The Journal of Biblical Accuracy

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Jesus and prayer

This month's article will be devoted to the examination of the significance of prayer to Jesus Christ. How highly the Word of God esteems prayer is signified by the fact that it calls us to "pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17), to "be sober and watchful in our prayers" (I Peter 4:7), to "[be] continuing steadfastly in prayer" (Romans 12:12), to be "vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2) etc1.

However, despite all these references of the Word of God that point out the significance of prayer, it is sometimes neglected or it is classified as an activity of lower priority. This article aims, through the presentation of the example of Jesus Christ, to make more evident the significance of prayer and at the same time to show that prayer has to be one of the top priorities of our life.

1. Luke 5:15-16

Starting this survey of some of the records in which we find Jesus Christ praying, we will go to Luke 5. In this record, as well as in those records that will follow, it is important to pay special attention to the context, since this will enable us to see the conditions under which Jesus Christ prayed and to receive valuable instruction. Thus, starting from verses 12-13, we are told about the healing of a man with leprosy. With this opportunity, verse 15 speaking generally tells us that though Jesus avoided the advertisement of his miracles "the report went around concerning him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed of their infirmities" (Luke 5:15). From this passage, we can conclude that Jesus Christ was very busy with all these multitudes coming to him, and he was certainly much busier that many of us. Really, under such conditions, how many of us would have taken time to pray? But let's see what Jesus did:

Luke 5:16
"BUT HE WITHDREW HIMSELF into the wilderness and PRAYED"

When the word "but" occurs, it always contrasts what precedes it with what follows it. In our case, what precedes is the description of a very busy Jesus Christ. What follows it, tells us that despite the fact that he was very busy he withdraw himself into the wilderness and prayed. Though this is a very important statement and shows the significance that Jesus Christ gave to prayer, it does not carry all the beauty of the corresponding passage of the Greek text. In the Greek text the tense that is used is the imperfect that denotes that something was done repeatedly and consistently in the past in contrast to the simple past tense used by the above translations, which assumes that something was done in the past once in a specific time. Thus, the accurate translation of verses 15 and 16 is:

Luke 5:15-16
"However, the report was going around concerning him all the more; and great multitudes were coming together to hear and to be healed by him of their infirmities. But he continued withdrawn himself and prayed."

Therefore, what verses 15 and 16 describe is not something that happened only once in the life of Jesus Christ. Instead, what they tell us is that he ALWAYS was very busy, with multitudes that were coming to him, BUT he also ALWAYS used to take time to pray. In other words, prayer was a HABIT of Jesus Christ, something to which he gave top priority even when he was very busy. In turn, this shows the importance of prayer. This importance is so great that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, used to allocate special parts of his time to it and this happened even when he was busy in other godly activities. Moreover, it indicates that whether we will pray or not is not a matter of time but a matter of priorities. Jesus Christ had time to pray because HE DECIDED to make time to it. All of us in one way or another allocate our time to various activities. The question therefore is not whether we have time or not, for the day has the same time for all of us, as it also had for Jesus i.e. 24 hours. What has to be asked is what priority does prayer have in our daily time schedule? Is prayer one of our top priorities as it was for Jesus or is it something that we decide to do after we are done with other activities such as work, school, gardening, TV viewing, sleep etc.? Jesus' example as well as all the records of the Word of God that refer to prayer beseech us to make prayer A TOP PRIORITY OF OUR LIVES. Thus, instead of first allocating the time for all other activities and then, if some time remains, to devote it to prayer, it is better to FIRST set a time to pray and then organise your time for other activities.

2. Mark 1:35

Another very instructive record where we see Jesus Christ praying is given in Mark 1:35. Again, it is very important to have a look at the context of the record. Thus, starting from verse 21, we are told that Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum where he also cast out a devil spirit (verses 23-27). As a result, "immediately his fame spread throughout all the region around Galilee" (verse 28). After he came out of the synagogue, he went to the house of Simon and Andrew where he healed Simon's mother in law (verses 30-31). Finally:

Mark 1:32-34
"At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed, and the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew him."

