Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
From John 17
Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
Take it to the Lord in prayer
One Sunday after church, quite a few years ago, my daughter told me that when I stand at the altar, celebrating the eucharist, with arms outstretched, I sometimes look like I’m shrugging my shoulders as if to say: “I don’t know.” Granted, I probably needed to work on that. But at the same time, it felt a bit prophetic. The fact is there are a lot of questions I get asked to which the answer is “I don’t know.”
There are a lot of passages in the Bible that lead to that shrug. While I like to know the answer, one wise parishioner told me in a bible study that she doesn’t worry about those kinds of passages. She says that somewhere in the Middle East, in some yet to be discovered cave, there’s a yet to be discovered clay jar with a yet to be discovered scroll that explains it all. Until that scroll is found, she’s not going to worry. All shall be revealed, in God’s time. She had more faith than I did, for sure.
As we approach Trinity Sunday, the dynamics of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit falls in the category of mystery, dynamics crafted in language that can only hint at the real truth. One teacher compared doctrines like the Trinity to buoy markers, floating on the surface of the sea, indicating depths beyond our perception. Those buoy markers are not the reality itself. They are just ways to point us to deep truths that we may proclaim without being able to explain. Life is full of those kinds of truths.
Case in Point: Yesterday in church, we read an excerpt from John 17, a chapter that is really a prayer offered by Jesus. I find myself wondering about the mystery of prayer. The more I pray, the more I sense depths beyond my understanding. Here are some of the questions that occur to me: Why did Jesus pray so much? Was he really talking to himself? What did he need to pray for? And why didn’t his prayers always get answered the way he wanted, as in the time he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane asking that the cup be removed from him? Does prayer change God’s mind? Or does prayer change us? Do we regard prayer more like a steering wheel, guiding us along the journey, or like a spare tire, something we pull out when we’re in a ditch?
Take time this week to read John 17. On the night before he is arrested Jesus prays. He prays for himself, for strength. He prays for the disciples with him. And he prays for those who will come to faith through the disciples. That’s you and me, folks. John 17 is just one of the places where we read about Jesus praying. The fact is, especially in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is always going off by himself to pray.
I’m not sure why that is, but my best guess is that Jesus understood that his life on earth was meant to unfold in ongoing, active loving relationship with the Holy One who he referred to as Father, as Abba, a familiar way of talking about a parent. Prayer was the way that the relationship was sustained, even when Jesus admits that he is not given to know everything.
When the New Testament calls us to pray without ceasing, I don’t think it means 24/7 kneeling in a pew or by your bedside. Rather, it is to see all of life as a way to live in relationship with God, as mysterious as that may be. In thanksgiving, intercession, confession, adoration, meditation, silence. It’s a call to pray not only with our lips but with our lives. (One woman who worked in a kitchen at a school talked about cooking as prayer.)
There’s deep mystery in the dynamics of prayer. There’s so much beyond our understanding. But that need not keep us from making prayer a way of life, as we seek a deeper relationships with God. How might you do that this week?
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
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