One of the places we can turn to for help in learning how to pray is the Gospel of Luke. More so than any of the other Gospels, his is the Gospel of prayer. Luke gives us glimpses of Jesus praying in virtually every kind of situation: Jesus prays when he is joy-filled, he prays when he is in agony, he prays with others around him, and he prays when he is alone at night, withdrawn from all human contact. He prays high on a mountain, on a sacred place, and he prays on the level plane, where ordinary life happens.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays a lot. And the lesson isn’t lost on his disciples. They sense that Jesus’ real depth and power are drawn from his prayer. They know that what makes him so special, so unlike any other religious figure, is that he is linked at some deep place to a power outside of this world. And they want this for themselves. That’s why they approach Jesus and ask him: “Lord, teach us to pray!”
But we must be careful not to misunderstand what constituted their attraction and what they were asking for when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. They sensed that what Jesus drew from the depth of his prayer was not, first of all, his power to do miracles or to silence his enemies with some kind of superior intelligence.
What impressed them and what they wanted for their own lives was the depth and graciousness of his soul. The power they admired and wanted was Jesus’ power to love and forgive his enemies rather than embarrass and crush them.
What they wanted was Jesus’ power to transform a room, not by some miraculous deed, but by a disarming innocence and vulnerability that, like a baby’s presence, has everyone solicitously guarding his or her behavior and language.
What they wanted was his power to renounce life in self-sacrifice, even while retaining the enviable capacity to enjoy the pleasures of life without guilt. What they wanted was Jesus’ power to be big-hearted, to love beyond his own tribe, to love poor and rich alike, to live inside of charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, fidelity, mildness, and chastity, despite everything within life that militates against these virtues.
The disciples recognized that this power did not come from within Jesus, but from a source outside him. They saw that he connected to a deep source through prayer, through constantly lifting to God what was on his mind and in his heart. They saw it and they wanted that depth-connection for themselves. So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.
Ultimately, we too want Jesus’ depth and graciousness in our own lives. Like Jesus’ disciples, we also know we can attain this only through prayer, through accessing a power that lies inside the deepest deep of our souls and beyond our souls. We know too that the route to that depth lies in journeying inward, in silence, through both the pain and the quiet, the chaos and the peace, that come to us when we still ourselves to pray.