Could there be a more maligned phrase today than, “I’ll pray for you.”?
I remember it served as a threat once after a heated discussion about the ordination of women. (This feels like a long-ago topic now.) I was in seminary and my theological sparing partner, in desperation, was throwing in the towel. It was obvious to him that I was a lost cause and so I was commended to God, the final arbiter. “I’ll pray for you” meant “God, I did my best. You fix her!” It was dislocating to know that someone was petitioning God to alter the very thing I was being told by God to trust.
The latest misuse of this phrase is it’s use by conservative politicians in both Canada and the United States as a foil to avoid addressing divisive political issues. Instead of allowing a tragedy to help galvanize positive initiative, the phrase is used to divert attention and dismantle the impetus for change. “I’ll pray for you” in this case means “Look away. Nothing to see here.” Once again, it is dislocating to know someone is petitioning God to maintain the very thing people are being called by God to change.
Compare this with Jesus saying “I’ll pray for you.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples and offers a prayer. This is a prayer not just for them but for those who will come to believe—for us! His prayer was that we may be one with God and with each other. Ironic isn’t it that prayer can be used as an instrument of division for us but with Jesus it empowers unity.
How does prayer—true prayer—breakdown the barriers between us? When we set our self-righteousness aside, how does prayer help us see the enemy? How does prayer challenge us to realize we need each other, even the one who is not sure of my calling, worth or activity?
O Lord, I come to you in prayer. Help me understand my enemy. Help me humbly appreciate divergent perspectives and the blind spots of my own. Help me trust in your call and have the courage to see those who are on the margins and to speak out for those who do not have a voice. Help me love across all barriers. Amen.
Who is your enemy? What truth do they hold? What truth do you hold?
JOHN 17:20-26 Jesus said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
REVELATION 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
PSALM 97 The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. A fire goes before him and burns up his enemies on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees it and is afraid. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. Confounded be all who worship carved images and delight in false gods! Bow down before him, all you gods. Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, because of your judgements, O Lord. For you are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. The Lord loves those who hate evil; he preserves the lives of his saints and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light has sprung up for the righteous, and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name.
ACTS 16:16-34 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.