This Sunday’s Lectionary Gospel text (John 17:6-19) features Jesus praying. Jesus says to God, “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours.” (John 17:9, CEB) Jesus was earnestly praying for his disciples near the end of his life. When there’s so many other things he could have been saying to God, Jesus was focused on those he loved. And that’s humbling to consider.
How do we think of prayer? If someone were to ask you—why do you pray or what’s the point of prayer . . . what would you say?
Theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote, “God is not a machine that we can insert a coin into and then expect to get whatever we want. Prayer changes the one who prays.”
Do you notice that when your loved one is sick or hurting and you pray for them, letting God in on the burdens of your heart, that somehow after praying you feel a little lighter? Prayer also helps the person for whom we are praying. Do you notice that when you tell someone, “I’ve been praying for you” (and you actually do) that their body language sometimes changes and they feel just a little more strength to get through the day? God does hear our prayers and is with us. Though we may not get whatever we want every time we go to God in prayer.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus was praying to God for his disciples. Just like us, Jesus prayed for people he loved. We don’t get to see God’s reaction. Though we believe that God heard, “I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy God, watch over them in your name.” (John 17:11)
The disciples would go on to abandon Jesus, deny him, and turn away when he needed their solidarity in his suffering. And then, they would surprise us all—spreading his message of love and compassion, founding a Church that carries on in his name. Jesus’ prayer to God about his disciples didn’t prevent the hard stuff that was to come. But perhaps it gave Jesus some peace. In praying for his beloved disciples, he knew that God heard his prayer. And that God would indeed watch over them in God’s own way. Prayer changes the one who prays.
(This Week’s Thoughts 5.10.18)