To Whom We Pray Is More Important Than How We Pray

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Jesus didn’t pray like most people, and He certainly didn’t pray like other religious leaders. In the first century, Jewish prayers were liturgical, usually recitations from Scripture, and spoken in formal Hebrew. Jesus, however, prayed in Aramaic— the informal, common dialect—and He spoke to God with intimate, even casual language.

It was evident to His disciples that Jesus related to God very differently than other rabbis related to Him. Therefore, they asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response to this request, Jesus told them two parables. One about a neighbor asking for bread in the middle of the night, and the other about a son asking his father for a fish.

“Jesus saw prayer as the intimate connection between a dependent child and a loving parent.”

We often misread these stories as containing some hidden formula about prayer; a tactic for approaching God in order to receive one’s request. Some have even understood these stories to mean we must nag God with our prayers in order to motivate Him to act on our behalf.

Before jumping into the actual meaning of these parables, we must first recognize Jesus’ focus. The stories aren’t primarily about how to pray, but rather about the person to whom we pray. In other words, these parables are designed to shift our understanding of God, not instruct us about the proper process for praying. Unlike other rabbis and teachers who saw prayers almost like magical incantations—formulaic words designed to control and compel a reluctant God to act—Jesus saw prayer as the intimate connection between a dependent child and a loving parent.

As a result, rather than offering a mechanical process for prayer, Jesus wanted to shift His disciple’s vision of God. He knows that how we see our heavenly Father will determine how we commune with Him. Our vision of God defines our practice of prayer. Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way in his book Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: “The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God.”

(Read more in Matthew 6:5-8; Romans 8:15)

For Further Reading:

What if Jesus Was Serious … About Prayer?

by Skye Jethani

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book cover for What if Jesus Was Serious … About Prayer?