What Did Jesus Say About Prayer? 4 Surprising Lessons

What did Jesus say about prayer?
Click here to subscribe

For the longest time, I thought that I pretty much stunk at praying.

Don’t get me wrong, I would come to God regularly, maybe with a prayer list or journal in hand if I was really on top of things.

But too many times, daily prayer was just an item on my spiritual checklist, and as a result it felt rote, aimless, boring and powerless.

I quickly lost focus and my mind wandered to what it thought were more interesting pursuits.

That’s humbling to write.

I’ve wondered at times, What is wrong with me? Is there a “right” way to pray? Or a wrong way? What exactly does God expect us to say when he already knows our thoughts, anyway?

I think Jesus’ disciples wondered about some of these things too. I’m guessing this is why he offered them many lessons on prayer.

So what did Jesus say about prayer? He actually appeared to shock a few people.

Jesus’ message contrasted with those that were very…religious. (Hmm, sounds a little familiar.) Some of the Jewish leaders at the time loved marking all the right boxes, praying long and loud, making a show out of fasting and demonstrating to everyone how extremely godly they were (Matthew 6:5).

And then there were the regular Joes like the rest of us mortals who probably felt a little inadequate and lost when talking to the LORD of the universe.

What made Jesus’ approach to prayer different was that it was an ongoing conversation in an intimate relationship with his Father, rather than a religious act you could check off your daily list.

Along with Jesus’ other teachings, his words on prayer were tough pills to swallow.

And you know what? They’re still tough. But that’s what makes them so effective.

The secret to a powerful prayer life isn’t following some formula or method.

Rather, it’s about digging deep, asking yourself hard questions and humbly presenting your thoughts to your Creator. I mean, that just sounds life-changing, doesn’t it? And that’s the effect Jesus was after.

What if we could pray those kinds of prayers too? I believe we can. And these four surprising things Jesus said about prayer will help you do just that.

Want to go deeper with Jesus’s teachings? Sign up for 7 days of free prayer prompts.

What Did Jesus Say About Prayer?

4 surprising things Jesus taught about prayer

1. Pray for God’s Will (and Your Heart To Align with It)

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Matthew 6:10

When Jesus’ disciples asked him how they should pray, he offered them the Lord’s Prayer. I find that this is a beautiful and powerful place to start when I’m completely drawing a blank about what to say.

While there are a lot of great points in this simple prayer, what has struck me is this short phrase: “your kingdom come, your will be done.” Why would you ask God for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth—so that he can have your permission? I think not.

Rather, prayer is an opportunity for us to get our own hearts in alignment with God’s plans for his kingdom. We see Jesus practicing this openly in the Garden of Gethsemane before he went to the cross (Matthew 26:36–46). Ummm, so if Jesus needed to get his heart in the right place, how much more do I??? This is tough. Time to get busy.

Related: Looking for Things to Pray For? Here Are 40 Ideas.

2. Pray on Behalf of Your Enemies

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

Speaking of getting our hearts in alignment with God’s will…this one is a real doozy.

How often do you pray in earnest for people with different beliefs than you? For people who have hurt you?

In recent events we’ve seen a lot of protests in the streets and opinionated rants online…but who’s praying on behalf of the people who are filled with hatred and violence?

Remember that Jesus prayed for the people who were killing him as it was happening. That’s the standard.

I think that, practically speaking, these are some of the most challenging passages in the whole Bible. Forgiveness given and received, especially when it’s undeserved, can make us cringe pretty hard. Add some of those heavy thoughts to your pretty prayer journal.

3. Pray for Big, Gutsy Requests (and Believe That God Will Answer)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24

Do you pray “safe” prayers because you’re afraid God will say no?

Honestly, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this one. If I believe it, it will come true? That sounds more like an interaction with a magic genie than with God.

But I think when you’re having an ongoing conversation with God and actively working on aligning your heart with his will (#1) and you’re genuinely engaging grace-centered prayer (#2), then you are probably going to be less selfish and more in tune with what God wants.

This is the natural next step: believing that his is going to answer in a big and powerful way.

