life. The word that David uses for weakness is the word for indentation. He applies that condition to his soul. David is saying, “I’m suffering from an indentation in my soul. I am depressed.” All of his hope and joy were gone; his thoughts had turned inward. At one time, the problem had been a simple one—King Saul was hunting him down to kill him. But now David’s plight was something more abstract, something considerably more complex, something whose source was David’s own heart. He had allowed his circumstances to drive him inward. He had come to fall back on his own resources, and those resources were now spent; the well had run dry. There was nowhere else for David to turn. He no longer sensed the presence of God in his life. He was down, deserted, depressed and defeated.

There are days we feel defeated (vs. 6) “Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” There can be no doubt that discouragement defeated David. There had been a time when he had sent a stone into a giant’s head; now he was defeated in his own mind. When we put our hopes, dreams, and expectations in people, we will eventually be discouraged. So how do we overcome days of discouragement?

David gives us practical instruction. He teaches us how to depend upon God. There is no cave so dark or a hole so dark that God cannot hear us when we cry out to Him in total dependence.

Depending on God's WordWhen we depend completely upon God rather than people, we will find fellowship with His people and experience communion with Him.

We can reveal our problems to God (vv. 1-2) The repeated words and ideas throughout highlight the David’s anguish. He sees God as his only hope. “I cry aloud… I plead aloud… I pour out my complaint… I reveal my trouble.” It’s as though he was telling us how he had prayed on this occasion. He poured out what distressed him to God as one pours water out of a pot, namely fully. David reveals His problems before the Lord—not that he is angry or resentful but simply that he wants to tell the Lord all about his trouble and grief. It is comforting for him to know that when his strength is all but gone, the LORD knows what he is going through.

We can recognize our presence before God (vs. 3) David recognized that “although my spirit is weak within me, You know my way.” David says, whatever I’m going through, whatever I’m experiencing, God knows how I’m feeling, He knows the danger I’m in.”

We can realize our provision in God (vs. 5) “I cry out to You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my shelter, my security in the land of the living.’”  See His Eye is on the Sparrow.

As we depend totally upon God, only then, we can rejoice with the people of God (vs. 7) Free from the prison of discouragement, David said, “the righteous will gather around me because of Your goodness to me.” It seems that much of our discouragement in our families, which extends to the family of God, is rooted, founded, and based upon the expectations we have of people. We are disappointed and critical of our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, because they are not giving us what we want or what we think we need. We look outward and we’re discouraged. We look inward and are depressed. But encouragement in life and in relationships isn’t grounded in what happens or what others can give us. Rather, it is grounded in what we have freely received by grace from God through Christ – encouragement flows from God when we look upward to Him and His goodness to us through Christ.

When we depend completely upon God rather than people, then we find fellowship with His people and experience communion with Him.

We can live sacrificially for each other, because we are bound together in Christ, who meets our every need. I don’t need you to fill my cup, because Christ already has and only He will. You don’t need me to fill your cup, because Christ already has. I can serve you sacrificially and you can serve me sacrificially, because we come to one another in Christ who is our all in all. “If there is any encouragement… make your attitude that of Christ Jesus…” (see Philippians 2:1-11).

looking-upwardIt’s not just the world that needs a Savior —  I need One. You need One. And at just the right time, God sent His Son, Jesus (Galatians 4:4-5). During days of discouragement, we look upward to Him and discover His abundant goodness.

Follow me…. as I follow Jesus Christ.

