A Prayer for Us

John 17:1-7

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come…”

When I read those words they triggered an old song in my memory…

And now, the time has come

And so I face the final curtain…

Do you remember the song My Way?  Paul Anka took the melody of a popular French song, Comme D’habitude by French songwriter Jacques Revaux, and wrote English lyrics to fit the Revaux’s melody.  Anka wrote the English lyric, which has nothing at all to do with the French lyric, with Frank Sinatra in mind and it ended up becoming Sinatra’s signature song.  

My Way really struck a chord with my parents and a lot of people from their generation.  I have more than once had to gently discourage people from using it at a funeral or memorial service.  I mean, do you really want to meet your Maker with this as your walk-in music?  A little heavy on the hubris, don’t you think? 

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows
I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way.

Okay, so 10 points for bravado and maybe the angels can use a good laugh.

But mercy!  Personally, I think it might be safer to go with Just as I Am Without One Plea or Amazing Grace. 

In the Gospel of John, on the night before his crucifixion Jesus sits down with his disciples for a long heart-to-heart.  Five chapters long. He has a lot to say before he goes.  In chapter 17, he ends this long discourse with a prayer. Sometimes it’s called the High Priestly Prayer or The Farewell Prayer.  Some call it The Other Lord’s Prayer.  The entire prayer is 26 verses long, the longest prayer Jesus prays in the gospels.

Everything Jesus asks for in this prayer is for the benefit of others.  Even the one thing he seems to ask for himself is for the greater glory of the Father: “Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.”  And the thing that you absolutely have to remember here is that in this context, in this prayer, the glorification Jesus is talking about is not the heavens opening and angels singing and great displays of power.  It’s the cross.  God will be glorified, Jesus will be glorified, in an act of self-sacrifice.

It’s pretty much the polar opposite of My Way.

Everything in his prayer is a reminder that he has been doing things God’s way.

Everything in his prayer is for someone else’s benefit; he prays for someone else or about someone else.

He prays that his disciples will know God, the only true God, and thereby have eternal life.

He prays that his disciples would know that he came from God to do God’s will and work.

He prays that they would know that they belong to God.

He prays that God would protect them.

He prays for their unity, that they would experience the same kind of unity that Jesus knows with God.

In the full version of the prayer he goes on to pray for those who will come to believe in the future because of the testimony of the disciples.  In other words, he prays for us.

He reminds us in this prayer that we were a gift from the Father to him and he, in turn, is giving us back to the Father.

He prays that we would be immersed in God and God in us and that we would be enveloped in the eternal relationship of love between Christ and God so that we might live in an unbreakable unity of heart and spirit.

I don’t know about you, buy my prayers look pretty pale compared to this model from Jesus. That’s to be expected, I suppose.  After all, he’s Jesus.

Still, when I take a serious look at my prayers there’s way too much My Way.

Even when I’m praying for others, I have a tendency to want to micromanage God.  And I know better.  I know I should begin my prayer by asking for guidance on how to pray.  It’s easy enough to ask, “Lord, how should I pray about this?” 

There is nothing wrong with telling God what we want.  Prayer is how we build a relationship with God and that relationship has to be honest.  And, hello, you can’t lie to God anyway because, well, God is God, so why fool yourself?   

If you don’t know what to say, St. Paul reminds us that the Spirit will speak for us even if all we have are “sighs too deep for words.” But sometimes we have too many words.  That’s when I need to remind myself that Jesus told us not to “pile up empty words” and that God knows what we need even before we ask.

But look again at what Jesus asks for in this prayer.  He asked that God would be honored. Then he prayed for us.  He asked that we would be protected.  And he asks that we would be unified with the same unity he experiences with the Father.

How often do we pray for those things?  

Jesus prayed for us.  How often do we pray for each other? Anne Lamott in her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers wrote, “As it turns out, if one person is praying for you, buckle up. Things can happen.”

Jesus gives us a model here.  It’s a good template that we can use as a pattern for our own prayer. 

There are three dimensions to our prayers.  First, your prayer is your prayer.  It’s your conversation with God.  It’s the expression of your relationship with God.  You don’t have to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row before you have that conversation.  You don’t have to learn special language or a format or formula.  To quote Anne Lamott again, “Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.” 

Secondly, your prayer affects the community.  Jesus commands us to love each other.  That means praying for each other as a way to enact our love.  That’s an action that sends out ripples into the world—and we pray for the world, too, out of love.  

Thirdly, your prayer is transformative.  It will change you.  C.S. Lewis was asked by a friend if he thought his prayers changed God’s mind.  Lewis replied, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

Jesus prayed for us.  He didn’t pray to change God, he prayed that we might be changed.  He prayed that we might be one. He prayed that we might move past My Way to Our Way to God’s Way.

Anne Lamott suggests that Help, Thanks and Wow are the three essential prayers.  She’s right.  Those prayers are essential.  But I think I would add your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.

And make us one.  

In Jesus’ name.  

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