Struggling to pray? All true Christians want to pray more than they do. But all Christians, if they are being honest, go through seasons where praying is a challenge. To help overcome this barrier to prayer, it helps to ask, “How did Jesus pray?”
By studying Jesus prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46), we can discover at least four practical things Jesus did in prayer.
1. Jesus Prayed in Quiet, Non-Distracting Places
The place you decide to pray matters a lot. The human mind is highly distractible. To give ourselves the best chance of praying effective, focused prayers, we must choose places conducive to prayer.
Luke 22:39 states, “And [Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.” Jesus had special places to pray. It was “his custom” to go to this specific garden.
Jesus traveled, however, so he did not just have one prayer spot (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12); but he always knew where the good prayer spots were. If you struggle to pray, plan out a few unique, quiet locations (especially that incorporate nature) to get your pray juices flowing.
We should also have somewhere in our homes that is reserved for prayer use when we want to pray (Matthew 6:6). Even a closet will do if space is limited. Jonathan Edward’s mother was the owner of a small house with children. When it was time to pray, she would simply put her apron over her head. When mother was sitting at the table with her apron over her head, the kids knew she was praying and she was not to be disturbed.
Lastly, Mark 14:35 shows Jesus, “Going a little farther . . .” “Going a little farther” is in reference to his disciples. The disciples where there, but Jesus needed some space. To pray well, we must separate ourselves from the people in our lives so we can connect with God. We need to lovingly explain to spouses, children, or roommates that when we are praying, we are not to be disturbed if possible.
2. Jesus’ Body Positions Reflected the Posture of His Heart in Prayer
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was praying in preparation for his crucifixion and the temptations ahead. It says in Luke 22:44 that Jesus was sweating so bad it was like drops of thick blood were falling from his body. Therefore, in Mark 14:35 it states, “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.”
Not only did Jesus go to a non-distracting place away from even his closest disciples, he also “fell to the ground and prayed.” Jesus was on his face. Luke 22:41 states that he also, “knelt down and prayed.” Jesus’ bodily behavior matched his prayer prerogative. When he was praying in front of the people to show them the glory and power of God through the raising of Lazarus, John 11:41 describes Jesus’ prayer behavior in detail, “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said . . . .”
To stay engaged with God during your prayer time, it helps to place our body in a position that matches the spirit of our prayers.
God made humans to be expressive creatures. If you are bored and distracted in your prayer time, perhaps you need to do something really practical and literally change the position of your body. Perhaps when you are praising him, you can stand or go on a walk; when you are confessing your sins, perhaps you can kneel or lay on your face; when you are interceding for others, perhaps it might keep you alert to sit in a wooden chair rather than your super comfortable recliner.
3. Jesus Prayed for a Structured and Specific Time
There’s certainly no biblical command that we must pray for a certain amount of time each day, as the New Testament stays away from such religious requirements. With that said, it’s interesting and note worthy to point out Mark 14:37, “‘Simon,’ Jesus said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?’”
Jesus left the disciples to go and pray by himself. How long did he pray? We can make the inference that Jesus went and prayed for “one hour” since this is what he said to Peter. Again, it’s not right to command that everyone should pray for one hour because we have this one reference to Jesus praying for this specific amount of time. In other place of Scripture, we have Jesus praying through the whole night (Luke 6:12).
However, it seems to be a good practice to set aside a structured, committed amount of time to God. Perhaps you can set the timer for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even 1 hour. If you are struggling in your prayer time, it helps to stay focused by having parameters. God is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:33), and we are made in his image. We should walk in a spirit of prayer as much as we can throughout every second of the day, but it also helps to structure your prayer time specifically.
4. Jesus Prayed about Specific Requests, He Did Not Pray Randomly and Generally
Our prayers can become boring and stale because they are so general and random. It’s one thing to pray for your kids. It’s completely different to pray that your daughter learns to protect her heart and implement the advice you gave her yesterday at dinner time in regards to Jason, the bully at school. Praying with pinpoint precision helps us stay focused and engaged.
Jesus prayed in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” “This cup” is a specific reference to a specific challenge ahead of Jesus. Mark 14:35 explains that “he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.” Notice it says “the hour” which again is a specific time of suffering Jesus is praying about.
To enhance your prayer time, one way to keep the mind engaged with God is to make a weekly prayer list that is broken out by the days of the week. You may pray some request every day, but your whole prayer time should not be exactly the same every day.
Praise God, confess, ask for what you need, intercede for others, and listen for what God is saying. But also do these types of prayers regarding specific requests. For example, perhaps on Monday, since you know you struggle with keeping a good attitude at work, you can praise God for your job, confess the sins you committed recently at work, ask God for the raise you wanted and the grace you need for Amanda, that annoying coworker. Intercede for your boss by name, and then listen for what God might be saying to you about your attitude at work and your purpose there. Our God is a real God, therefore pray to him about real things happening that day.
Write down practical, spiritual, relational, and personal prayers. Not only will this help you stay focused and help you be more effective in your prayer time, it will also give you the opportunity to see God answering the specific requests you are praying.
Prayer is Important
Lastly, it’s should be noted that Jesus was praying about the worst death any human would ever experience. Jesus was going to be crucified. Worse than that, he was going to feel and experience the wrath of God for the sins of the whole world.
And yet despite how important his preparation in prayer was for this fast approaching trial he was to endure, three times he stopped his own prayer time to go and encourage the disciples to pray. That speaks volumes of his love for his people and the importance of prayer.
May we not sleep away our prayer time, but rather be so engaged in prayer, like Jesus, that we glorify our Father.
What about you? What do you do when you are struggling to pray?