Can I Get a Witness?

witnessWhatever else we are as followers of Jesus (leaders, teachers, students, pastors, theologians, servants, philosophers, etc.), we are primarily witnesses of who He is and what He’s done. Whatever we might become and whatever we might do, everything is subordinate to our life purpose of personally telling others about Jesus. After His resurrection and immediately prior to His ascension to heaven, Jesus told His disciples,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)

The word “witness” is used twenty-nine times as either a verb or a noun throughout the book of Acts. A witness is somebody who tells what he or she has seen and heard. When you are on the witness stand in court, the judge is not interested in your ideas or opinions; he only wants to hear about what you have actually heard, what you have actually seen, and what you specifically know. witness_standOur English word martyr comes from the Greek word (μάρτυρες) translated “witness” in Acts 1:8. Martyrs provide legal testimony, and establish facts to convince a judge and/or jury of an individual’s vindication or condemnation. Church tradition tells us that all but one of the eleven apostles who heard this promise were witnesses in life and martyrs in death (John died in exile). While many of God’s people have sealed their witness by laying down their lives, more have been rejected and ridiculed by others. For the last 2,000 years, God has empowered His disciples to be faithful witnesses even when they faced the most intense opposition. That same power for witnessing is available to us today through God’s Holy Spirit. Our task is not to convince people, but to testify of the truth of the gospel. As a witness of Jesus, we call attention to what we know of Him through His Word and through our relationship with Him and share His message with others. As a witness, we proclaim the reality of His death and resurrection. When Jesus says, “you will be My witnesses” He uses a future indicative verb (as in “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come”); it’s a statement of fact, more than a specific command. A witness is what we are as a follower of Jesus Christ rather than a command of something we are to do. The the question, then, is not whether we will be a witness, but rather, what kind of witness will we be? witness_characterIn a courtroom, if an witness has an eyewitness testimony that cannot be disputed, then the only recourse of a prosecuting or defending attorney is to attempt to discredit the character of the witness. It’s the same with us as witnesses for Jesus Christ. Regardless of the truth of His life, death, and resurrection, if our behavior and character is not consistent with our belief and confession, then our testimony will be damaged. However, if our life lived in the Spirit of God is characterized by faith in Jesus and brings glory to Him with life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23), then our witness can be powerfully effective. We see this consistent life of testimony lived out in Jesus’ followers in Acts 4. Peter and John were proclaiming that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, so the religious and political leaders seized them and put them in jail. The next day, Peter and John were put on trial and stood before the rulers, elders, scribes and the High Priest of Israel as witnesses to the power of God’s Holy Spirit and the resurrection of Jesus.

“When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

The Sanhedrin observed in Peter and John what they had seen in Jesus; specifically, courage to speak boldly and authoritatively without formal training (cf. Matt. 7:28–29; Mark 1:22; Luke 20:19–26; John 7:15). They may also have remembered seeing them with Jesus (John 18:15–16). These powerful, educated rulers may have looked on these former fishermen with contempt, but they could not question what they had seen in the lives and character of these men. Based on the witness of their lives, the rulers couldn’t come up with a charge that would stick, that would keep them in jail. It’s amazing how ordinary people are able to do extraordinary things with the Spirit of God at work in their lives.

“Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.‘” (Acts 4:19–20)

witness_2As witnesses by the power of His Spirit, Peter and John simply couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. In the same way, all of us can be effective witnesses in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our communities, around our state, throughout the country, and around the world.

Can I get a witness? As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all witnesses. What kind of witness will we be?  Are we a credible witness or a contemptible one? Are we quietly living for Jesus or actively telling others about Him? When people observe your life and mine will they recognize us as followers of Jesus?

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Why Bother with the Church?

Over the years, you’ve probably heard people say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Recently, we asked some people why they aren’t involved with the church and got some pretty honest answers. Here are a few of the responses:

“My parents MADE me go as a kid. I stopped going as soon as I could. My feeling is that I don’t need a social event to communicate with God. We’ve got a good thing going privately.” – SC

“We finally stopped when my son hit the point where he felt more alone and like an outsider while at church than when at home. I had already spent several years feeling out of place and somewhat invisible, but stayed for my children. Once he hit that point, we stopped and haven’t attended since.” –DR

“I haven’t been in months. When you get involved with the church and the people, the people turn out to be fake. I was involved with a church for many years. They would preach it but they wouldn’t practice what they preached.” – KG

“We only have two days off work. There is a lot of stuff we have to do to get done before Monday rolls around again. We are so busy with the kids with their baseball, soccer, cheer, ballet, etc…There is not enough time to stop and spend 3 hours at church or even to go to a small group during the week.” – LD

There are certainly those who believe that the church is where you grow as a follower of Jesus. But, there are others who would also say that we can learn about God just as well from family, from reading books, from podcasts, or through school. There are those who say, “I don’t have to go to church to worship; I listen to Christian music in the car or on my iPod.”

