The first “prayer” that I learned in the Roman Catholic Church was the “Hail Mary” which my priest taught me was the right way to pray. I remember repeating it before going to bed, until I discovered, by God’s grace, that not only was this prayer wrong, but it was also a blasphemous, vain repetition. I was grossly ignorant how to pray because I did not know the true and living God. I was religious, so I repeated prayers, but I was like the Jews in Romans 10:2 who had “a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” Everything changed, however, when Christ saved me by His grace and I prayed for the first time to my Heavenly Father.
The Bible tells us in Luke 11 about one of Jesus’ disciples who, by his own question, didn’t seem to know how to pray properly because he asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Here was a man who expressed a deep concern not just for himself but for all of the disciples; he realized that they did not truly know how to pray. Why did they not know how to pray? It goes back to how they were taught. The disciples may have picked up some wrong methods from listening to the Pharisees and Scribes. The Lord helped to clear up any misconceptions when He taught His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men…” The disciples seemed to learn prayer from “religious” men who themselves did not know how to pray; therefore, there was some confusion which gave rise to their defective understanding of prayer.
John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray much differently than the Pharisees and Scribes prayed in the temple or synagogue. Like Christ, John saw the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders in prayer. Although both John and the Pharisees prayed, John’s example showed his disciples that prayer was not just a repetition of words but sincere petitions and requests brought to Jehovah. In Luke 5:33 we read, “And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?” The word “make” means to originate a petition or need. John seems to emphasize the need of personal pleas in prayer as echoed by James in his epistle, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). John the Baptist’s practice of prayer was in sharp contrast to the Jewish religious hierarchy who prayed, reciting the rote prayers and praises handed down by their forefathers.
Above all, it was not the Pharisee’s vain example, but the powerful praying of the Lord Jesus Christ which had the most profound impact on the disciples. The mark that distinguished Christ from the Jewish religious establishment was His conscious and constant awareness of God. Christ always prayed to His Father (Luke 10:21), but the Pharisee prayed with himself (Luke 18:11). Christ always prayed to glorify His Father (John 12:28), but the Pharisee prayed to be seen of men. The time had come for the disciples to learn the right way to pray, so they turned to the Lord for guidance and instruction. This was the turning point in their understanding of true prayer.
The first thing Christ taught His disciples about prayer was to whom they should approach. Christ instructed them to approach God as their Heavenly Father. The Apostle Paul expresses the same thought in Romans 8, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Knowing that God was their Father, the disciples were now learning to pray in a way which they had never known before.
Praying the “Hail Mary”, which asks for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, is a non- Biblical concept and no longer a temptation for me because Christ has taught me to pray the true way to “Our Father” (Matthew 6). We need to learn to pray the right way, just as John taught his disciples. Jesus, as the great Master of prayer, did not teach His disciples to pray empty recitations as the Pharisees did, but instead He taught them to petition their loving Heavenly Father in His Name.