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Teaching other people to pray

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It’s tempting to imagine that legendary ministers like E. M. Bounds or Andrew Murray or someone known as “Praying Hyde” were simply born to pray. Along with the likes of David Brainerd, Leonard Ravenhill, Armin Gesswein, Bertha Smith, George Müller and so many others, there is a group of Christians who are primarily remembered for their prayer lives or their teaching on prayer. But no one was ever born praying. The men and women most known for prayer were not members of a spiritually elite corps the rest of us weren’t invited to join. They learned to pray. 

Prayer lives are not developed accidentally. Prayer is a spiritual discipline which can and must be learned. This fact is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in a single verse in Luke’s gospel: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). We learn a lot about developing a prayer life from that verse. 

Jesus the prayer coach

What lessons do we learn from the disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray? For one thing, Jesus didn’t rebuke the disciples for asking the question. Instead, He immediately gave them a masterclass on prayer by introducing them to what we now know as “the Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:2-5). In other words, Jesus rewarded their desire to be taught and to learn how to pray. He will do the same for us. 

John the Baptist’s prayer classes

Another lesson from Luke 11:1 simultaneously disassembles and then reconstructs a popular misconception about the mysterious prophet John the Baptist. In the arts, including paintings and modern movie portrayals (and perhaps in our own imaginations), John is often seen as a cross between a socially reclusive misfit and a wild-eyed doomsday loner, eating bugs in the desert, shouting warnings to the cities about a coming judgment. 

 It is true that the gospels uniformly portray him as substantially outside the mainstream, but John the Baptist was not a misanthropic hermit in the Negev, voluntarily shielded from others. He had disciples (v. 11; Matthew 14:12; Luke 7:22; John 1:35), and he taught them to pray. 

The first students of prayer

We cannot forget that the Apostles believed prayer could be taught and learned. They asked Jesus to “teach” them to pray. They were the first students in Jesus’ school of prayer. 

If the forerunner of the Messiah, the earliest followers of Christ, and the Son of God all believed that prayer could be taught, what are we to conclude about learning to pray? 

Since prayer can be learned, we cannot adopt a laissez-faire approach to our own spiritual development. Instead, we must invest the time and energy necessary to learn to pray. Fortunately, since we can learn, we can also teach others how to pray. 

Teach the Bible

E. M. Bounds once said, “The greatest will he be of reformers and apostles, who can set the Church to praying.” The question is not: “Do we need to teach people to pray?” The question is: “How do we teach people to pray?”  

We know from a recent national survey that the more often people engage with Scripture, the more likely dramatic life-change will occur. Teaching other people to pray, therefore, must include as much biblical teaching about prayer as possible. 

There are hundreds of passages of Scripture in both Testaments that mention prayer. In addition, some of the most dramatic events in Scripture revolve around prayer or were precipitated by prayer (Genesis 18:22-33; Nehemiah 1:4-11; Daniel 6:10-13; Matthew 26:36-44; Acts 13:1-3; etc.). If you want to help other people grow in their prayer life, teach them what the Bible says about prayer.

Model Prayer

Most of us agree with John Maxwell who said, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.” Regarding the importance of modeling prayer, some have even said, “Prayer is more caught than taught.” Actually, both teaching and modeling prayer are necessary to make disciples of prayer. Look again at Luke 11:1: “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” Apparently, it was observing the prayer life of Jesus that motivated the disciples to ask Him to teach them to pray. 

The disciples were all Jews. They had observed and practiced prayer at the Temple and the synagogues all their lives. But when they saw the prayer life of Jesus, they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” A good role model makes a tremendous difference.

In the last years of the 19th century Samuel Chadwick, a Methodist pastor in England, made prayer the priority of his life. In the early 20th century Chadwick became the principal of Cliff College where his example in prayer inspired his students. One young ministerial student in awe of his professor’s prayer life was Leonard Ravenhill. 

Years later, Ravenhill wrote the multi-million-selling modern classic Why Revival Tarries. The book has led to the deepening of the prayer lives of Christians for more than 60 years. 

Later, Ravenhill befriended and lived near the evangelist, pastor, and author David Wilkerson. Wilkerson in turn brought a young pastor from Brooklyn, Jim Cymbala, to meet Ravenhill and be mentored by him. Cymbala, of course, is the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle and wrote Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, which itself has ignited a passion for prayer in the lives of a generation of leaders. 

Samuel Chadwick once said, “The greatest answer to prayer is more prayer.” Obviously, when we consider the number of people who have been influenced for over 100 years through the ministers he trained or posthumously inspired, he was right. His prayer life is the evidence that modeling prayer is a powerful tool for teaching prayer. 

When we consider the examples from Scripture and history, the depth of Bible teaching about prayer, and the importance of setting a powerful example, isn’t it time we made an ancient request? “Lord, teach us to pray.”

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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