A survey (in 2013) by Barna Group asked over 1,000 American adults the following question: “What do you think about going to church?”  About 30 percent of Americans say attending church is very important, about 40 percent are ambivalent about attending church, and 30 percent say attending church is not important at all. Those who are ambivalent about attending church gave two top reasons for their ambivalence: “I find God elsewhere” (40 percent) and it’s not “personally relevant” (35 percent). Those who are opting out of church cite the following three factors with equal weight in their decision: the moral failures of church leaders, hypocrisy, and the church’s irrelevance. 20 percent say that “God is missing” from church and 10 percent sense that doubt is prohibited. Also, when asked to list “What made your faith grow?” the church didn’t even make the top ten.

Far fewer people attend church on Sunday than claim to follow Christ. Many share similar stories – they feel burned or even betrayed by a former church experience. Others simply “get nothing out of church.” Following Jesus is one thing – following other Christians is quite another.

The sad truth is that the church has been a legalistic, hypocritical, immoral, blasphemous, abusive, dictatorial, selfish, vindictive, uncommitted, cliquish, disbelieving, judgmental, introspective, mean-spirited, proud, manipulative institution. And worst of all, it has been these things while claiming to represent Jesus Christ. This is not by any means a recent or modern development. If we were to take a look at the church in Corinth or several of the churches mentioned in the letters to the churches in Revelation, we would find the church has serious problems. The best argument against the church has always been the church itself.

Why would anyone actually want to be a part of the church? Why would anyone want to keep going to church? Why bother with the church?

Rather than try to defend it or offer excuses for its failures, there is one argument for the church that trumps all the failures of the church. Jesus is building a unique, missional community by the Spirit for God’s glory and for humanity’s welfare. Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal, or individual faith. Following Jesus as a disciple is about a personal relationship with God that can only thrive in community with God’s people.

Even with all our frustrations, we must always remember that Jesus created the church. It’s His idea! Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18). Not only is He the Savior of the church – Jesus is the architect and the builder. In the Bible, we discover that the church is God’s field, God’s building, God’s temple, God’s family, the pillar of truth, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the fellowship of the Spirit, and so much more.

Perhaps you’ve been absent from the church for a few weeks or months or even years. Perhaps you have become tired of the church, been hurt by the church, or grown cold toward the church? You’re not alone.

When we overemphasize our expectations of people or our own personal preferences in the church, we will always be disappointed. But, when we focus our hearts and minds only on Jesus Christ, we will be deeply satisfied and God will be most glorified.

Get to church this Sunday and be the church of God’s people with His people every day. I’ll be at PlanoBibleChapel this weekend.  Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ. 

Friends

A few months ago, DeeDee and I got together with some great friends before they moved to the Seattle area. This month is our anniversary, of sorts – the four of us have been friends for 20 years. As we sat and watched our growing kids play together, we reminisced. We had some time to share what the Lord was doing in our lives. We talked about how God was working through both joys and struggles to cause us to grow up in our faith and become more like Jesus Christ. We played, we laughed, and we prayed.  Most of all we just enjoyed being together – as friends.

There are some pretty amazing things that God does for us through friendships. He extends His grace to us. He teaches us the power of forgiveness. He reveals His presence to us. He encourages us. He strengthens us. He protects us. He speaks to us. He loves us. And probably much, much more than I could possibly comprehend. God tells us that “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time” (Prov. 17:17).

Friends are the ones you think of first to share great news. Friends are the ones you call regardless of the time or time zone to share great sorrow. Friends help you discover who God made you to be. Friends help you become who God wants you to be. Friends pray for you. Friends pick you up when you fall and can’t get up. Friends spend time together and make memories together.

