Pray for me.
This is something people of faith often say. We ask others to pray for us when we face uncertainty in life: “Pray for me I have a job interview today”, “Pray for me, I’m starting a new class”, “Pray for me, I’m going to have a difficult conversation with someone today”. We ask others to pray for us and other people we know in the face of illness and hardship: “Pray for my brother, he just got diagnosed with cancer”, “Pray for the people who are without power due to the storm” “Pray for me, I’m really struggling with depression”, “Pray for me, I’m struggling with my faith”. We ask others to pray for us and others before stepping out in faith to try to do God’s work, to do good in the world. We pray for one another when we lose loved ones. We pray for one another for many, many reasons.
Pray for me. It’s not really a mantra, but it’s a central utterance, a repeated phrase that reveals something at the very core of our lives. But why? And what is it that we are doing when we pray for each other? What are we hoping to achieve?
As Christians we pray, first, because we are taught and commanded to do so by Our Lord. We know that when the disciples ask Him, “How should we pray?” He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). But Jesus also shows us what it is to pray by His example. If you read through the Gospel carefully, you’ll see that in the midst of Jesus’ earthly ministry, between times of teaching, healing, and traveling, He would pray. Especially before major moments, when He was about to face difficulty. He prayed. Before the moment of greatest adversity, His betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. An account of this beautiful and profound prayer can be found in John 17. It’s worth reading, and worth considering that at this moment, Jesus prayed. Read the Gospel account. He prayed for His disciples, He prayed for His followers, He prayed for you and me, for all of us. One of the reasons He did this was to show His followers, show us, what was most needful. His last acts were not to make a plan, not to work a strategy or to systematically map out doctrine. It was to show how to live.
Consider the last three things Jesus did before His passion. He washed his disciple’s feet, showing service to others in humility. He broke bread with His disciples, revealing the great mystery of salvation in a shared meal, the Eucharist. And finally, he prayed.
“Jesus spoke these words, He lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that Your Son may also glorify You” (John 17:1)
The first thing about prayer that our Lord shows us is that it is relationship. It begins with an acknowledgment of God – a placing oneself before God’s mercy and trusting in His love. It is not about manipulating Him or treating Him like a genie to grant your wish. Prayer is rather about simply being in His presence. The glory that Christ is speaking of is that shared life that He and the Father have by nature (because Jesus is fully God). But it is this Glory that we can enter into and participate in by Grace through communion with Christ. We acknowledge that shared life that we get to participate in through taking the time and placing importance on prayer.
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfectly one, so that the world may know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23)
Our Lord then shows that in prayer we can actually bring others with us into the presence of God. When we remember to pray for someone, when we say their name in the presence of God, we actually lift them up to God’s presence, to His mercy. To pray is to be in the presence of God, and we are allowed to bring as many guests as we want, He’s got room. What an awesome thing it is, then to pray for someone!
“But now I am coming to You; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13)
Joy. It is ultimately for joy that we pray. Even as we shed tears, for our own struggles and for the heartbreak and loss of others, even as we come to the presence of God with nothing to offer, we are promised joy. It is a joy that will surpass understanding. The presence of God will lead to this. It is a joy that says ‘no matter what, even when I see nothing but sorrow, even destruction, we can enter a place that is beyond, that is eternal and that offers hope, healing, and ultimate unity in Jesus Christ. To be one with Him is to know that we will partake in His resurrection, that all will be made well in Him.
So pray, brothers and sisters! Pray fervently! Never think that it is the least you can do or that it is a waste of time. Our lord shows us that it is essential and that in many ways, the life of prayer is the life in Christ.
(Originally published as part of the January “Faith” Column in the Journal Review, Crawfordsville, IN.)