As in the previous record so here we have the description of another very busy day of Jesus. Moreover, since he was going to be in Galilee for the next day as well, and since his fame had spread throughout all this region, one would expect that the next day was going to be an equally busy day if not busier. This is exactly what happened as verses 36 and 37 referring to the next day tell us:

Mark 1:36-37
"And Simon and those who were with him searched for him. When they found him they said to him. "EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR YOU"

Everyone was looking for him. This means that the day that had just started was going to be very busy. Really, having just finished a very busy day and knowing that the next day is going to be also very busy, how many of us would have got up earlier to pray? And if someone did it, would not that mean that he considered prayer to be extremely important and would not that mean that it was a top priority in his life? Well, let's see someone who made prayer his top priority. Who is he? Jesus Christ:

Mark 1:35
"Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he PRAYED"

Jesus knew that it was going to be a very busy day which probably would not leave him much time to pray. What did he do? He got up EARLIER to pray. Isn't that a wonderful beginning of a day? Isn't also a wonderful way to start your day, even a busy one? Instead of starting your day by thinking about its pressures and demands, you can start it by discussing these pressures and demands with your Father, and then, during the day, you will have the joy to see His delivering power answering your prayers and arranging the issues of the day for you. But in order to do that, you have to believe what the Word of God says about the importance of prayer and what God can do as a result of it, to the extent that you determine to get up in the morning to pray. Jesus did not get up because it just happened. Instead, HE determined to get up because HE recognized prayer's priority and importance for his life. Again therefore, it is a matter of priorities and not a matter of time.

3. Matthew 14:23

Another record in which we see Jesus Christ praying is given in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew. Again it is very important to have a look at the context. This time the day was not only busy but it also started very sadly for Jesus, since it was the day that he heard about the beheading of John the Baptist (see verses 1-11 for the beheading):

Matthew 14:12
"Then his [John's] disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus"

Before we go ahead, how would you feel if you heard that your cousin, who also stood constantly and faithfully with you, was killed in such a horrible manner? I guess that you would probably feel very sad, and you would like to stay privately for a bit. That's what Jesus also wanted:

Matthew 14:13
"When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."

His withdrawal to this solitary place privately was not something prearranged, for it happened "WHEN Jesus heard what had happened". Obviously, Jesus wanted to have some quiet time after the shock of this bad news. However, he did not stay there forever. Sometime later, he departed from this solitary place and he saw a great multitude waiting for him. When he saw this multitude, "he was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick" (verse 14). In fact, not only did he heal their sick but he also fed them miraculously (verses 15-21). Then, verse 22 tells us what happened after this feeding:

Matthew 14:22
"And immediately Jesus CONSTRAINED his disciples to get into the ship, and to go before him to the other side, while he sent the multitudes away"

The word "immediately" is connected with the feeding of the multitudes and it means that as soon as the multitudes were fed Jesus constrained his disciples to get into the ship. See this word "constrained". The corresponding Greek word is the past tense of the verb "anagkazo" that is used 9 times in the New Testament2 and means "to compel someone to do something though he may not want to". So, according to the above passage Jesus compelled his disciples to get into the ship. Probably they did not want to. But he did not discuss it. He constrained them to do it. Then, he sent the multitudes away. The question that we may ask now is why he compelled the disciples to leave? What did he plan to do after sending the multitudes away? The answer is in verse 23:

Matthew 14:23
"And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up on the mountain by himself TO PRAY. Now when evening came, he was there alone"

The reason that he did not allow the disciples to stay but constrained them to get into the ship and go was that he wanted to stay alone and PRAY. See how significant prayer was to Jesus Christ. He was willing to get up very early in the morning, to withdrew himself from the multitudes, to compel the disciples to go, in order to pray. Does not that indicate that prayer was a TOP priority in his life? It certainly does. May we appreciate these records and believe what the Word says about the importance of prayer so as to make it a top priority in our lives as well.

