Empower me, O Lord, to be a node of compassion and connection today, a place where others feel safe and free to connect to their deepest feelings and desires, so we can together meet with you and repent and trust that you are holding all of us and everything together in your love, and working in all things for our good, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In John 16, Jesus makes some interesting connections between suffering, prayer, and joy. Here’s a smattering of quotes from the passage:
You will feel anguish, but your anguish will become joy… I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you… whatever you request of the Father he will give you in my name… Ask and you will receive, that your joy might be complete. The Father himself loves you because you have cherished me, and have and faith that I have come forth from God.From Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in John 16
The first connection is between our joy as disciples and the act of asking and receiving (i.e. prayer). And no one can take away this joy! Jesus’ promise of unassailable joy is connected to prayer.
A second connection: this joy in prayer is linked with Jesus’s presence with the disciples. “I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.” The unassailable joy we find in prayer is the same joy of communing with Jesus.
A third connection: the presence of Jesus with the disciples is connected to prayer through the sending of the Holy Spirit. “If I do not go away the Advocate is surely not coming to you; but if I go I shall send him to you.” In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us, and we receive whatever we ask in his name from the Father, which makes full our unassailable joy.
A final connection: all of this happens in the midst of suffering, not as an escape from suffering. “In the world you have suffering; but take heart–I have conquered the world.”
As we follow Jesus and resist being “conformed to the pattern of this world,” we experience suffering and anguish (just like our Lord). But right in the midst of that suffering, through prayer, through asking and receiving from the Father, through the personal presence of Jesus and communion with the Trinity through the Holy Spirit, we are filled with an unassailable joy that cannot be taken away from us.
For we know that Jesus has conquered the world system that opposes the justice and love of God. It has already been defeated, and it cannot last. We work and pray in this hope.
I’ve been reading in the Gospel of John during morning prayer this week, and I was struck by the story of the Greeks at the festival who want to see Jesus (John 12:20-36). Jesus’ response seems like a bit of a non sequitur: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
In response to growing fame and celebrity, Jesus doesn’t hire a PR firm and strategize for maximum visibility… instead he moves in the opposite direction, knowing that his being “glorified” is bound up in his death.
And this isn’t just something for Jesus to do on our behalf as the singular Son of God (thought it is that). He goes on to say, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also…” i.e. the cross!
This is our pattern as disciples of Jesus: we walk in the way of the cross, the way of the seed that goes into the ground, the upside-down way of the kingdom of God, where we produce abundant fruit as we follow Jesus to the cross, trusting that it is simultaneously the way of life and peace, and a glory that the world cannot perceive.
Keep walking the way of the cross.
In my morning prayers, in addition to simply reciting the Lord’s Prayer liturgically, I try to allow the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer to “expand” my praying to include related themes, as well as specific people and situations that concern me or come to mind.
I originally learned this (I think?) from Dallas Willard, and Brian Zahnd teaches something similar in his Prayer School. But I thought I’d write down the way that I typically do it, in case it’s helpful for anyone.
Many of the additional phrases below are straight from the Scriptures. I’ve found these to be helpful for me to really enter into mindful, focused prayer (rather than mindless recitation), allowing (I hope) the Holy Spirit to lead and guide the focus and direction of prayer.
Almighty God and Abba, Father of heavenly lights,
from whom comes every good and perfect gift,
who doesn’t change like shifting shadows,
constant in love and faithfulness to us,
…in the heavens
filling all creation with your presence,
inhabiting the dimensions between the particles,
enveloping us on every side,
holding us in your embrace,
closer to us than we are to ourselves,
…hallowed be your name
may your Name be revered as sacred and holy,
dispel the lies we believe about You,
that we and the whole worship could worship You in spirit and in truth,
crying out with saints and angels around your throne,
“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are filled with your glory,”
…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven
may your rule and reign come,
may your plans and purposes be done
in my family and closest relationships…
may your government come,
may your politics of love be done
in my church and neighborhood…
may your empire come,
may your policies of justice be implemented
in this country and among the nations…
…give us today our daily bread
provide for us everything we need, as you promise,
as we make it our top priority to be involved in what you’re doing
and allow your righteousness to grow within us,
your justice to flow among us,
provide for the poor in our midst
and give us generous and thankful hearts,
trusting you to meet all our needs
according to the riches of your glory in Christ Jesus,
…and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us
pull up any root of bitterness in our midst,
and by your Holy Spirit make us into a forgiven and forgiving community,
a reconciled and reconciling community
where no debt is owed but the debt of love
…save us from the time of trial
spare us from bad things that may happen to us,
from tribulations that would overwhelm us,
remember we are but dust, we can only take so much,
We vote “no confidence” in our flesh to withstand temptation,
…and deliver us from evil
and from the evil one, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
Let no weapon forged against us prevail,
let every tongue that accuses us be silenced and refuted,
let every fiery dart of the wicked one be extinguished by the shield of faith.
As we submit to you and resist the devil,
as we draw near to You, and You to us,
may the enemy, who leads humanity astray
into rivalry, accusation, violence, domination,
war, empire, and all manner of sin,
be driven out from our midst.
O God of peace, soon crush the satan under our feet.
…for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen!
In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and a hilarious controversy ensues where the Pharisees are trying to figure out how this happened. The man explains himself a few times, and eventually asks the Pharisees if they want to become disciples of Jesus, and they heap abuse on him and kick him out of their presence.
It becomes obvious that the blind man “sees” more truth about who Jesus is than the Pharisees can, because of their prior commitments to their own honor (which is threatened, in their minds, by Jesus’ authority and popularity). This is the irony of the story.
Jesus hears the man has been expelled and finds him, and at the end of their conversation, delivers the punchline of the story:
I came into the world for judgment, that those without sight may see and those with sight might become blind.
Jesus still seems to be doing this kind of work today, in that those who profess no faith at all (secular critics, proponents of critical race theory) are able to see the idolatry of white supremacy in the church more clearly than those who claim to hear from and speak for God (charismatics and evangelicals).
Those who claim to be doing God’s work are desecrating the image of God in others, while those who shrug at theology are doing justice and loving mercy: advocating for the poor and oppressed, putting their bodies on the line to lift up the needy.
Those who claim to see visions have been captured by a lie and become blind, while those who simply see with compassion the oppressed person in front of them look upon the face of God.