One of my responsibilities at our church these days besides regular teaching in our children’s ministry is developing curriculum and lessons for our older classes. Most recently we are trying to help our children learn how to pray and walk with God from Jesus’s example and instruction.
What Jesus practiced and taught re: prayer once He was baptized and began His ministry is fairly obvious. What He practiced before then is not so obvious, but equally important to give attention to. This is especially true for those of us who are seeking to disciple our children and grandchildren, and/or who are ministering to children in our churches or via other ministries.
The question we need to answer is: what can we reasonably expect for our children and young people to attain to as regards their prayer life and walk with God? And in answering that question it is crucial that we understand that Jesus growing up was fully human; and that whatever He attained to in His childhood and youth in terms of His walk with the Father and Holy Spirit was not because He was God (though He certainly was and is), but rather because He learned very early to commune with and respond to God and to depend on and follow the Holy Spirit. Seeing Jesus as a child or youth with a halo around His head is not only not biblical, but also very detrimental to learning from His example.
So why don’t we begin our Biblical discussion by looking at His example in Luke chapter 2, wherein we first learn this about Jesus’s lifestyle as a child: “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” Vs. 40 Can a boy or girl grow regularly in wisdom and the grace of God and not pray? Wouldn’t an observant Jewish boy or girl with godly Jewish parents (as Jesus had) know well how Solomon (more in the early days of his reign) and Daniel were both known by their wisdom and their prayer life?
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing in the temple all of that time that His parents were traveling home thinking He was in their caravan somewhere? Being the godly Jews that they were, Jesus’s parents “….went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Being the human parents that they were they somehow (when Jesus was 12 years old) left Jerusalem for home without Him. Vs. 46 tells us that “..after three days they found Him in the temple.” So for three days Jesus spent most of His day at the temple. The question is: what did He do there? Well when his parents found him, He was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” Vs. 46 But is that all He did for three days? No I believe He often prayed. And one reason I believe that is because in that same chapter we learn that Anna “….never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” The temple was a place for studying the scriptures and for worship and prayer. We might note also Luke 1:10 in this regard “And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside (the temple) at the hour of the incense offering.”
So when Luke says in 2:52 of Jesus, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” He wants us to know that one of the practices that enabled Jesus to attain to this kind of walk with God was His prayer life. One cannot have favor with God and not regularly commune with Him in prayer. That is especially true because prayer in many ways is a response to what God is initiating.
And this is what we see in some of the prophetic portraits we see of Jesus in the Old Testament. For instance, in Psalm 2:7, Jesus starts out, “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” So if God spoke this to Jesus on the day He had begotten Him, wouldn’t this have been early in His life and not later? And didn’t God the Father expect His Son to obtain His eternal destined possession through a life of prayer?
In Psalm 40:7,8 Jesus said, “Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” How soon do you think Jesus began to discover and delight in doing God’s will? Well if we take Luke 2:40 and Luke 2:52 at face value, at least as soon as He was able to hear and understand people reading scripture in His presence or as soon as He was able to read scripture for Himself, He was able to discover what God’s will was for Him.
But perhaps His relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit began even earlier than that. Think about what Jesus said in the latter part of Isaiah 50:4 about God the Father’s initiative in His life. Here’s the whole verse: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.” How soon did God the Father begin to do this with His Son Jesus? If the following was true of Jeremiah the prophet, shouldn’t we reasonably expect it to be true of the Father's relationship with Jesus? “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you;…” Jeremiah 1:5
God said in Hosea 11:1 of His relationship with His Son Jesus, “….And out of Egypt I called My Son.” This referred to Jesus and His parents having to flee to Egypt when He was a small boy to escape the wrath of King Herod as described in Matthew 2:13-15. While Jesus was in a strange land, uprooted from His homeland, the Father was working in His life. Who knows if perhaps this uprooting of all that Jesus as a boy knew growing up was used to help Him delve deeper into fellowship with the Father and Holy Spirit?!
Isaiah perhaps speaks of this when He says of Jesus and His relationship with His Father, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot (lit. suckling), And like a root out of parched ground;…” Isaiah 53:2
So to sum up, while we might wish for a little more clear/black and white info about Jesus’s relationship with His Father in His childhood and youth, there is enough as referenced above to deduct that He began to hear His Father’s voice and respond to it as a small child. And that His prayer life did not just all of a sudden burst forth when His ministry began, but rather was cultivated as a small child and continually grew into what we see in His adult life and ministry in the four gospel accounts. And if this is the case with Him we have plenty of reason to pray for our children and grandchildren and the children we have influence over – that they might begin to walk with Him today as well.
I realize Jesus never sinned and thus did not have to deal with the damaging effects of such in His life like all of us do. But He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” Hebrews 4:15. And He was most likely constantly hounded by the Devil and his demons. And He had to live and minister and walk with the Father in the midst of a corrupt world system and corrupt religious system. So His example is still quite relevant and helpful for us.
Here's a few take aways from this study:
1. God starts early with those He chooses and pursues.
2. We should therefore expect and look for signs in our children and youth of His working.
3. We must train them to hear His voice, meditate on His word, and pray as a lifestyle as early as possible.
May the Lord use you mightily to bring this about in all the children and youth He gives you influence with!