Learning When We Pray

We learn when we pray. That may ignite reaction or spark questions in your mind. How does that happen? Am I saying that we humans are like artificial intelligence that through continued interaction anticipates more what phrases or words people will use, what genres of books they will read, what products they will buy? Is that biblical teaching about prayer?

Biblical prayers assume knowledge of God and at least the beginning of relationship with God. Some prayers, arguably built upon a stronger relationship with the Lord, align more with God’s character and priorities. One passage that suggests this connection between learning and prayer is one that Jesus prayed shortly before his arrest. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews comments,

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:7-9).

Those prayers of Jesus include especially those on the Mount of Olives on the occasion described in Luke 22:39-44. I wrote about how we learn from prayer in one of my earliest posts on this blog, a post about that passage in Luke. You can read that post by clicking here.

That prayer was not short, unemotional recital. Jesus engaged God in intense, tearful conversation, pleading for God to spare him from suffering he sensed was ahead. He had asked three of his disciples who were waiting nearby also to pray, so that they would not fall into temptation. Might we infer then that that also was a reason for Jesus’ prayer? I think so. He prays, and by the time he has finished, he is prepared, as his disciples are not, to meet the mob that has come to arrest him with calm. He has learned God’s will and has submitted to it. He still will suffer; he did not gain what he had requested first in the prayer. Still, God has answered, and Jesus learned. Jesus learned because he conversed with God in prayer, a conversation grounded in Jesus’ knowledge of what the Scriptures teach about God and his priorities.

We too learn when we pray. If we pray after having listened to God through Scripture, we realize still more about him as we integrate that learning with our observation of his creation around us. We also learn more about ourselves. As we voice our prayer, we learn more about ourselves as well – our priorities and the depth of our trust in God, how substantial our love for others is. We learn most when we pray as Jesus did, acknowledging that we submit to what God desires. We will learn more from the consequences of our submission, from what happens when we obey God, just as Jesus did.

I urge you to listen to God regularly, reading the Scriptures systematically and thoughtfully. Pray in moments of urgent need, but also pray as you run or cycle, as you shop, as you work. As you pray, reflect on what you already know about God, but also listen carefully to what you say yourself, and discern what that says about how you regard God. Are you submitting to his will? Are you obeying him? Are you aghast at what God seems to be allowing? Take a moment and reflect again on how Jesus prayed and what he learned, then consider what you learn as you pray – about God, about yourself, about love, about forgiveness, about obedience. I close with that prayer of Jesus from Luke 22, words which each of us may have reason to incorporate in our own prayer:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version, 2011 edition.

About Michael Summers

Michael Waymon Summers has preached in twenty-seven of the United States as well as seven other countries. Michael earned a Master of Theology degree. He also has done graduate work in international studies. Michael likes to run, loves to sing, and reads voraciously.
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