In Luke 11:1 the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray,” and Jesus responds in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Jesus’ answer to the request, “Teach us to pray,” is about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because while Trinitarian prayer is directed to the Father, it’s empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit actually teaches us how to pray.
In Galatians 4:6, Paul writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
This means that when we cry out to God as our Father, it’s actually the Spirit in our hearts crying out. We pray by and in the Spirit primarily because, prior to salvation, our sinful hearts neither naturally wanted to pray nor naturally understood how to pray. But upon salvation, the Spirit indwelling in us begins to change our heart, and our prayers originate with him.
When I was a brand new Christian I had no idea how to pray conversationally or from the heart. I had no idea what to do or what to say. I’d never done it. I attended my first Bible study, and because I was the new guy, the leader said, “Mark, since it’s your first time here, do you want to pray for us?”
I said, “Um, not really. That’s why I’m here! I don’t know what number to dial. Why don’t you pray, and I’ll watch.”So they bowed their heads and closed their eyes, and I kept one eye open and watched. And the Spirit used experiences like that to teach me. The next thing I knew, I was learning to pray. I didn’t read a bunch of prayer books or go to prayer workshops. I just watched people and started praying, and the Spirit started shaping my heart toward prayer and taught me gradually how to pray.
Jesus himself prayed by the Spirit. Look at this great passage in Luke 10:21–22:
[Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for as such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
This prayer of Jesus is described as a moment where he “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit,” indicating that the Son’s prayer to the Father is conducted in the joyful power of the Holy Spirit. This is a beautiful description of worshipful prayer that shows us how the Spirit empowers us to pray.