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Jesus’ Example of Prayer and Solitude

Jesus' prayer habits teach us the importance of spending time alone with the Father.

Jesus’ Extended Prayers

Two times the Gospel authors record the extended content of Jesus’ prayers – both from the night he was betrayed. John 17, also known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, records an intimate moment between Father and Son. This prayer was also for the benefit of the disciples. Through it they learned of their connection to the Father through unity with Jesus – a profound truth that still brings comfort and courage to followers of Christ.

The second extended prayer happened just a short time later that night. Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46 all record the intensity of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus sweating drops of blood demonstrates the extreme tension of this moment as he struggles before God with the reality of his impending betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. In the end, he models submission to the Father’s will.

While we can learn much about Jesus’ relationship with the Father through these two prayers, they seem to be extreme examples. They don’t tell us much about Jesus’ regular habits of prayer. For this we have to look to other Gospel texts.

Praying at Other Major Events

Jesus approaches every major event with prayer. In Matthew 4:1-2, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness in fasting and prayer. This not only prepared him for Satan’s temptations but also served as preparation for his three-year ministry. Jesus also prays during his baptism in Luke 3:21 as the Holy Spirit descends and the Father pronounces his pleasure. A third major event occurred as Jesus was praying on a mountain. During this prayer, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John (Luke 9:28). We also see Jesus praying before performing many of his miracles.

These events should impress upon us the connection between Jesus’ prayer and his ministry. They show how many great events are preceded by or concurrent with Jesus praying. Prayer precedes ministry, expresses relationship, and forms the foundation for acts of glory and power.

In addition to these moments of greatness, the Gospels record everyday, regular habits of prayer. Here we learn about Jesus’ favorite times and locations to pray.

All Night on a Mountain

In Luke 6:12, Jesus spends all night praying on a mountain before choosing his disciples. Praying through the night shows Jesus’ need for discernment in these important decisions. Matthew 14:23 and Mark 6:46 record him again up on a mountain, praying deep into the night. Later that night, as the disciples are struggling to cross the sea, Jesus comes to them walking on the water.

In a Desolate Place

Jesus liked to go to a desolate place to pray; Luke 5:16 describes this as his custom. Jesus would get away from everyone to spend time in solitude with the Father. He often did this in the morning while it was still dark (Mark 1:35). Praying at night or early in the morning, on a mountaintop or in a desolate place, allowed Jesus to give his full attention to God. He wasn’t going to be distracted by the sights or by the presence of other people. He was fully present to God.

Praying in Solitude

Occasionally, Jesus would model praying in solitude for his disciples. Before telling his disciples of his coming death, he spent time alone in prayer (Luke 9:18). This solitude was a regular habit for him. In Luke 11:1 we read that he was praying in a certain place. We know he was praying alone because the disciples then asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Why would they ask such a question if they were listening in on his prayer? This leads us to Jesus’ description of prayer that he teaches to his disciples. It’s often called the Lord’s Prayer, but the text doesn’t say that Jesus prayed it. He was talking to his disciples about how they should pray; maybe it should be called The Disciple’s Prayer.

Learning from Jesus’ Prayer Habits

Here are a few general conclusions that we can draw from Jesus’ example of prayer and solitude.

  • His custom was to find a place where he could pray alone, whether it was on the mountain or in a desolate place.
  • He often prayed while it was dark, either at night, through the night, or early in the morning.
  • Prayer formed the foundation for his ministry.
  • He prayed before making major decisions.
  • His miraculous power and his glorious relationship with the Father are closely connected to times of prayer.
  • Unity with the Father was both the source and content of his extended prayers.

Meditate on these questions:

  • Do times of prayer and solitude form the foundation of your relationship with God?
  • Are you trying to accomplish things for God without praying for God’s will and God’s strength?
  • Do your practices of discernment or seeking wisdom flow out of being with God in prayer?
  • Are you experiencing God’s love through prayer in such a way that it forms and shapes your will to match his?
  • How does the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 11:2-4 shape your prayers?
  • If you were unable to pray, how would your life change?

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