“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Lk. 11:1).
Jews, even the unlearned, knew how to pray. Among Jews of the first century there were prayers common to all, that crossed the social and religious divisions.
When Yeshua/Jesus called His disciples, he called average men. While many Pharisees would become disciples, those closest to Him were not scholars or well placed in the community. Average.
This request made by the disciples reminds me of stories associated with Rabbi Yisrael Ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism.
For many years of his life, he kept the depth of his learning and revelation of God quiet, assuming a manner and position of a humble, ignorant clay digger and wagon driver. He lived among the Jewish masses, impacting their lives by example, and being present.
When he did begin teaching publicly, he taught unlearned Jews how to draw close to God, how to infuse holiness and meaning in their daily lives – encouraging them to not to be something they were not: learned. Just keep God before you.
He taught them how to pray.
This, of course, did not gain the approval of Jewish religious academies. Yet, those who followed his teaching, both scholar and pauper, flourished in learning, even while segregated by oppressive regimes.
“Teach us to pray … “
We must note the respect the disciples had for Yeshua; as Luke includes this detail, that the disciples waited for Him to finish praying (Lk. 11:1). Then, they made their request.
It was common practice for disciples to make requests of their rabbis. This request, “teach us to pray,” was not due to a lack of familiarity with prayer. Jews had some standardized prayer, and often practiced spontaneous, extemporaneous prayer; but mentioning John tells us, and we know this from other sects as well, that teachers often taught disciples a prayer that was unique to them, their practice, and their teacher.
There is a Talmudic teaching that says, “A man should associate himself with the congregation,” (BT Berakhot 30a) meaning, man should not pray alone.
As I noted in a previous meditation on the Disciples Prayer: “Can we pray it alone? Certainly, but our hearts and minds must be aligned with our broader setting: covenant community.”
Yeshua authored a unique prayer that His disciples, past and present, could pray and unite with, even when apart. Imagine the comfort the apostles felt, when thousands of miles from the Promised Land, their culture, and the congregation of Jerusalem, that they had the words of their Rabbi and Lord, penetrating the isolation and uniting them with distant brethren.
These few, but powerful words kept the Kingdom, His will, His provision, His faithfulness and forgiveness, His power and presence, and His eternity ever before them.
It kept the voice of Jesus, Who answered a humble request from His disciples for a prayer unique to them, speaking in their hearts and mind.
The fruit of that request is our heritage: the Disciples Prayer. The prayer authored by the Word made flesh, the author of life, our Savior. Hallelujah.
It matters not your position in this life, He is your value, and when you pray His words, He is there, praying with you, His disciple. So pray it; and keep Him before you.
I’ve prayed this prayer in several nations, and languages; and it is still weaving His disciples together, even across languages and cultures. His Word, to His disciples. Amen.
Be well. Shalom.