Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halfway Prayers

SCRIPTURE: John 17:20-23
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 2nd, 2013
“20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

Everything goes back to God.

Looking at the prayer of Jesus for all believers, I notice that Jesus prays what I call complete prayers. Right from verse 20, Jesus does not simply pray for his own disciples, he prays for all believers. He does not just pray for them individually, he prays for them that they may be one, united, and together. He does not just pray for the disciples to be in him, but in “us” directing focus back to God the Father. From God, he prays again with a link back to the themes of unity in Christ, reconciliation with God, and the spread of the gospel to all the world, demonstrating that God’s love had come to the world.

Such prayers remind me of Acts 1:8, that when the Holy Spirit comes, the disciples were called to witness the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the far ends of the earth.

A) Halfway Prayers (College Years)

What are halfway prayers? Since my University years, I cannot help but notice the sharp rise in attendance at prayer meetings when students are too stressed up about their exams. Those who rarely go to fellowship meetings suddenly turned up. People who were not Christians at all, decided to get some divine “power” in order to do well in their studies. Such need-dependent motives are very common. A typical prayer goes like this:

“God, help me with my exam paper tomorrow. I am panicking and you know how I feel right? So help me God. Amen.”
 Another popular student's prayer comes in the following manner. There is a humour in it, but shows forth how incomplete it seems.

“Now I lay me down to study,
I pray the Lord I won't go nutty.
And if I fail to learn this junk
I pray the Lord that I won't flunk.
But if I do, don't pity me at all,
Just lay my bones in the study hall,
Tell my teacher I've done my best,
And pile my books upon my chest.
Now I lay me down to rest,
To pray I'll pass tomorrow's test;
But if I die before I wake,
That's one less test I'll have to take.

Even panicking parents often ask for prayers on behalf of their children. Why do I call this halfway prayers? When I look at how such prayers are understood in the light of John 17, I feel like I have not prayed in the manner Jesus had prayed.

Jesus prayed: “My prayer is not for them alone.” How many of our prayers are “for us” or for certain people “alone?” Jesus stretched his prayers from disciples to all believers; from all believers to all non-believers.

Jesus prayed for unity “that all of them may be one.” We pray for good exam results. We pray for calm hearts. We even pray for cool heads and comfort. What about our prayers bringing glory to God? How are our prayers patterned after Christ in his love and concern beyond our small world into the larger world? Jesus prayed for the spread of the message of love. How are our prayers moving that forward? 

POINT: Halfway prayers are basically prayers of a person who desperately needs to grow beyond self-concerns.

B) Halfway Prayers (Church and the Sick)

At Church, I see how people come together more when there is sickness in the family. Years ago, there was one Church I knew had a big prayer meeting attendance after the illness was discovered. Again, people who hardly come to Church suddenly appeared at prayer meetings. Many of these people realized that after medical science had run its path, they had nowhere else to turn to except God.

They pray for concentrated healing for the person A or person B. Yet, it dawns upon me that their prayers seem to be “alone” for persons A or B. What about the world of sick people? What about the many people in hospices around the world? What about those inside the Church like persons C, D, E, F, G, who are also sick but we do not know about them?

In halfway prayers, people get satisfied just to hear their own prayers. They never go beyond personal concerns. For all their concern about one another, they fail to show similar concerns toward the people in the world at large. They are more interested to pray for their own things, and not in the way that Jesus had prayed.

Thankfully, Jesus did not pray “halfway prayers.” Remember how Jesus’ prayer grew from disciples to all believers; from all believers to all the world; and that all the disparate believers will be united; and how all of these bring glory to God? That is a full-way prayer.

POINT: Half-way prayers are incomplete prayers. Anyone desiring to pray like Jesus must learn full-way prayers.

C) Devotion from Cyprian of Carthage

Cyprian of Carthage, the bishop of North Africa in the 3rd Century, has some tough words for us when it comes to prayer. In reflecting on the need to pray and to worship in spirit and in truth, he says:
“What prayer could be more in the spirit than the one given to us by Christ, who sent the Holy Spirit upon us? What prayer could be more in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of Christ, who is truth himself? To pray contrary to the way the Son has taught us is ignorant and sinful. He spoke of this command when he said, ‘You reject the command of God, to set up your own tradition.’ (Mark 7:9)” [Cyprian of Carthage, 200-258]
These are hard words indeed. What Cyprian is saying is that if we fail to pray in the way the Christ had prayed, we are “ignorant and sinful.” If he is right, then the prayers that we are used to in our modern society are often more “ignorant and sinful” that we have thought.

