What's The Point Of Prayer?
Allow prayer to remind you of and instill in you the truth of Gospel. Use prayer to speak truth to yourself (and anyone listening) just as much as you use it to ask for God’s help, guidance and provision.
Prayer, to some degree, has always come naturally to me. I’m quite introverted and relish moments of stillness and reflection, which I have found translates easily in how my heart rests in the quiet moments I spend with God—no eyes on me, no external expectations hovering, no people to keep engaged or encouraged. Yet, the conversations that flow naturally for me in these moments mostly contain content about my life, my thoughts, my interactions with my God. I recognize both the necessity and grace in what we call “a personal relationship with God.” It’s crucial for our holiness and wholeness to spend time alone with God. It’s also crazy to think that I, one of 7.5 billion people on earth, have access to the very presence of the God of the universe at every moment of every day.
Over the years, moments of quiet solitude with God have changed me. They have healed me and broken me and transformed both my heart’s desires and my mind’s ability to understand. But God doesn’t call me to a life lived only in the quiet, behind closed doors and away from the crowd. He didn’t create humans to only ever be with him by ourselves, and as much as my introverted heart would love it to be true, the holistic woman God designed me to be cannot be formed and developed alone in my room through conversations with Him about things on my heart. Community with others—better yet, the Church—is not something God established just so we wouldn’t feel so alone; being in relationship with other people, being a part of his Church is actually critical for our holiness.
Though speaking and listening to God about matters of my heart may come somewhat naturally to me, praying for other people does not. For so long I’ve struggled with the reason as to why scripture calls us to pray for one another. When it comes to talking with the Almighty Creator God, I can’t wrap my mind around how I could know enough to ask on someone’s else’s behalf. I rationalize that I don’t know the person as well as the one who brought them into existence and knows their every thought. I also trust in the Sovereignty of God, that he is working and weaving all things into his master plan of redemption, so who am I to ask for something that may not be what is actually best for that person, or even more, for the entire narrative of mankind? So to put it harshly, why waste breath when God is going to do what God is going to do and I don’t know enough to even be a part of it? Yet I’ve come to realize how shallow my understanding of prayer has been.
I was talking earlier this week with a friend about my frustration with all of this and he reminded me of Paul’s words in Romans 8. Paul writes about the Spirit’s help when we don’t know what to pray. My friend made the comment that so often people focus on the idea of the Spirit’s intercession described here taking place in the moments when we are in such deep heartache or grief. Yet, the Spirit is within us interceding always, not just when our spirit is too broken to put together words, but also when we are rattling off sentences just fine, though we may be asking for the complete opposite of what we should. Scripture calls the Holy Spirit our Advocate and our Helper, and my friend reminded me that the Spirit, as our advocate to the Father, is not only praying for us the things we “should” be praying, but is also changing us in process. The Spirit is enabling us to be a part of the very work that God is doing in the lives of the people and situations we are bringing to him. So yes, maybe I’m completely off track in what I’m praying for when I’m talking to God about the needs of people around me, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in praying for them. For every moment spent with God through the Spirit’s work, our eyes are being opened and our hearts are being transformed more and more to look and think and see like Jesus.
So, what does this have to do with Jesus praying with his disciples the night of his betrayal? I promise I’m getting there.
John records these prayers of Jesus to be after the meal they ate together, but before the group left for the garden. If I were Jesus I would have left behind the group hours ago to hash out all the impending events with my Father in the safety of an empty garden. But (thankfully) Jesus doesn’t respond how I would. For what we find in John’s record is this: He prays aloud in the presence of his disciples and the majority of his words are on behalf of other people. He does not ask for rescue or strength to endure, though other Gospel writers include those topics in his prayers later on in the garden. Here in a room full of people he asks first that God would be glorified in the events to come—that people would see the glory of God and see and know and understand who he is. Secondly, he begins to speak about the disciples—how they are God’s, how they have followed the things Jesus has taught them, how they have brought glory to God through all of this. He asks for three things of his Father for them. The first request to enable the second—protection from the evil one, so that they may be unified just as “we are one.” And thirdly that the Father would sanctify them, to make them holy. He then asks for all people to be unified (“as we are one”) and for people to know the love of God and see his glory.
To which I thought when reading through his prayers, “Well, of course, he knows exactly what to pray. He’s God.”
I don’t think the point of John’s record of Christ’s prayer here is to give us a list of things to pray for in order for us pray “correctly” for our friends and the people around us. Do I think following Christ’s example in praying for unity and for people to know God, grasp his love and see his glory is a good idea? Of course! But I believe we are being called to something deeper than a “copy & paste” prayer life.
I believe it may come down to this. Allow prayer to remind you of and instill in you the truth of Gospel. Use prayer to speak truth to yourself (and anyone listening) just as much as you use it to ask for God’s help, guidance and provision. Because the reality is, we don’t always know how or what to pray, and yes, we can always rattle off what we hear others pray or even what we see Jesus pray in scripture simply because we think it’s the “right” thing to pray. But the point of prayer is not to do it correctly, nor is it to coax God into action. (Spoiler alert—he’s already been moving and working long before we even knew to ask). Prayer is investing in this relationship we have been invited into with the Creator of the universe, allowing the Spirit to gradually teach us to think differently, see more clearly and trust more deeply, so that the more we talk with and listen to our Creator, the more we naturally speak the things that are actually in line with the very heart of God.