How Did Jesus Pray?

Mark 1:35

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2011

We talk about becoming like Jesus in Christian circles. We sing songs about becoming more like Jesus. We are followers of Christ and should follow his example. If Jesus is to be our example, we should try to live like Jesus lived. If Jesus is to be our example, we should pray like Jesus prayed. He is to be our model. How did Jesus pray?

The question is not, what did Jesus teach about prayer (e.g., his parables) but how did he pray? If you remember that quote last week from D.A. Carson, most of us learn how to pray by seeing others pray. We learn how to pray by being around people who pray and by praying. How did Jesus pray? This will completely revolutionize the way you pray. It may change your life.

Why Did Jesus Pray?

First, let’s look at why Jesus prayed? If Jesus was sinless and God, why did he need to pray? I know why we need to pray but why did Jesus pray? Why did he spend hours praying? Did he do it just to be a good example to us or did he pray because he needed to? Let me give you two reasons why he prayed.

1. Jesus prayed because he had a very close and intimate relationship with God the Father.

If you are close to someone, you want to talk to that person.  That explains why Jesus spent so much time in prayer.

2. Jesus also prayed because he lived in complete dependence on God the Father.

Jesus was totally dependent on the Father. He said that he could do NOTHING of himself (John 5:19). He said that he came to do the will of the one who sent him (John 6:38). He did not seek to please himself but the one who sent him (John 5:30). If Jesus was sinless and God needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? We need to be just as dependent on God. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do NOTHING” (John 15:5). Jesus prayed because it was the source of his power.

When Did Jesus Pray?

1) When he was happy, he prayed (Luke 10:21).

2) When he was sad and depressed, he prayed (Matthew 26:38-42; John 12:27-28)

3)  When he was faced with problems or trouble, he prayed (Matthew 26:36-46; James 5:13; Psalm 50:15)

Before his betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion, he prayed. Jesus prayed during His greatest hour of need (Gethsemane and the cross). In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us how we do spiritual warfare. When we battle Satan. When we fight “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:12), we need to have our armor on and Paul gives a list of what that involves. Prayer is on the list.

In Matthew 26:41 Jesus said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (cf. KJV, NKJV, NASB, ASV). For the longest time I thought that meant that we are to pray so that we do not face temptation. That is NOT what Jesus is saying at all.

Let me read some paraphrases. The NLT reads, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” The NCV reads, “Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak.” Peter, James and John were all going to face temptation that very night. Prayer was the way to prepare for that encounter.

4) When he was being mistreated, he prayed (I Peter 2:21-23).

Three of the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross were prayers to his heavenly Father.

5) When he had to make an important decision, he prayed (Luke 6:12-13).

Jesus spent a whole night on a mountainside in prayer before He chose the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12). It is very clear from this that Jesus attached such great importance to prayer. Jesus had to take the decision the next day. This was very important because the apostles were to be with Him for the rest of His public ministry. Mark 1:35).

The destiny of the world rested on their shoulders. They were going to bring the gospel to the world as his official representatives on earth. Apparently, the major decisions of his life were made after extended seasons of prayer. Before we make important decisions like, what should I do with my life? And Who should I marry? And Where should I go to college?, we should spend some time in prayer, so we don’t make a decision we will one day regret.

6) When he was getting ready to eat, he prayed (Matthew 14:19 26:26).

Praying before meals was a common Jewish practice.  The two times in which Jesus miraculously fed multitudes of people with a few loaves and fish, He gave thanks first (Matthew 14:19-21; 15:34-36).  Before giving his disciples the wine and the bread for communion, Jesus gave thanks first (Matthew 26:26).

7) When he was in church, he prayed.

Jesus said, “My house will be called a house a prayer” (Mark 11:17). When he was in the Temple, he prayed.

8) When life was busy, he prayed (Mark 1:29-36).

The day before, he was extremely busy. He had the whole town at his door and was healing people until late in the night. For some reason, he did not sleep in the next morning. He prayed. That leads me to the next point.

9) When the day began, he prayed (Mark 1:35).

We see this in Mark 1:35. Jesus did not just pray first thing in the morning, he prayed VERY early in the morning WHILE IT WAS STILL DARK before sunrise and (by implication) while some people were still sleeping. This has very important implications. Some of us are not morning people. Why is it important to pray early in the morning? It makes God the number one priority in our lives. It means we put him first in the morning (Psalm 5:3).

Are there any other people in the Bible who got up early to worship God? Yes. “Abraham rose early in the morning to stand before the Lord (Gen 19.27). Jacob rose early in the morning, to worship the Lord (Genesis 28.18). Moses rose early to build an altar to God (Exodus 24.4) and to meet God at Sinai (Exodus 34.4).

Hannah and Elkanah rose early to worship God (1 Sam 1.19), Job rose early to offer sacrifices (Job 1.5), David awakened early for prayer (Psalm 119.147; Psalm 57.8). Hezekiah rose up early and gathered the rulers of the city and went up to the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29.20). The Son of God rose early to go to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1.35)”

How did Jesus Pray?

