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When Jesus Prays
If you knew that tonight would be your last night one earth, how would you spend it?
John Knox the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland called his wife to his bedside when he was very ill and asked her, "Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor." She read John 17. After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his brothers and sisters in Christ. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord's servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As he prayed, his soul went home to be with the Lord.1
The occasion for this morning's Scripture lesson is of another occasion when another knew that he was about to die. It is the night before the Jewish leaders and the Roman government would conspire together to execute our Lord. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their supper. Judas has left the company to complete his betrayal. John then tells the story much differently than the other gospel writers. There are no sleeping disciples. There is no garden. There is no struggle of faith by our. Jesus concludes the meal with a prayer, a farewell prayer for himself, his disciples, and all the people who would come to faith from the witness of the apostles. In that prayer, he is able to look beyond his own needs. He is able to step beyond the turmoil, pain and suffering that he is about to endure and direct his thoughts on those who will one day come to faith. What a marvelous act of love; to move beyond his own self-interests and self-concerns.
The example of both men is quite convicting. Our Lord prayed for us the night before he died. John Knox used his dying breath to pray for the believers. So often, my prayer life shrinks when my stress level increases. When my schedule gets overbook, my prayer time is often the first appointment scratched to make room for something more "important." In addition, so many of my prayers are concerned with requests, either for my family or myself. Jesus' example reminds me that praying for others is my highest responsibility.
As we consider this, I would like us to consider three important questions. Why should we pray for others? What should we pray for? What should we do after we pray?
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY FOR OTHERS?
If asked why should we pray for others, most Christian usually respond, "because prayer changes things", or "the Bible tells us to" or "to show our concern." All of these answers have an element of truth but there is a more fundamental reason why we should pray for one another. Richard Foster reminds us in his book entitled, Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home, that praying for others is a priestly ministry and that fundamental to the NT is the universal priesthood of all believers. Foster says that as priests, each of us is appointed and anointed to present one another's petitions before the Throne of Grace. This is not an option. This is our sacred responsibility.2 The moment we pass through the waters of baptism, we are called to pray for one another.
WHAT SHOULD WE PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER?
This is particular important when we consider his final petition. John records Jesus asking the Father that all believers might become one. On the night before his execution, his primary concern was for unity among his followers. I wonder if this prayer influenced, the Apostle Paul when he wrote to a divided and conflicted church in the city of Corinth, telling them that they were many members but they were to live as one body. Our Lord was not concerned about their health, their marriages or their business ventures. His primary concern was for their unity. I find a striking contrast between his prayer and mine.
Consider the last time you prayed for someone else. What did you included in your petitions? If I had to guess, I would say that you probably asked for the healing of a friend suffering from a severe illness. Or, you may have requested wisdom and strength for someone encountering a difficult circumstance. Notice the contrast between the pray that Jesus offered just before his arrest and our crises centered prayers.
The young boy had been particularly rambunctious that Sunday during the worship service. After issuing several warnings, his irate father picked up his son and carried him down the center aisle to discipline the young boy outside. Having disturbed everyone in the sanctuary with his rowdy behavior, few were willing to even offer so much as a sympathetic glance as the father marched down the aisle with the child slug under his arm until the young boy cried out with his charming Southern accent, "Ya'll pray for me now!"3
Like the child's request, we tend to limit our prayers for one another until an emergency strikes. Then we offer our bailout prayers. We fervently plead with God to relieve the distress but once the crises ends so do our prayers.
Moments before his arrest Jesus pleads with the Father to preserve unity amongst his followers. He looked beyond his own immediate crisis to pray for their future growth and witness. We also need to move beyond crises centered prayer and bath one another with prayers for unity and wholeness.
However, before we can do this we need to change the way we pray from speaking to listening. We need to put aside our To Do List of prayers and stop telling God what we want and start listening to what he wants. Richard Foster warns us about assuming that that we know the mind of God when we pray. He likens our relationship with the divine in prayer to radio signals. While we are sitting in this sanctuary, radio waves are passing all around us but we cannot pick them up because our receiver is not turned on. When we pray, we may turn on the receiver but fail to tune in the proper channel. We may fervently pray for someone but fail to realize that are prayers do not address the real needs of the other person.
We first listen to center our attention of him and allow him to speak to us and direct our thoughts. In these moments of silent prayer, he may reveal that our friend has a more pressing need we first thought. Our friend may have cancer but something else is more important. She may need to reconcile a relationship. He may need to set more realistic goals for his career or marriage. She may need to forgive God or herself for suffering a severe disappointment in life. In these moments of silence, we are asking God to give us the words to offer in prayer. Foster states "Listening to the Lord is the first thing, the second thing, and third thing necessary for successful intercession."4
WHAT SHOULD WE DO AFTER WE PRAY?
One of the dangers of praying for others is that we can assume that we have satisfied our obligation to the other person. In a letter to a friend, C. S. Lewis wrote that it is far easier to pray for the bore than to go and visit him.5 We must realize that our prayers are only the beginning point. As we pray for one another, we need to allow the Spirit to speak and direct us in how we can become the answer to our very own petitions. Our prayers for one another should be the first steps in building friendship.
When Jesus prayed for those who would believe, he prayed that we might become on as the Father is with the Son. In this prayer, he reveals the unique unity of the Godhead. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit enjoy a special oneness with one another. Stretching the image just a bit, I would dare say that essential to their unity is their friendship. Each person of the Godhead enjoys the presence of the other. Jesus prayed that this oneness might be the mark of our relationships. We cannot enjoy this intimate unity with one another if we only pray for one another. If we only speak one another's name in the solitude of our prayer closets, we will never become friends. We will remain as C.S. Lewis says, "neighbors [we] hitherto avoided."6 Our prayers for one another should catapult us out of the reclusive retreat of our homes and into the lives of one another.
WHEN JESUS PRAYED
There are many reasons why we allow other
duties to distract us from our call to prayer. Rather, than explore the
distractions, I would prefer to remind us of the power of our prayers.
The saints of old understood the vast potential of a bended knee and folded
It was once reported of Mary Queen of Scots, also know as Bloody Mary, that she said, "I fear John Knox's prayers more than an army of ten thousand men."7
If you knew that tonight would be your last
night one earth, how would you spend it? Our Lord used his time to pray
for us because he understood the power of prayer and its supreme importance.
He did not pray that we would successfully build financial empires. He
did not pray that we would have rewarding careers. He did not pray that
we would have good health. He prayed that we might enjoy the same unity
that he felt with his Father. And then after he prayed, he walked to a
hill and showed us how much he loved us.
1 Our Daily Bread. April 11 quoted by Brett Blair, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer.htm.
2 Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding Our Heart's True Home, (San Francisco:HarperCollins,1992), 191.
3 Jean McMahon, Reader's Digest, April 1980 quoted by Brett Blair, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer.htm.
4 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, Revised and Expanded, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1988), 39.
5 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm,
6 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p.11,12.
7 Brett Blair, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer.htm.
8 Brett Blair, Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer.htm.
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