Book Review: The Prayers of Jesus, by Mark Jones
Mark Jones, The Prayers of Jesus: Listening to and Learning from Our Savior. Crossway, 2019. 223.
Growing up, I wanted to be the greatest shooting guard the NBA had ever seen. And there was one player I wanted to play like. That player, of course, was Michael Jordan.
I can’t tell you how often on my back driveway I’d wag my tongue as I drove the lane and tried (without any level of success) to dunk from the free throw line. I wanted to be like Mike. He was the best, and I imitated his game because no one played the game better.
Mark Jones’ latest book, The Prayers of Jesus, calls readers to another kind of imitation, putting in front of their eyes an unparalleled person and pattern of prayer. When God calls his people to pray, he doesn’t leave us to figure it out on our own. He gives us someone to imitate. He gives us the man of prayer par excellence, his Son Jesus Christ.
Over the course of 26 succinct chapters, Jones shows us one simple, yet incredibly profound, mark of our Savior’s ministry: Jesus prayed—a lot. His chapters follow Jesus’ life chronologically, beginning with the infancy of his prayer life to his final words on the cross. As we move with him, Jones drills down deep into the theological significance of Jesus’ prayers and applies these truths to the hearts of God’s people. Though intensely focused on prayer, ultimately this is a book about Jesus for the people who follow him as King.
THE SON OF GOD WHO PRAYS
While it may seem obvious that Jesus prayed, it should never be lost on us that the Son of God would pray. He habitually, fervently, and intimately prayed to his Father as only the Son of God could. His life was a long, perpetual prayer. Jesus prayed early in the morning and late at night; he prayed in public and in private; he prayed alone and in the company of others. He prayed for himself, his disciples, his enemies, for his own glory, and for his Father’s glory. Even now, the Son is interceding for his people in unison with the Spirit according to the will of the Father (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 8:26–27). Jesus is not just any kind of Lord. He is the praying Lord.
Why does it matter that Jesus prays? Because, as Jones points out, his prayer life, more than a mere act of instruction, vindicated his identity as the Son of God. The primary witnesses in Christ’s ministry were the Father and the Spirit, but it was Jesus’ prayers that testified to those witnesses (John 17:1–26). A ministry of prayer proved that he was God’s Son indeed. Only the Son of God could be so faithfully devoted to the will of His Father. Only the Son could commune with the Father by the power of the Spirit with such consistency, devotion, and intimacy. Prayer of this degree could only be this normal and natural for the Son. The question, then, isn’t, “Why would the Son of God pray?” but, “Why wouldn’t the Son of God pray?”
Jesus’ prayers to God as Father lay the groundwork for our prayers to God as Father. The only way to the Father is through the Son (John 14:6). Our prayers flow out of that fountainhead. As Jones says, “By knowing Christ we know God, and by knowing God we know Christ” (97). This is the kind of fuel The Prayers of Jesus throws on the fire of our prayer life. That the Son of God needed to pray should cause our hearts to erupt in prayer. If even Jesus prays, what does that say about our own need to pray? If it is normal for the Son of God to pray, shouldn’t it be normal for those that follow him?
A CHIEF SHEPHERD WHO PRAYS
While it’s tempting to think that pastors do a lot of “super spiritual” stuff for God, God’s Word basically commands elders to shepherd local churches like Jesus. How did Jesus shepherd? In the most ordinary, unassuming of ways. He taught God’s Word, and he prayed. These were the twin engines that drove his entire ministry.
Reading The Prayers of Jesus reminded me that if I want to shepherd like Jesus, I must first learn to pray like Jesus. It’s obvious Jesus prayed, but we often overlook the high premium he places on prayer in his ministry. Regrettably, for many pastors, the work of shepherding often only focuses on faithful teaching. It is not less than that, of course, but it is much more. If I’m ever going to shepherd like Jesus, I need to emulate the whole of his ministry, not just half of it. No man is qualified to shepherd God’s flock if they don’t strive to pray like their chief shepherd prayed.
Prayer was never an expendable part of Jesus’ life and ministry. He devoted every ounce of his energy to praying intentionally and intimately to his Father, even with his final breath (Lk 23:46). His ministry operated entirely on prayer. It was the oxygen he breathed. If my Chief Shepherd prayed like this, what makes me think I can live without it? Elders, pray like Jesus. Your ministry can’t survive without it.
A PEOPLE WHO PRAY
Jones spends the bulk of his book unpacking the riches of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Over the span of fifteen chapters, he turns it over in his hand like a diamond, showing us line-by-line its multifaceted shine. One of the more remarkable things about this prayer is how much time Jesus spends praying not for himself, but for those whom the Father had given him (John 17:9). Even the shadow of a looming cross did not keep Christ from interceding for his bride in his final hour.
We should be a praying people because the One who purchased us with his blood prayed for us to be that kind of people. As the bridegroom prayed, so should the bride. And yet, prayer is probably the most overlooked means of grace, particularly in the corporate worship of a local church. Regrettably, many congregations treat prayer more like an afterthought than a main artery for pumping life into the body of Christ.
If your church doesn’t emphasize prayer in its corporate gatherings, let Jones’s book motivate you to make it a more central element of your church’s worship. At our church, we spend time in our main service being led in corporate prayer. We praise God, confess sin, lament our heartache, and intercede as a church family for various concerns we have. These are all kinds of prayers Jesus prayed and modeled for us. We also gather on Sunday evenings for another service largely dedicated to corporate prayer. Doing so reminds people of the importance of prayer, teaches us how to pray, unites us around God’s purposes, and helps us anticipate God’s work in the church. These are all things Jesus us taught us when he prayed
Ultimately, the more God’s people pray when they are together, the more our prayers begin to sound like the prayers of Jesus. God’s people pray. It’s not optional.
A COMPELLING VISION OF THE SAVIOR AT PRAYER
If your prayer life needs a jolt of electricity, The Prayers of Jesus might just do the trick. But as much as it will help you to pray, ultimately, it will help you see and behold Jesus better than you did before. Every page invites you into a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, what he has done for us, and how he prays for his people.
It’s the kind of book that makes you want to put it down, be like Jesus, and pray.