1. His prayers were PASSIONATE

How do we know they were intense?  Hebrews 5:7 mentions strong crying and tears, not just crying but STRONG crying and tears.  Apparently, Jesus got emotional when he prayed. Does this describe the way we pray? He worked up a sweat when he prayed (Luke 22:44).

Do we sweat when we pray? Some believe that this verse teaches that Jesus actually sweated real blood. Why do many people believe this? It has happened before. It is called hematidrosis or hematohidrosis. It is pretty rare but there are ancient and modern accounts of people sweating blood.

On top of this, Luke was a medical doctor. There is only one problem with this theory. The verse does NOT say that Jesus sweated blood. It says, “He was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground LIKE (ὡσεὶ) great drops of blood” (NLT). It is a simile. It is a comparison of two different things. It is figurative language. He compares the sweat falling not just to drops of blood but to GREAT drops of blood.

The point is that his prayers were intense. Paul compared prayer to a sport. He said that Epaphras “wrestles in prayer for you” (Colossians 4:12). Prayer can involve agony. It is a struggle. Prayer can be hard work.

2. His prayers were PRIVATE

Jesus also prayed in public and he also believed in corporate prayer (praying with other people) but his personal prayers were by himself. He prayed alone (Mark 1:35; 6:30-46; Luke 5:12-16). In fact, Luke says that he OFTEN prayed alone. In Mark 6:45, Jesus not only got rid of five thousand people, he got rid of his disciples, so he could be alone to pray.  Even when Jesus went to Gethsemane with Peter, James and John to pray the night before he died, what was the first thing he did? He withdrew himself from them (Luke 22:39-41).

This teaches us some important truths about prayer. Even though we may pray in a group or in a prayer meeting, there is a great need to get alone to pray to God. Jesus told us to do this (Matthew 6:6). Why should we pray alone?

One good reason is to avoid distractions. It is hard to focus on God and hard to concentrate when there are so many distractions (cell phone, internet, television, MP3, people). To make sure he was really alone he often went up on a mountain to pray. Luke 6:12 says, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray.”

He could have gone to a home, a synagogue or if He were near Jerusalem he could have gone to the Temple to pray. Apparently, Jesus liked to pray in nature (cf. Mark 1:35). He not only got up early to pray by himself, he left the house and went outside to pray by himself.

3. His prayers were PROTRACTED

Some of his prayers were lengthy. On one occasion, at least, he prayed all night long (Luke 6:12). We sleep all night long. Some of us pray a few minutes. Jesus prayed for HOURS. Jesus prayed all night long. Some people think that Jesus was against long prayers (cf. Matthew 6:7; Luke 20:47) but Jesus was talking about public prayers in those verses and praying long prayers so people will notice them and think that they are spiritual.

You don’t have that problem if you pray long prayers in private. That person does not pray to be seen by people because no one sees him pray. Some of Jesus’ public prayers were short but his private prayers were long. Many people when they pray say that they do not know what to say. We talked about this objection last week. One of the reasons we don’t know what to pray is that we think of prayers as only requests. Daniel Henderson points out that prayer is much more.

  • Worship is prayer – praising God (hence the term worship-based prayer)
  • Confession of sin is prayer.
  • Thanking God for things (thanksgiving) is prayer.
  • Petition and requests are prayer.
  • Praying for others (intercession) is prayer.

Many say that they cannot pray long because they do not know what to say. Daniel Henderson points out that prayer is not just a one way conversation. It should start with reading Scripture.  We let God talk to us and base our prayers on Scripture.  Use Scripture in your prayers.

 Many times when I pray, I have the same problem.  I don’t know what to pray but as I wait upon God, all of the sudden all kinds of prayers come out of my mouth.  The Bible talks about “praying in the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).  That is talking about Spirit-led prayers, Spirit-empowered prayers

4. His prayers were UNSELFISH

  • Jesus did not just pray for himself, he prayed for others.  He prayed for his disciples (John 17; Luke 22:31-32).
  • Jesus even prayed for his enemies (Luke 23:34; Matthew 5:44).  That is pretty unselfish.
  • Jesus didn’t insist on his own will when he prayed.

Jesus had some requests.  He asked the Father to “Take this cup from Me”.  Jesus did not want to die.  He did not want to be crucified.  In fact, he said that three times but he adds the words, “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (26:39).  Kenneth Hagin, says that “It is unscriptural to pray, ‘If it is the will of God.’ When you put an ‘IF in your prayer, you are praying in doubt.”[1]  Many Pentecostals agree with him.

However, there is a big problem with this kind of thinking. Jesus told us to pray “thy will be done” when we pray (Matthew 6:10).  In fact, that was the way He prayed (Matthew 26:39).  It is not wrong to have requests but do we pray for OUR WILL to be done or for GOD’S WILL to be done?  Jesus had some prayer requests and even in his prayer requests he asked for God’s will, not his will be done.


[1] Kenneth Hagin, Exceedingly Growing Faith, Tulsa: Faith Library, 1983, p. 10.

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