“My prayer was answered,” I wrote to a friend this week, “it just wasn’t how I expected it would be answered.” Looking back after some time and perspective, I was able to see how the answer to my prayer was indeed just what was needed, even though at the time of the prayer, I had hoped for a different outcome.
Prayer works—I have no doubt about that—but sometimes our limited human vision can be a stumbling block, as can our fear and concerns about even how we are to pray. Jesus gives us a wonderful model of how to pray, and it’s something he does regularly throughout his ministry. This week’s gospel lesson is part of an entire chapter-long prayer, Jesus’ final prayer before he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and led away to his crucifixion.
Jesus’ prayer is a passionate one that is full of love, care, and concern for his disciples and in complete obedience to God. Jesus has tried to instruct his closest friends in how to carry on without him, but they aren’t quite getting it. Nothing he says or does seems to penetrate their limited human vision and general confusion. So, he turns to God in prayer. He quite literally hands them over to God with both general petitions and specific requests for protection, for joy, for unity.
In the section of the prayer we have this week (verses 6-19), Jesus is praying for his disciples’ protection, knowing that he has sent them out into a hostile and dangerous world. As contemporary Jesus followers we can embrace this prayer and feel its power in our own lives as we are sent from worship each Sunday, whether in person or online, knowing that God goes with us in the Holy Spirit and that Jesus loves us. We are, in very good and powerful company, even when we do not realize it.
Most of can probably relate to Jesus’ petition on behalf of his disciples. I think of the many mothers who pray every time their black sons and daughters walk out of the house, knowing the hostility and danger they face simply living each day. I think of the parents who watch their children go off to fight wars, whose sons and daughters serve as aid workers in areas of conflict. I am reminded of spouses who watch their husbands or wives put on the uniform of police officers, firefighters, or those dealing on the front line of the pandemic, knowing their lives may be on the line at any moment of any day. And I think of families whose loved ones are living with substance abuse, or mental health disorders and who fear there will be an overdose that will prove fatal, or a day when suicide is not just thought about but carried out.
Life is both beautiful and dangerous. There are no guarantees of another day or even another breath. As cliché as the saying “Life is fragile; handle with prayer.” may be, it makes an important point. Prayer forms the foundation of our faith. It’s where we meet God in a very real and tangible way. Sure, it may feel awkward, and we may wonder whether it’s making a difference, but our Lord Jesus Christ models that prayer does matter, and that we are called to follow his example.
This week, may we lift Jesus up as the model we can follow. Learn that prayer is an aspect of stewardship—stewarding our relationship with God, with one another, and with this beautiful yet broken world. And, perhaps we might join together with a heartfelt prayer for God to equip and protect our faith community. I will be praying for all of you, that God will guide you and that the Holy Spirit will give you the words and the wisdom to proclaim this very good gospel we are called to share.
Rev Nik Wooller
16th May 2021