Thursday, 3 January 2008

Jesus' prayers

Did Jesus ever pray with his disciples?

I can't think of a single example.

He prayed in their presence. He taught them how to pray. He went off by himself and prayed. We know this, because they write about it. In Gethsemane, they overhear him praying and he tells them that they, too, ought to pray. But he never ever prayed with them, as far as I have been able to discover.

I don't know what to make of this. For purposes of what I'm currently writing—stuff about how leaders should lead others—it is quite frustrating and it would be a lot easier for me if I could find what I'm looking for.

Thankfully for the case I'm trying to make, there are a number of times where Paul prayed with others, and if we can't imitate Christ, we can at least imitate him.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them...

Acts 20:36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

2 Cor 13:7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.

2 Cor 13:9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.

Col. 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,

Col 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

1 Thess 3:10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith...

2 Thess 1:11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power...

So there are plenty of precedents, not to mention commands, to suggest that Christian leaders ought to pray with each other.

But this makes me wonder even more: Why did Jesus never pray with his disciples? (as far as the gospel accounts record)

There is something terribly alienating about this. Not only for us, at outsiders looking in; but for Him, who faced the terror of death and wrath alone:

Heb. 5:7   In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Some thoughts: when we do see Jesus praying, we are being given insight into the very nature of the Trinity. the Son always prays to the Father. The Father never prays to the Son. But the Father graciously gives all things into the Son's hands, both because he sovereignly wills to do so and because the Son, in faith, asks and receives. The Son trusts the Father perfectly for all things, even life itself. (But I am going to have to think some more about whether the Hebrews passage proves this)

And, given that the disciples did not yet have the Holy Spirit, did Jesus refrain from praying with them because they were not yet friends, but servants?

Even so, if Jesus now allows and commands us to pray to the Father as he has prayed, then we are being given admission into a very great privilege.

Heb. 10:19    Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Although we are not God, we are being invited to share in Trinitarian delight.

Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.


michael jensen said...

doesn't he give thanks whenever he eats with his disciples and others? Last Supper, Feeding of the 5000... etc etc.

Beware reductionism GC!

Gordon Cheng said...

I guess those might be examples, Junior Jensen, but in an effort to substantiate what you say (and I’d like to believe it, for sure), I hunted down the places where Jesus gives thanks in such a way that we know what he actually prays, and discovered the following:

Luke 10:21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!

And again

Matt. 11:25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

First person singular, you see?

It's almost as if he is using thanksgiving as a way of highlighting their (our) outsiderness.

It did make me wonder if the standard form of thanksgiving for food made it clear that all present were giving thanks. In Acts 27:35, Paul seems almost to be giving thanks in defiance of those present, in their assembled unbelief and incredulity:

35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.

So although the public thanksgiving may implicitly have invited those present to take part, I don't think it is assumed. Eating in the presence of enemies

Psa. 41:9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

would be a vindication and only serve to bring greater glory to God:

Psa. 23:5    You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

But this is all just speculation on my part. By all means set me straight on this, as it would strengthen my other bit of writing that I'm working on at the moment if you did.

michael jensen said...

oh, I wouldn't presume to set you straight. I see your point. What is its significance is the obvious question?

Michael K said...

John 11.41-42 is interesting on this score - Jesus teaches us he prays differently for the sake of those listening

Gordon Cheng said...

mk, that one came to mind too, and always does when I hear people telling others not to preach in their prayers!

MPJ: oh, I wouldn't presume to set you straight. I see your point. What is its significance is the obvious question?

That's what I was hoping someone would tell me! Although I've read the gospels for years, I only really noticed this last night. Given that Jesus in the incarnation becomes one of us and shares every aspect of our earthly existence

Heb. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

it seems extraordinarily aloof.

I think it highlights Jesus' divine otherness. Or possibly the distance of the disciples from God, before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Or possibly both.

Gordon Cheng said...

Or if not his divine otherness, the fact that even with the disciples, he is not yet amongst friends.

John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

John 2:23   Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

John 13:21   After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

John13:38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

Matt. 26:56 "...But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Jesus prayer alone in Gethsemane is particularly striking. He deliberately chose to pray alone, although he'd commanded them to pray and was still within earshot.

Gordon Cheng said...

And I suppose this 'praying in the presence of' may have the function of invitation. Jesus reveals what can be theirs (ours) if we put our trust in him.

Craig Bennett said...

G'day Gordon.

Have you considered Luk 9:28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.

I would also ask what were the cultural issues of prayer regarding rabbi and students praying together?

I wonder if also Jesus is stripping away the disciples religousity regarding prayer in regards to the set regular times they would pray etc, by modeling his method of spontaneous prayer and I would suggest this is hinted at in Luke 11:1

Gordon Cheng said...

Hey Craig, that is a terrific observation. Just taking that passage from Luke 9:18 we have

Luke 9:18    Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” 20 Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Luke 9:23   And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:28    Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

So I notice that although the disciples were with him, in verse 29 he alone is praying ('auton'=2nd person singular).

Also, how striking is v 18:

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him.

Again, Luke seems to make a particular point that Jesus was praying, and the disciples with him weren't joining in! Twiddling their thumbs, no doubt.

In the transfiguration immediately following this, Peter hardly acquits himself well. Perhaps he should have been praying with Jesus, then he wouldn't have made such a gaffe!

craig b said...

You made some good points there Gordon.

In regards to your research on leadership then, you can draw on the Biblical model shown that leaders are supposed to be men / women of prayer, leading / drawing others into a lifestyle of prayer.

I would also look more at the Trinity 's involvement in prayer. In the OT we read that the men / women of prayer were also often annointed by the Holy Spirit - in the Gospels the Disciples don't have the Holy Spirit and find prayer a difficult subject whereas Jesus is filled with the Spirit and has continual contact with the father through Him.

Forward onwards to Acts and beyond we see that the Apostles and other Christians are people of prayer and I would suggest the Infilling / Baptism - what ever slant you want to put on it of the Holy Spirit is what makes the difference.

craig b said...

Back to Luke 9:29.

And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

I don't think you can say the Disciples never prayed with Jesus during this time from this Scripture.
I would say the emphasise of this verse is his face and clothing altered as he prayed.

We don't know if they were taking turns to pray or not as happens often in our own prayer groups?

David McKay said...

Most interesting!
I see your point about Jesus praying for the disciples, but not with them.

Come to think of it, does Jesus not still pray for us, rather than with us?

I was wondering if John 20:17 has anything to say in this connection:
Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Does this indicate a change of status?

However, if you were in the presence of Jesus, who has such an incredibly, infinitely close relationship with his Father, would you dream of offering up a prayer, or would you wait for Jesus to pray for you?