Is that too harsh? Maybe.

Before we go off and dismiss this man of God, who were so instrumental in spiritual revival in North Africa in the third century, let us consider Jesus’ life.

What if Jesus had prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane in a “halfway” manner?

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;” (Luke 22:42a)

Hey! Jesus could have stopped right there. Take this suffering away. Take the cup of death away. Take the terrible pain and ordeal away. Away with this. Away with that. So help me God.

We all know how Jesus continues on.

....... ; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42b)

This completes what a Christlike prayer is about. It is never about self-interest. It is never about worldly interest. It is all about God’s will. Asking God to take away the cup shows Christ’s humanity. Yielding to God’s will shows Christ’s humility. Readiness to do what pleases God proves Christ’s whole-hearted obedience.

POINT: Full-way prayers are not about ignoring self-needs. It is about putting self-needs within a bigger picture of God's will.

D) A Sample Full-way Prayer

Halfway prayers tend to be overwhelmingly oriented toward one end. They are so earthly minded that they lack heavenly focus. The same is also true of the other end. There are people who are so heavenly minded that they lack earthly compassion. Both extremes are to be avoided. Jesus in John 17 prays not only for the will of God to be done on earth, he too prays for the will of God to be done in heaven as well. His eyes are on both the people as well as on God. He is mindful not just of what the people claim they need, but also what they truly need. In our halfway prayers, we tend to be so focused on the temporal that we are prepared to forsake the permanent. Just like Esau who gave up his birthright just to obtain temporary pleasure of stew to satisfy the self. Or King Saul who rushed the sacrifice and disobeyed the instructions from the prophet Samuel, simply because his eyes are not on God, but on self.

One of the most obvious signs in halfway prayers is our tendency to desire something without the willingness to pay for it. We want the prize but we do not want the disciplines required to win the prize. We want the fruit but avoid the hard labour and investment to produce a good crop. We satisfy ourselves with things temporal that we forget that such things will not last.

Let me close with a powerful message of conviction by a Nigerian pastor, Sunday Gomna, whose house and church buildings were burned by Muslim radicals. Although it is not technically a prayer, it is one that manifests a prayerfulness of a person utterly focused on God. Credit to Mark Meynell.

Nigerian Church after a Bomb Attack
(Photo credit:
He said, ‘First, I am grateful that no one in my church killed anyone.” Certainly many Christians had blood on their hands. However, Pastor Sunday said that he had gone around through the community and some of the Muslim people said, “Pastor, thank you for the way you taught your people. Your people helped to protect us.’ So Pastor Sunday was proud that his people did not kill any Muslims. ‘Second, I am grateful that they did not burn my church.’ We all looked at him a bit incredulously. We were meeting in this little uncomfortable place because the church building had been burned. But Pastor Sunday continued: “Inasmuch as no church member died during this crisis, they did not burn our church. They only burned the building. We can rebuild the building but we could not bring back to life any of our members. So I am grateful that they did not burn my church.” He continued, “Third, I am grateful that they burned my house as well” He had been living in the parsonage [which] was burned with everything in it. Pastor Sunday continued, ‘If they had burned your house and not my house, how would ! have known how to serve you as pastor? However, because they burned my house and all my possessions, I know what you are experiencing and I will be able to be a better pastor to you. So I am grateful that they burned my house as well.’ To me these were amazing statements coming from a young pastor. And they were an illustration of the true spirit of Christ. Who can find fault with this kind of Christianity? This is not just a veneer of Christian faith over evil thoughts and attitudes. It is a true reflection of Jesus’ teachings. (Danny McCain, To the Ends of the Earth (Calabar, Flourish Brands 2010) 164-5)

My friends. Be not satisfied with halfway prayers that seem to try to shape God into our own wills and our own preferences. Pray in a manner to be shaped by God's will and God's preferences. In doing so, may we be molded more and more into the image of Christ.

THOUGHT: “Whatever a man prefers to God, that he makes a god to himself.” (Cyprian of Carthage)


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