How should we pray? the disciples had asked Jesus during their walk with him. At that time, before his resurrection, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. And earlier in admonishing the Pharisees for praying publicly just to be seen as religious and faithful, Jesus advised his disciples to pray quietly, alone, in a room at night.
Jesus’ instructions about how to pray specifically addressed Hebrew traditions and expectations up to that point. Throughout his ministry he is teaching believers how then, they are to live, now that the kingdom of God has come to the world, penetrating and thus transforming believers hearts and minds. He is teaching to a new reality that has yet to be ultimately fulfilled. So, the disciples struggle to understand it all – how grace will trump the law; how customs, like prayer, the Passover meal, baptism, and church membership forged under the old covenant will be changed by grace. And sometimes the disciples just want the specifics, not the metaphors, not the parables, not seemingly ungraspable big ideas (love your enemy?)! Just tell us Jesus, How are we to pray?
So he gives them a script – he gives them the words and in so doing introduces the new reality that prayer is between two entities – it goes both ways. Prayer is to be between you and your Father. It is about a personal relationship. A personal conversation. “This is how to express that,” I hear him as he gives them the Lord’s prayer.
So. What does post-resurrection prayer look like? Is it different? How are we to pray now that He is risen and advocates for us at the right hand of God?
Like Jesus did, I think. Not just as he scripted before he went to the cross, died, and was resurrected.
Today’s gospel passage is a glimpse at how Jesus, himself, prayed. Here (hear) his prayer, from John 17:
20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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. 24Father, 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.
25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I 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.’
He is praying for his beloved disciples. It is so dear, intimate and personal. He is praying for and over them that they may know through every cell of their being that they, like him, are one with the Lord, God – that He is in them, and they in Him. And he is praying this publicly – not alone in the desert or in a private room but with many gathered around praying with him.
I realized as I was reading this morning that I was actually hearing Jesus pray this out loud and I was hearing it as if for the first time.
Many times the passage has popped in the rotation as the Gospel reading at Sunday worship. I’ve heard it read like most gospel readings in my church; another ‘for your information – let the words speak for themselves’ reading of the Gospel which will be unpacked later in the sermon.
But I didn’t hear it that way, today. Instead I heard this as the prayer it was. I heard my Lord Jesus praying.
And the prayer has a rhythm and earnestness to it that I recognized. Just the use of the Father language alone sets this prayer apart from any I hear in my church. But the sweetness, too. The total personal trust petition sensibility. Ah. So lovely. Where have I heard this?
In the prayers of Evangelical Christians, with whom I have spent some time worshipping recently.
Evangelicals believe prayer is a conversation with God – that they speak to God personally and directly and He will not only hear, but at some point, respond.
Just as Jesus was doing here. There’s just no question in Jesus’ mind that the petition will be answered. Jesus prays directly, personally, intimately, and not privately. And in so doing shows us how we are to pray.
Evangelicals will lift their hands, close their eyes and begin the conversation with words like, “Dear Father, hear me. We just ask Father, that you…”
This way of praying is so intimate and so unfamiliar to me in non-private settings. I do pray as intimately and directly when I am alone in my car, in bed, at the start of the day, even between the movements of the liturgy in worship. But out loud and with other folks? Not so much. This way of praying doesn’t come naturally as it seems to to those brought to the Lord in evangelical churches.
The way Jesus prays here to his abba Father – our Father for heavens sake! – reveals relationship and connects me personally with the Holy Spirit like no scripted prayer corporately recited in worship can do.
There’s a place for both, to be sure. In fact, I can’t think of any more beautifully written and scripted, holy prayers than those found in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer.
But I hear the Spirit saying to me this morning, PRAY LIKE JESUS and do it more, unceasingly, unabashedly! Just do it. PRAY LIKE JESUS!
Do I hear an Amen?!