4. Luke 6:12-13

Another record in which we find Jesus Christ praying is in Luke 6. This time the focus is not on the fact that he made time to pray but on the subject of his prayer. Though the record does not specifically state this subject, it can be easily seen from the context:

Luke 6:12-13
"Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, AND CONTINUED ALL NIGHT IN PRAYER TO GOD. And when it was day he called his disciples tohimself; and from them he chose twelve whom he also named apostles"

He prayed ALL NIGHT. Though the Bible does not specifically say what he prayed for, it does say that in the morning he made one of the most crucial decisions of his ministry: the choice of the twelve. Most probably therefore, one of the central subjects of his prayer that night was this choice. The question now is: if Jesus needed to pray before he made decisions and choices, do you think that we do not need to pray before we make them? Really, why should WE make decisions using our little minds and five senses information and not go to GOD and ask Him to instruct us and show us what the best choice is? He knows the best choice, He is willing to show us this choice, and He has the means, His spirit in us, to announce it. The question therefore is not whether God is willing and able to help us, for He is. The real question is: do WE choose Him as our advisor and go to Him to ask Him through prayer?

The same is also true for things pertaining to our service to God. We do not need to be confused about how to serve God and what to do for Him. We do not need to torture our little minds to make decisions about things that belong to HIM. He is the one that is responsible to tell us what to do and how to do it. Some of the these things are mentioned in the Bible. So the Bible tells you to love, to pray, to study to show yourself approved unto God etc. Thus, you do not need God to personally tell you to pray: He has already told you that in His Word. Similarly you do not need God to personally tell you to love: He has already told you that in His Word. However, you do need His personal instruction if for example you are thinking of going to such and such place to do some work for Him. In such a case, before you make up your mind, pray about it and see what God wants. He may wants you to go to somewhere else. He may want you to do something else. It is HIS business. Isn't it?

5. Matthew 26:36-44

After all the above, we will continue with another example that is given in the well known passage of Matthew 26:36-44. The things that we are going to see happened shortly before the arrest of Jesus Christ that finally resulted in his crucifixion. Starting from verse 36 we read:

Matthew 26:36-38
"Then Jesus came with them [the disciples except Judas] to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and PRAY over there" And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and he began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then he said to them "my soul is exceeding sorrowful even to death. Stay here and watch with me"

The reason why Jesus Christ was very sorrowful and distressed was that he knew what was going to happen. Really, it was a very difficult time for him and at the same time a very crucial time for all of us since the plan of our salvation was based on his personal sacrifice and resurrection. But how did he decide to face this crisis? The verses that follow give us the answer:

Matthew 26:39-44
"He went a little farther and fell on his face, AND PRAYED, saying, "O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; NEVERTHELESS NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOUWILL. Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Again, a second time, He went away and prayed saying, "O my Father, if this cup cannot pass away from me unless I drink it, YOUR WILL BE DONE." And he came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So he left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words."

He was asking Father whether there was another way whereby he could accomplish man's salvation, without having to go through this ordeal situation. He prayed about it. In fact, he prayed three times. It is very instructive to pay attention to his prayer attitude. As we can see, he expressed his desire to God ("let this cup pass from me") BUT at the same time he asked for the will of God to be done ("NEVERTHELESS not as I will but as YOU will"). This is very important since sometimes we think that because we ask God for something He is obliged to do it and not only that but that He should do it when WE want it to be done. God is obliged to do whatever we ask only when what we ask is in accordance with His will.Now, for some things there are specific records in the Bible that show us whether something is His will or not. One such example is healing. The Word of God contains so many records about it (however even one would be enough to establish it as God's will) that make it more than clear that healing is the will of God3. We can therefore claim that healing is already ours. We can pray trusting in this promise of God. We can be sure 100% that if we get sick and pray to God and trust in His promises, God will heal us. We know it because the Wordguarantees it4.

On the other hand, there are other things that being by nature specific for each person, are not covered by a respective specific promise in the Bible. For example, let's suppose that I want to have such and such a car. The Bible does not contain any promise that tells me whether it is God's will to have that car or not. Is it right therefore to claim that car as mine? Obviously not, except if God has specifically told me that it is going to be mine. Is it right to pray to God and tell Him my desire? Yes, yes, yes!!! Is it right to ask Him to show me whether it is good for me to have that car or not? Yes, yes, yes!!! Should I trust His Word that tells me that HIS WILL is "good, acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2) and that "He cares for us" (II Peter 2:7) and therefore submit my desires to His will, whatever this will is? Yes, yes, yes!!! This is what Jesus did. What he prayed for was not God's will and therefore could not be done. But see that though there was a desire "for the cup to pass away", he had AN EVEN BIGGER DESIRE for the will of God to be done. He said "Nevertheless not as I will but as YOU will". Isn't that again very instructive? Does not that tell us that apart from the various desires that we may have and bring into prayer, we should also have AN EVEN BIGGER DESIRE for the "good, acceptable and perfect" will of God to be done? Yes, yes, yes!!