Several years ago, my sister and her family moved to Southern California. It was a difficult move for all of us because we’re not only family – we’re friends. Not too long after they moved, our family was able to visit them. In their bathroom, they had hung a picture with these words, “Make new friends and keep the old, One is silver the other is gold.” For whatever reason, maybe because I simply missed them, or maybe because I was very concerned about how they were doing, that picture and phrase stuck with me. Maybe it was what I needed to see in order to know that they were doing okay – making new friends. Years later, that picture helped me as our family moved away from close friends to make some new ones.

In this day and age of social media, the concept of friendship is becoming somewhat blurred.  A person can have a thousand or more friends on facebook and still be friendless. Even the new term “facebook friends” lacks a depth that comes from true friendship. Maybe “facebook acquaintances” is more accurate. How will our kids, the next generation, ever figure out what it takes to be a good friend and have good friends when most of their conversations take place on a screen?

Since friends are so important, one of the things I pray about for my kids most often is that they have good friends. Now that we have two teenagers in our home, with one more on the way, I realize how much their friendships, or lack of quality ones, can influence them. Navigating the shallow waters of immaturity and relationships can be treacherous. I praise God for the godly friends that He has brought into their lives and I pray that they become godly, influential friends to others. During these days of having all of our kids still under one roof, I’m grateful that our kids are good friends with each other and pray that continues as they become adults.

It’s been said that to have great friends, you have to be a great friend. Maybe that’s the strangest part. I don’t feel I’m really worthy of the amazing people God has placed in my life as friends, starting with my best friend, D2. I’m too selfish. I’m too impatient. I’m too insecure. I’m too loud. I’m too… well, my friends, you know my issues, and you look past those things to see who God is making me to be.

Even when God moves us or moves our friends far away, we’re still friends. I’m grateful for lifelong friends from the days of my youth. I’m grateful for friends from college scattered around the world. I’m grateful for older friends who serve a dual role as mentors and for younger friends whom I hope to encourage along the way (2 Tim. 2:2). Even though there are some friends that I don’t see or talk to as much as I would like to, we’re still friends, right?  And friends, let me remind you that you’re still being used by our Father in Heaven to make me more like His Son – a friend who is closer than a brother.

One of the most wonderful things about friendship is that our Father in heaven wants to be our friend and paid a tremendous price – He gave His Son – to make that possible. By faith, Abraham believed God’s promise and was called “the friend of God” (James 2:23). Jesus, the Son of God, said to His friends, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:3). Jesus not only taught about friendship and modeled it, He is our friend. And as friend, He gave us what we needed the most when we deserved it the least at the greatest personal cost. What a friend we have in Jesus!

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Why pray?

More Americans will pray this week than will exercise, drive a car, or go to work. According to Gallup polls and Barna surveys, nine in ten of us pray regularly, and three out of four claim to pray every day. But as multiple surveys dig a little bit deeper, they consistently find obstacles that keep those same people from experiencing satisfaction in prayer. About 6 in 10 Christians say that it’s “often” or “always” true that “the busyness of life gets in the way of developing my relationship with God through prayer.” (Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky; source: “Survey: Christians Worldwide Too Busy For God,” http://www.christianpost.com)

Why does prayer rank so high on surveys of theoretical importance and so low on surveys of actual satisfaction?

Recently, I’ve asked others, How often do you pray? Approximately how long? What time of day? Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? All regard prayer as important, even paramount, and yet, many like me, feel guilty about their failure to pray more, blaming themselves, complaining about the busyness of life that keeps them from praying more.

Philip Yancey in his book on prayer writes, “Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to.” Our biblical theology tells us that prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe. In practice, however, prayer is, at times, confusing and fraught with frustration.

One of the primary purposes of the church on earth is to pray for God’s will to be done as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). In the beginning of the church, the believers in Jesus Christ persisted and persevered in the fellowship of prayer as the church (Acts 2:42). We know that we should pray. We know that we’re even commanded by God to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:16-18). Certainly, there are times when we do pray. But why should we pray?

