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Learning How To Pray

“When Jesus gave his disciples [the Lord’s] prayer, he was giving them part of his own breath. his own life, his own prayer…his own understanding of his Father’s purpose.” N.T. Wright

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the very Spirit interceded with sighs too deep for words.” Rom 8:26

I am sitting in a cabin right now surrounded by trees. They are tall and slender, some ever-green and some beginning to show forth the small burst of green that spring awards. I feel close to God in nature. I have always been drawn to the verses in scripture that point to the whole of creation praising God: “even the trees will sing”1 Jesus tells us that even the stones can cry out to worship God. (Lk19:40)

There are times when I have gotten a glimpse of the trees singing. There is a birch tree right outside a window where I often find myself. It’s not uncommon for the wind to strike up the leaves to sing. They flutter in the wind in such a way that they seem to sing out in a soft vibrato. Not as often, I have heard the branch of a tree creak or groan. It’s more rare to hear this, although, Romans 8 tells us that it is happening all the time. Creation groans. The sons and daughters of God groan. The Spirit groans. (Rom 8:22,23,26) It is comforting to know you are not alone when you are groaning. When you are under the weight of the world and the reality of it leaves you speechless, even the trees understand. They groan too.

In one of my favorite books on prayer, Ole Hallesby tells us that the essence of prayer is to let Jesus come into your heart. He writes, “Your helplessness is your best prayer. It calls from your heart to the heart of God with greater effect than all your uttered pleas.”

Paul tells us “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26) It is when we know we are helpless that we understand what Jesus said, “Without me, you can do nothing.” (Jn15:5)

When we look to Jesus, what do we learn about how he lived? After being with Jesus and watching him, the disciples could not help but notice the way he would withdraw from the crowds and all the demands placed on him and go to a quiet place and pray. One day, they asked Jesus, “Will you teach us how to pray?” Jesus tells them to pray, “Our Father, hallowed be your name.”

It is hard to truly understand the power and the mystery of this. Jesus tells us to pray “Our Father”. Often teachers will remind us of the importance of “our”. We live and work and pray together. It is important to pray in community. I hope that you have someone to pray with. But there is even more. Imagine sitting with Jesus, knowing the he is God’s beloved son. He heals people with a word or a touch or the power of his presence. He casts out demons and raises people from the dead. What is it like to pray as he prays? Imagine when he tells them to pray “Our Father.” He shares his Father with them. Jesus’ Father, is their father and our Father. As the Son of God he has always known God the Father. Jesus was one with God the Father and the Spirit since before anything was. He knows a depth of intimacy with the Father that is beyond us yet is willing to invite us into the love he knows and shares with God the father. We are adopted sons and daughters of God. It is a mystery. Paul and the author of Hebrews describe Jesus as our elder brother.

What we sometimes miss is that the understanding of God as our father is a message found throughout scripture. We see God as father when Moses stands before Pharaoh and says,” Israel is my son, my first born. Let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Ex 4:22-3)2

In time, this would become a way of life. In ancient culture, the son was an apprentice to the father. He learned his trade by doing what his father did. When you ran into a problem, you went to your father. We can cry out to God, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself will help us pray. Reflecting on Romans 8:26-27, scholar Douglas Moo writes, “There is …an intercessor in the heart, the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here on earth.”

N.T. Wright says, “When we call God Father,’ we are to step out, as apprentice children into a world of pain and darkness…Our task is to grow up into the Our Father, to dare to impersonate our older brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so.”


  1. I Chron 16:33, Ps 96:12, Isa 55:12

  2. See also 2 Sam 7:14, Isa 63:16


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