That doesn’t mean that God is a genie waiting to grant all of our requests. But consider this: courageous prayer puts us in a very vulnerable position. I can’t think of anything more intimate than sharing your deepest desires. This tough concept really challenges me to push myself deeper in authentic conversations with my Father.

Related: 10 Bible Verses for the Stressed Out Mama

4. Pray with Persistence

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

Luke 18:7

This passage is about a widow who asked over and over again for justice until she got it (see full passage Luke 18:1–8). Okay…this is another head-scratcher. Why does God sometimes want us to ask more than once? Especially when he also said that he would answer if we ask in faith?

God isn’t hard of hearing. Just like we sometimes choose to make our kids wait, we need to wait as well.

Praying for something regularly proves how important it is to me—for my own benefit.

My kids ask me for lots of things, many of which they immediately forget in the next five minutes. But if there’s something my kid asks me about over and over and over again? It proves that the request is genuine—and I’m more than happy to respond.

It’s similar with God and us. While he doesn’t need proof of our genuineness, repetition forces us to examine and assess our own hearts each time we ask. It’s a pretty effective filter.

Related: What Are Spiritual Disciplines? Plus 10 Ideas to Get Started

Go Deeper with Jesus’s Words About Prayer

To sum it up, what Jesus said about prayer is surprising, challenging and encouraging. His teachings are incredibly simple but powerful. While I believe God listens to us in whatever ways we try to reach out to him, he provided guidance for a reason—that we might connect with him at a deeper level, as Jesus did.

If you want to go deeper, don’t forget to grab your prayer prompts!

Click here to subscribe

How do you like to pray? I’d love to hear some of your tips in the comments!

Gina M Poirier

Hey, I'm Gina!

I’m a wife and mom of five, with kids ages toddler to teenager. I’m created in the image of God, made whole in Jesus. In this online space, I help others overcome the overwhelm all of us face when navigating this messy, beautiful journey we call life. Want to join us?

Read About...

Popular Posts

Freebies

Gina M Poirier is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for websites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

5 Comments

  1. Philip

    I agree with your first two points. The second is also in the Lord’s prayer: as we forgive those who sin against us. I think you are nearly there with the third, I get a sense of your struggle with this one. But, for me, it comes down to the same conclusion as the first. Mark 11:24 is a very misunderstood and misused verse. Jesus had cursed a fig tree. On seeing that the tree had withered away, Peter remarked on it. Jesus replied, “Have faith in God…”. The problem is that faith and belief are misunderstood concepts today. People put their ‘faith’ in all kinds of things and have ‘belief’ in the wildest of fantasies because faith and belief are about whatever feels right to the individual. So, as you say, in those terms this verse will appear to be treating God like the genie in the bottle. But in the Bible ‘faith’ has certainty (Hebrews 11:1) and belief means to be convinced by, or to put trust in. Just as you expect a chair to take your weight we you sit on it. So, when we pray in faith, we are praying for the certainty of God’s will, and so we pray with believe in the certainty of knowing that God will. To understand Luke 18:1-8, you have to read the context there too. It is not so much about prayer as it is hope (as in trust in God’s promises that will not fail, rather than the wishful thinking people today refer to as hope). Luke 17 ends with Jesus introducing his second coming and chapter 18 is a continuation of the same discourse. (Chapter and verse numbers are useful for referencing but not for understanding as they appear largely to be arbitrary and split up what needs to stay together). The purpose of the parable is to illustrate how we are to be ready for his second coming and not grow weary (lose faith), which is through prayer. This too links back to the Lord’s Prayer: your kingdom come. The ‘parable’ (literally means comparison and this one is a comparison of contrasts) is of a widow who pleads with a judge to grant her vindication. As the woman is approaching the judge herself, it shows that she does not have a man to help her, so the judge is her only hope and she does not give up. The judge, whose only obligation is to himself (no fear of God nor regard for man), eventually grants her what she desires. So how much more can we rely on God, whose will it is to bring the faithful back to himself. The purpose of prayer is to keep living in hope (faith). Jesus final statement clarifies the meaning, linking back to the theme of his second coming: “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” We have all got prayer wrong, whenever we have prayed for the fulfilment of our desires and not sought God’s will. He wants us to bring our concerns, our thoughts, our worries, our hopes. Not to ask for our solutions to be granted but for our will to become his will, and for our hopes to be heavenward bound rather than earth centric. That is difficult when we desire ‘good’ things to be done and for ‘bad’ things to be put right. But when we seek out God’s will, and trust in him for what is truly important (that is faith in God, the cross and resurrection of Jesus), then the mountain will be cast into the see, and the sinners (we) will freely enter into the eternal presence of God, justified, and sanctified by the grace of God. That is far more important than the relief of temporal suffering, which we seem to spend so much time trying to alleviate, while neglecting the final trial when he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Hello Philip, thank you for your thoughtful response. In general, I agree with most of what you’re saying, particularly about the nature of faith as described in Hebrews 11:1 as something much weightier than just wishful belief (although I hold to my position that it takes some wrestling to get there), and your point about viewing Jesus’ teachings on prayer in a larger context eschatologically. Perhaps it’s not as clear in my article as I thought, but everything I presented is seen through the lens of my first point, which is to align our hearts and wills with God’s will—-which ultimately ends in judgment and the full coming of His new creation.