Naturally, as if by instinct we cry out to God when trouble strikes. A parent hovering over a sick child, a job interview, a driver caught in a hail storm — we call upon God when in danger, sometimes with an appeal no more articulate than “Oh, God, help me!” During those moments, forget any lofty notion of keeping company with God. I want help from the God who is much greater than me. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” Army chaplains like to say.

Other times, we pray for trivial things. Take sporting events, for example. If two believers are competing against each other and praying for their team to win, whom does God listen to? Does He even listen? Is God more compelled to hear a player because he “Tebowed?”

Why pray? Especially when God’s presence seems so far away, I wonder if prayer is just a pious form of talking to myself. Richard Mouw tells a story about a tourist who observes a devout Jewish man praying at the Western (“Wailing”) Wall in Jerusalem: The Jew rocks back and forth with closed eyes, beating his breast, sometimes raising his hands. When he finishes, the tourist asks, “What do you pray for?” The Jew responds, “I pray for righteousness. I pray for the health of my family. I pray for peace in the world, especially in Jerusalem.” The tourist asks, “Are these prayers effective?” The man praying replied, “It’s like talking to a wall.”

Maybe like me, you’ve prayed for people to be healed – who weren’t. I’ve prayed for marriages to be reconciled and relationships to be restored, only to see people walk away from each other. If God really loves us as much as the Bible claims, why do we have to ask Him for what we need and want? Shouldn’t He give us these things without our having to ask for them? If God is sovereign and in control, why should He listen to my perspective and my pleas?

This week, a dear friend sent me a facebook message: “Larry, I do pray — without ceasing — but I have to be honest with you, at the risk of sounding like a “less than” Christian. I wonder if prayer actually does any good if God has already decided the outcome.”

If I had to answer the question “Why pray?” in one sentence it would be, “Because Jesus did.”  In order to become men and women who move heaven and earth by prayer, we need more than just information – we need to understand the motivation that leads to transformation. The Bible says we pray because of the Incarnation.  If we look to God’s Word for why should pray and how we should pray, it seems that the prayer life of Jesus is a great place to begin. Being the eternal Son of God and the incarnate Word of God, Jesus bridged the great chasm between the Father and humanity. While on earth He became vulnerable, as we are vulnerable; rejected, as we are rejected; as tested as we are tested. In every case, His response was prayer.

The twelve disciples whom Jesus chose were no doubt men who prayed. They had been raised in a culture that valued and practiced prayer, and each of their hearts must have been prayerfully tender toward God for each man to leave everything to follow after Jesus when He called them to follow. And yet, as the disciples went on to closely observe Jesus, they consistently noticed a stark difference between their way of praying and the prayer life of the Lord Jesus. In the presence of these Twelve men, Jesus both taught and modeled a radical life of prayer, and it caught their attention.

We see this for example in Luke 11:1. Jesus was praying at a certain place and when Hefinished one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They wanted the same reality and vitality of prayer that Jesus experienced. So He taught them. And everything He taught, He also lived out before them.  Jesus urged His disciples to “always pray and never lose heart” (Luke 18:1) and to “cry out day and night” to God (18:7) and to “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking” on Heaven’s door with confident assurance of the Father’s loving heart (Matt. 7:7-11).

Hearing Jesus say these things, the Twelve could not forget that even while He ministered to “great multitudes” through continual preaching and healing, “He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).  They had witnessed how “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). They knew that on the night before He chose them as apostles, Jesus  “went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Perhaps the Disciples most profound memory of Jesus’ prayer life was in the Garden of Gethsemane:

39 He went out and made His way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. 40 When He reached the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, 42 “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him.44 Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When He got up from prayer and came to the disciples, He found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them. “Get up and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. (Luke 22:39-46)

The conclusion is inescapable: Jesus’ prayer life was the key to both His life and ministry. At each major juncture, and every key decision point, we find Jesus praying.

