In today’s reading, Jesus is praying for his disciples – it is a time of trial and when crises occur division is often the result. The cross looms on the horizon, anxiety is in the air, and the disciples are uncertain about what will happen next. Quietly they ask themselves, “Should we stay or should we go? Is his mission worth putting our lives at risk?”
Like any good leader, Jesus was attentive to the mood of his followers. He knew that they needed support and strength. He knew they needed prayer, the same prayer that healed the sick and calmed the seas and could calm the silent emotional storms they were experiencing amid growing tensions in Jerusalem.
One of the most important things we can do in life is pray. In fact, there are times when it is the most important thing we can do for another person or situation. While we don’t assume that we will always receive a clear result or that our prayers violate the laws of nature, when someone says “I’m praying for you,” we know that we’re no longer alone. Someone cares about us; someone thinks our life situation is so important that it’s worth their pausing to bring us before God and asking to be God’s companion in caring for us.
Now there are many studies about the power of prayer in relationship to the growth of plants and recovery from illness. Some suggest that prayer can be a factor in better health outcomes. While such studies are far from conclusive, and it’s difficult to find a “control” group of people no one prays for or no one cares about, I believe that, at the very least, prayer opens our eyes to the needs of those around us, connects us with those for whom we pray, and creates a spiritual field of force that may enable God to be more effective in our lives. We don’t know the mechanics of prayer, but I suspect that in an interconnected universe, prayer contributes to persons’ health and well-being at an unconscious level, or at least their sense of being connected with others, which can reduce stress and enhance overall health.
We don’t need to know the mechanics of prayer or even believe in supernatural answers to prayer to pray for ourselves or others. As noted Methodist pastor Leslie Weatherhead once said, “when I pray coincidences happen, when I don’t, they don’t.” Prayer may not so much create these synchronous moments and bursts of energy – although I believe prayer changes things – prayer open us to notice the providential presence of God in our relationships and daily encounters.
In today’s scripture, Jesus is praying for us! He is praying that his first century followers and all that follow them be united in spirit. He is praying that we be protected from the evil one. Now, in this passage Jesus may have meant Satan, but for many of us today, we simply need to be protected from succumbing to our fears, anxieties, and temptations. Jesus is praying for us, and in some way, that we cannot fully imagine, this prayer surrounds and shapes us today.
Church vitality experts remind us that prayer is essential to maintaining and growing a congregation’s vision. A congregation that prays is more welcoming and has a spirit that invites others to share in the journey. So, it is important to pray for our congregation, to pray for its leaders, to pray that we have wisdom in the decisions we make. This doesn’t ensure success in worldly terms, but it keeps us on the right track, as we seek to do the right thing, even when the right thing is unclear, or when there is more than one right answer to the challenges we face.
On Mother’s Day, it is right and good to remember our mothers and today I want to say a word about my mother, Loretta Epperly, who would hundred this year. She was a praying woman, and while she never fully understood me – and may not always have appreciated my decisions as I followed a different drummer than her own – she always prayed for me. She even submitted my brother’s and my names to various prayer groups to which she belonged. Looking back, I know that her prayers made a difference and though she has been gone nearly thirty years, her prayers still guide and sustain me.
Yes, Jesus prayed for us, and God’s Spirit still prays within us “in sighs too deep for words.” Let us make a commitment to pray for one another, for our church, for our neighbors in Centerville, for the homeless and persons with addictions in Hyannis, for our leaders (even those whose policies we oppose), and for the planet. We can’t determine what will happen, or how our prayers will be used, but the mere fact that we pray changes us and changes the world and enables us to act with greater love and wisdom to glorify God and bring beauty and healing to this good earth.