Prayer, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, is one of those subjects that makes most of us a little uncomfortable. It’s one of those great mysteries that we wonder about. What happens when I pray? Who, if anyone, is listening to my prayers? What’s the purpose of prayer anyway? Are prayers really answered? Why do some prayers seem to be answered and others not? What about those prayers before a sporting event or city council meeting? Are they really necessary?
Those are some of my thoughts that I think about from time to time. Oh, I know all the theologically correct answers and even most of the theories behind prayer, but let’s be real, who cares? I, for one, am not motivated to do something just because someone said so. I am, however, more than motivated when there’s something in it for me. And that’s precisely why prayer is important.
Prayer is my lifeline to God and myself. Prayer is also my lifeline to others. We have the finest example of that in John’s gospel. It’s often know as The High Priestly Prayer, but I think that title is an inaccurate and alienating description of a very intimate gift and example Jesus gives his friends as he prepares to leave them.
Here’s the passage. I want you to read it slowly and, if possible, out loud to yourself. Don’t overthink it as you read. Instead, observe what Jesus is saying to God as his friends are listening in.
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ~ John 17:1-17
There is enough material in this passage of Scripture for several blog posts, but I just want to consider prayer as a lifeline, because that’s what I think Jesus really wants to convey to his friends and himself.
Everything in Jesus’ world is on a collision course toward conviction and death. All throughout their time together, Jesus and his friends have been followed, and stalked and challenged. Jesus knows his earthly time is very limited and he knows his friends are overwhelmed by the quick pace and turn of events. Jesus has been their mentor, teacher, confidant, friends, traveling companion, referee, brother for three years. He’s concerned about them, their mission, and their community once he’s gone. There’s only so much he can do to prepare them. The rest is up to them. He pours all of this out in his prayer. This prayer is as much for him as it is for them. It’s his lifeline to God, himself, and them during a very chaotic and uncertain time. His example of prayer is also a reminder for them once he’s gone.
It’s also a reminder for us.
You can pray anytime, anywhere, and for anything. When we look in the Gospel’s, we see that Jesus prays in the morning, in the day, in the evening, in the middle of the night, in the light, in the dark, on a mountain, on a plain, by himself, with friends, when he’s distressed, giving thanks, for other people. The point is that it doesn’t matter what, where, when, who, or why. Whatever is on your mind, wherever you are, and for whatever reason, God is always listening. Prayer is meant to be an ordinary part of the fabric of our lives.
Prayer is about whatever is on your heart. It’s east to get lost in all the “I’m in you and you’re in me and we’re in each other” in this passage. If we don’t get hung up on all that, we simply see the intimacy Jesus has with God and he’s inviting his friends in to that intimacy. Jesus is merely saying what is pressing on his heart at that moment – that he’s coming to the end of his earthly mission, that God would see him through to the end, and that God would take care of his friends when he leaves them behind.
We never pray alone. If we look a little further in this Scripture passage, we learn that Jesus is praying on behalf of everyone! Sometimes, we just don’t have it in us to pray. There have been many times when I am so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to start. At those times, I just say, “Help,” knowing Jesus is praying for me. And don’t we do that for others? We pray for them when they don’t have the strength or where-with-all to pray for themselves.
That’s it. There is no right or wrong way to pray. There doesn’t have to be any extraordinary reason or place or purpose to your prayers. In fact, sometimes you might even have the words. Just pray.