Why pray? The simplest and best answer that I see is because Jesus did.  Listen to what God says to us thru Hebrews 5:7:

“During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.”

Jesus, in His humanity, prayed to the Father, just as we pray to Him in our own humanity. The phrase “earthly days” or literally, “in the days of His flesh”  in Hebrews 5:7 draws attention to the human weakness that characterized Jesus during His earthly life.From the Bible’s perspective, God says that the characteristics of His Son’s prayer life, especially when we consider His complete humanity, are to be true for every believer and every church. In Jesus we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, including our weaknesses in prayer. At no point can the objection be voiced that because He was the Son of God that praying was different or that it was easier for Him.

So often, as we read about Jesus we fail to make the connection between His example and our own experience. We reason that Jesus knew God the Father better and after all, He was God. As we look at the life of Jesus it becomes equally evident that there’s a significant difference between how Jesus prayed and the prayer life of many Christians today. Recognizing this gap, it’s easy to feel that His heart for prayer and the dynamic characteristics of His prayer life are things that will never become a part of our own experience. But God not only desires that we pray like His Son, but He enables us to do so. Through His Holy Spirit within us, the Father is working to conform us to the image of His Son, and this transformation through the renewing of our mind will preeminently involve and impact our why and how we pray. “Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears, just as we pray to Him deeply from the heart. “He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death” (Heb. 5:7). The fact that the Cup was not removed at Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) qualifies Jesus all the more to sympathize with His people when we are faced with the mystery and trial of prayer – especially when the Father answers “no” or “not yet.” We know that Jesus as our great High Priest was tested in the same way and did not seek a way of escape by supernatural means that we don’t have at our disposal.

To discount prayer, to conclude that it doesn’t matter, means to view Jesus as deluded. Jesus truly believed that prayer could and does change things. He taught us that when life gets too hard to stand – kneel.  Jesus offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears because He trusted the Father’s plan through His pain. You, too, can call out to God with loud cries and tears because He always has a purpose for your pain.

Jesus prayed with a heart of submission to God’s will, just as we pray by surrendering our desires. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus teaches us to pray. “Not my will, but Yours, be done,” Jesus cried out “to the One who was able to save Him from death,” but didn’t. Jesus clung to prayer as a lifeline, for it gave Him both the guidance and the energy to know and do the Father’s will. For most of us prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing, conflict, or pain. For Jesus, it was the battle itself. Once the Gethsemane prayers had aligned Him with the Father’s will, what happened next was merely the means to fulfill it. Prayer mattered that much to Jesus, that’s why it matters so much to us, too.

Had I been there and witnessed Jesus’ struggle sweating great drops of blood, I would have worried about the future. “If Jesus is so broken up when all He is doing is praying,” I might have said, “what will He do when He faces a real crisis? Why can’t He approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of His three sleeping friends?” Yet, when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage, and his three friends fell apart and fell away. Jesus prayed to the Father and it made a difference.

Jesus prayed and was heard, just as God hears us when we pray. Just because God is silent, that doesn’t mean that He’s still. All prayer by the Son was heard by the Father, as is all prayer from all of His children. When we look at the life of Jesus we see an absolute trust and confidence that His prayers were not only heard, but answered. The author of Hebrews confirms it, “He was heard because of His reverence.”

When doubts creep in and I wonder whether prayer is just a sanctified form of talking to myself, I remind myself that the Son of God, who had spoken worlds into being and sustains all that exists, felt a compelling need to pray. He prayed as if it made a difference, as if the time he devoted to prayer mattered every bit as much as the time he devoted to caring for people. Jesus prayed because He knew the Father heard His cries and saw His tears. And we know that prayer matters because after leaving earth, Jesus made it one of His primary tasks in heaven to pray for us (Hebrews 7:25).

As we continue to learn how to really pray with faith that moves mountains and a dependency that moves us closer to the God who made them, it seems our first prayer to Jesus should be, “Lord, teach us to pray.”