Reading today: Psalm 90 and John 17:6-25
We grew up in a parsonage. My father pastored small churches in the south and we made up a pretty significant percentage of the congregation. Mike, (my first name is Charles but if you ever use that our friendship is terminally over), Charlotta, Chonda, and Cheralyn. All started with CH though pronounced SH. My mother did that to drive 1st grade teachers crazy and to frustrate spell check 50 years later.
The family altar was our ritual. Every night we would kneel in front of the couch, stair stepped, blonde headed, and we would pray. I have always been deeply profound and highly theological so at age 6 I was praying for an esoteric encounter with the divine nature of the triune Godhead. Charlotta had a heart for the world so she prayed for missions, for the children in China and the churches in Czechoslovakia. Chonda prayed loud, very loud, and saw this prayer time as an opportunity to practice her standup comedy. She was pretty sure she cracked God up.
Then the baby would pray. Cheralyn prayed that simple prayer that parents have taught their children for ages. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It was cute. She was little. It all fit together and was just right for the time. But she didn’t stop.
When she was 10, I was in high school. I’d have friends over and at her bedtime Cheralyn would pray, “Now I lay me…” I was worried about her. I told my mom I thought she was Prayer Challenged. When I would come home from college and she was 13, we would kneel to pray and she would pray, “Now I lay me…” “Mom,” I’d say. But I would get a look from mom and go no further.
Jesus was most powerful when He prayed. Turning the water into wine was impressive. Feeding the 5000 was amazing. Walking on water and calming the storm, that was a sight. But His great power was in His prayers. The disciples never asked Him to show them how to preach, or train them in the healing arts. They asked, “Lord, will You teach us to pray?” He was most powerful when He prayed. And perhaps His most powerful prayer was John 17.
It is called the High Priestly Prayer. It comes on the last night, before He is betrayed. He has been to the Upper Room. He has washed their feet and given them the bread and cup. He has taught then one final time about the Holy Spirit and the branches and vine thing. And now He prays. “Father, the time has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You.” (John 17:1) I imagine the disciples are spellbound as they hear this interchange between Father and Son. Like eavesdropping busybodies in the neighborhood beauty shop, they get quiet and lean in so as not to miss a word. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords bowing in intimate humility before the Creator of the Universe, who would not want to listen carefully to that conversation?
Jesus prays essentially for three things, that they be protected, set apart, and unified. “Father, protect them by the power of Your Name, “ He prays in verse 11. “Sanctify them through Your truth.” Verse 17. And “I pray that they may be one as We are one.” Verse 22. “Keep them safe. Keep them sanctified. Keep them connected to one another.” Those are the things that mattered most to Jesus on that last night. And it that was true then, it stands to reason that it is true now.
In fact, in verse 20 He extends the prayer to me and you when He says, “I pray not only for them but for all of those that will believe through their message.” Think about that. On the night that His world was crashing in around Him, Jesus stopped to pray for you. He might as well have used your name. “God, watch over Debbie and keep her safe.” “Put a special purpose in the heart of Fred and use him for Your glory.” “Help Bill and Susan to get along and to work together for the Kingdom.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world is praying for me to be blessed by the Father some 2000 years later.
I’m thinking that’s a pretty good prayer for me to pray now. To pray that His children all over the world would be kept safe, in places like Egypt for example. To pray that His church would remember its purpose and be set apart to bring hope and healing to the world instead of fighting over what movies to go see and what music to play in the sanctuary. And to pray for unity, black and white, Republican and Democrat, Baptist and Catholic and Pentecostal unity. That the world would know us by our love instead of by our lashing out. Those seem to be pretty good things to pray for. Simple, to the point, straight forward prayers. Safety. Sanctification. Unity.
When Cheralyn was 15 she was diagnosed with leukemia. The doctors said she had three weeks to live. I remember sitting by her bed in Baptist Hospital in Nashville while the family was out making the appropriate phone calls. She had been tested for two days and she was exhausted. She woke up from a deep sleep and asked me, “Mike, what is wrong with me?” “You are really sick,” I said. Maybe too much in my voice because she asked the hard question, “Am I going to die?” She was 15, blue-eyed, blonde hair, pretty, tall, popular. “Honey, you might,” I said. “You just might.” She thought about that for a minute and then half smiled and patted my hand. “That’s all right,” she said, and went back to sleep. When our boys were born and started to talk, you know what I taught them to pray? “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”