Returning to the example of Jesus Christ, though what he prayed for could not be done, this does not mean that God did not honour his prayer. The gospel of Luke adds some more details:

Luke 22:41-43
"And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and he knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done" And an angel appeared to him from heaven, STRENGTHENING him."

God sent an angel and strengthened him to do what was his BIGGEST desire: the will of God. Sometimes, we may discover that our personal desires are not in accordance with the "good, acceptable and perfect" will of God. If our BIGGEST DESIRE is to do the will of God, God will strengthen us to do it. In the case of Jesus Christ the strengthening that he received because he prayed is shown in the record of his arrest:

John 18:3-11
"Then Judas, having received a detachment of men, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon him, went forward and said to them "Whom are you seeking?" They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he." And Judas, who betrayed him, also stood with them. Now when he said to them, "I am he", they drew back and fell to the ground. Then he asked them again, "Whom are you seeking?" And they said "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I have told you that I am he. Therefore, if you seek me, let these [meaning the disciples] go their way", that the saying might be fulfilled which he spoke, "Of those whom You gave me I have lost none." Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into the sheath. SHALL I NOT DRINK THE CUP WHICH MY FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?"

The last verse shows that the crisis was over. Though his will was different, his BIGGEST desire was to do the will of God. So he submitted his will to the will of God, just as me and you should do. But to do that, he prayed and he got strengthened. Apart from this, the strengthening is shown in his reaction to those who came to arrest him. Thus, although he went to the garden being exceeding sorrowful and deeply distressed5 his reaction as it is given in the above record is full of boldness. For indeed much boldness is needed to go and meet those who you know that are going to torture you later. A fearful person would have tried to escape from the situation. He would have shifted to others what it was supposed to be his responsibility. But Jesus was not afraid. Instead of trying to hide himself behind the others, he went forth and asked them whom they were seeking for. In fact, not only did he do that but he also took care of the security of his disciples. Moreover, he had the love and peace of mind to heal the servant's ear that Peter cut off (Luke 22:51). If all these do not show a fully strengthened man what then do they show? But how did he get strengthened? How did he overcome the crisis? BY PRAYER.

6. Conclusion

After all the above, and though there are more records that you can study for yourself, it is clear that prayer was a very important issue in the life of Jesus Christ, a part that he kept with great care. For prayer's sake, he was ready to get up early in the morning, to compel his disciples to go, to withdrew himself from the multitudes. By prayer, he made decisions and he overcame difficult situations. In contrast with the general idea that says "pray if you have time" HE MADE TIME to pray. Instead of the world's way of thinking that says: "choose what YOU think is best and do what YOU will" he prayed to see what GOD thought as best and did what GOD willed. To close, let's go to Philippians 4:6-7 and let's make it our way of thinking:

Philippians 4:6-7
"Be anxious for nothing, but IN EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus"


Anastasios Kioulachoglou




1. See also: I Corinthians 14:14-15, Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:12, I Timothy 2:1, James 5:13, 16-18 not to mention the records of the gospels and the Old Testament.

2. Four times it is translated "to constrain" and five "to compel".

3. See Exodus 15:26, Psalm 103:3, John 8:29, III John 2 and many many other records that show the delivering power of God on this field.

4. However, the Word does not state how God is going to do it and when He will do it. It is His job to decide about the when and the how. He may do it even through medicine. We do not know the when and the how. What we do know is that He will certainly, 100%, do it as we trust in Him and pray about it.

5. The Greek word that is used in the corresponding record of the gospel of Mark (Mark 14:33) is the verb "ekthabeomai" that is used four times from which: once it is translated "be greatly amazed", once "be sore amazed" and twice "be affrighted".