Lord, Teach us to Pray . . .
Philip Venables, Feltham, England
The importance of prayer in the life of a believer can never be overestimated. Yet this is something with which we all struggle, and we continually find ourselves confessing that our prayer-life is not what it should be either in terms of quantity or quality. Accordingly, the request of the disciples to our Master should be our regular heart-cry as well, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’, Luke 11. 1. One way of obtaining this teaching is through studying the prayers of our Lord Jesus. One such is found in John 12. 27- 28.
The burden that leads to prayer
The Lord had just been saying that the hour had come for Him to be glorified, John 12. 23, and yet He knows that such glorification necessarily entails the prerequisite suffering of the cross. Accordingly, He is troubled in His soul. Here is an experience for our Saviour which anticipated that which He would endure in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mysteriously, and yet most wonderfully, God ‘made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin’, at the cross, ‘that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’, 2 Cor. 5. 21. The Lord, the righteous One, recoiled from having to experience such close involvement with sin and this caused Him trouble in the depth of His being.
This experience is peculiarly our Lord’s, given that it is only He who was perfect in His humanity, and He was the only One who would have to experience the circumstances. However, we are at times vexed in our innermost beings on account of the unrighteousness which we encounter, both within ourselves and in others. Accordingly, for the benefit of our own souls let us consider how He responded.
Prayer – what not to pray
In all circumstances, the Lord freely spoke to His Father about the happenings of life. This is the background of the statement, ’and what shall I say?’. The question is not about what He should do in perplexity. This was a foregone conclusion; He would speak to His Father. This teaches us that in our perplexities our first recourse should be to speak to our Father. The redeemed sinner should share this blessed freedom enjoyed by the Lord and speak to the Father about every difficulty. How we need to make sure that we follow this course, so that we will be saved from ourselves and will know that all things are under His Lordship.
The question is concerning the content of His prayer. Should He pray to be saved from this hour? But He could never pray that prayer because it was the whole purpose of God that He should come to this hour. The questionings of our Lord Jesus here immediately inform us that the cross was an event determined in the eternal counsels of God; it was truly part of His will. No matter how much trouble He was experiencing in His soul on account of anticipating the events of the cross, He could never pray to be released from it if that were to mean praying against the will of God. He considered that prayer should never be made against the word of God.
This brings before us one of the great nonnegotiables in prayer and that is that prayer should always be made according to the will of God. This reminds us that we need to know His will. And how can we know this? It is surely in His word that the will of God is revealed. Hence, we need to know His word so that we can think the thoughts of God after Him and thus pray in accordance with His will, desiring things from Him that He delights to give.
However, there is the obvious rejoinder that we do not know the mind of God on every issue of life. Matters such as where we should live, who we should marry, etc. In this respect we must be very careful to follow the principle established here in the prayer-life of our Lord Jesus and make sure that we do not pray against the will of God. To use an example from the realm of illness. Do we really know when someone is seriously ill with cancer what the Lord‘s will is concerning this illness? It may be that the Lord will accomplish great things to His honour and praise in allowing that person to suffer and die. Accordingly, at all times we should be careful to pray that God’s will shall be done. Our prayers should always be permeated with the understanding that all things should be in line with His will. But there is something greater to pray for.
Prayer – what to pray
In Luke 12. 28a the Lord Jesus, in the intensity of His experience, prays firmly according to the will of God. It is the fixed will of God that His name should be glorified, therefore He now prays definitely within the will of God that His name should be glorified. The name of God speaks of all His character, every way by which He is known. The desire of the Saviour is that in every way the Father would be honoured and praised. How we marvel here that the Lord Jesus as the Perfect Man subjected all His emotions, even trouble of soul, to the will of the Father that the Father's name would be glorified.
This is again most instructive to us in our exercises of prayer. This must be the greatest principle to be sought in our prayers, that the Father might be glorified. We may not know whether or not somebody is going to recover from serious illness, but we can pray that the Lord would be glorified in their situation. We may not know what to pray for our fellow Christians in the church, but we can pray that their lives will glorify God.
How easily prayer can degenerate into a human-motivated activity through which we bring our list of requests and desires, and then ask God to rubber-stamp them. Instead, we need to follow the way of committing ourselves to the will of God, praying that His Name might be glorified. This carries over into our times of c o r p o r a t e prayer as well. We do not seek to unnecessarily decry prayer for the more mundane issues of life, because all things should be brought before the throne of grace. But, in all things may we seek the glory of God and not just the relief from our own difficulties. We can carefully say that our Lord’s deep trouble of soul, never equalled by the experience of men, preferred the glory of God over relief from His trouble!
The outcome of prayer
The delight of the Father in this type of request is immediately seen by the fact that He rends the heavens, making clear His approval of the request of His Son. Surely, here we see the evidence of God answering prayer according to His purpose. The statement from heaven indicates that the Father in the past and in the future has this purpose, to glorify His name. No doubt all His workings through His Son are to bring glory to His name. But in this the universal purpose is being stated that the Lord takes delight in the glorifying of His name.
In the light of this exclamation from heaven, we can be sure that when we pray for the glory of His name, we pray for something which is settled in purpose. He may work in a way which we cannot understand, but if we pray this way we can be sure that He will work to His own glory.
Having looked at this prayer experience of our Lord Jesus we should be stimulated to follow in His steps, and thus to pray in a way pleasing to the Father. By this means we can start to enter into something of the confidence of 1 John 5. 14b-15 that ‘if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him’. May God yet glorify His name as we seek to pray to this end.