      I do have an issue with your reference to Jesus’ “second coming” in Luke 17, as I don’t think that’s what Jesus was referring to in that passage. It wouldn’t have made any sense to his original audience, as they hadn’t even seen his death and resurrection yet. (One could argue that Luke was trying to communicate this, but that’s a whole other rabbit trail.) My position is that he was referencing prophetic imagery from the Hebrew scriptures to illustrate what was going to happen in front of their very eyes. This is an important point because today, while the kingdom hasn’t fully arrived in all its glory, it is nonetheless here through Christ and his church and is working powerfully in this “temporal” realm (Romans 8 illustrates this beautifully). Yes, current suffering is temporary, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter and that we can’t work to alleviate it in prayerful partnership with our Lord.

      While it is important to keep our eyes “heavenward,” heaven’s influence is seen right here on earth, now and in the future. There’s certainly a tension in living in the “already but not yet” of the new creation, and that brings me back full circle to Jesus’ teachings on our need for prayer—-and to your fantastic point, this is the context of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18. For more about my understanding of eschatology and the new creation, I highly recommend NT Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope.”

      Reply
  2. mr .....???

    what about mathew 6.6 ………..?

    Reply
    • Gina Poirier

      Matthew 6:6 is one of many teachings Jesus offers in the Bible. Was there something specific you wanted to point out about it?

      Reply
  3. Philip

    We do indeed need to wrestle with Scripture. It is an ongoing task. For that, I believe, the Bible has to be our primary source. While Luke 17:20ff is less clear, I find it difficult to argue that Matthew 24:29-31, Mark 13:24-27 and Luke 21:25-28 are not about his second coming. However, even when understanding Luke 17 to be about what the disciples were going to face, it does not change the influence on the interpretation of the parable in Luke 18.

    Sorry, I caused some misunderstanding. I should have made it clearer that I was reflecting on the purpose of prayer in the parable, not the purpose of prayer in general. Prayer fulfils many purposes. I agree, suffering does matter, and we should take all things to God in prayer to seek his will and direction to guide our work for those who suffer.

    In describing the need for repetition as a filter, I understand that to mean our prayer can change over time as we pray more and more into God’s will – and yes, that can and probably should happen with our prayers because we don’t always ask for the right things. That implicitly is the result of your lens that is focussing on “your will be done” from the Lord’s Prayer. However, you were referencing Luke 18:7 and the better focus to use here, I would argue, is “your kingdom come”, which is the subject of the Pharisees question in Luke 17:20 that begins the discourse that continues through to Luke 18:8.

    N.T. Wright has many devotees, I am not one. There is an objective review of ‘Surprised by Hope’, by Thomas R. Schreiner, on the 9Marks website that I think is worth reading and could be a source for further Biblical study.

    Reply

What do you think? Leave a reply.

%d bloggers like this: