Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Olivet Prayer

TITLE: THE OLIVET PRAYER
SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:39-44
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: October 4th, 2014

39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
One of the things I observed about Christians' behaviour is the use of divine power in the midst of heated arguments and controversies. Different groups would regularly pray that God's will be done, but I wonder how many of them are more inclined toward asking for "their will" to be done instead. This week, I reflect on two current events and look at ways we can pray. With increasing submission and decreasing manipulation of course. Otherwise, we will be guilty of manipulating God to turn people against people.



A) Ongoing crisis at GTS

General Theological Seminary
The first case is the crisis at the oldest Episcopal seminary in America, the General Theological Seminary (GTS). Currently, the majority of the Faculty at General Theological Seminary are disputing with the Board of Trustees over the leadership of the dean of the school, the Very Rev Dean Dunkle. Since the installation of Dunkle in 2013, tensions had been growing with regards to his management style. On top of that, concerns were made with regards to the inappropriate remarks Dunkle had made to both faculty and students. What was initially internal an internal disagreement between the faculty and the dean, and the board of directors have now become open accusations and jabs against one another. The eight faculty members out of eleven walked off their jobs to protest the unbearable working conditions. Their ultimatum was essentially the firing of Dean Dunkle.  In a letter from the faculty to the students, they claimed that they were “teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship until pressing issues at the Seminary are addressed.”

In a drastic move, the Board of Trustees took the faculty’s actions as tantamount to a resignation which was explicitly denied by the eight faculty concerned.  You can read more about it here. Using blogs and social media to express their grievances, the situation has only compounded the challenges that General Theological Seminary had to endure. My heart goes out especially to the students who are helpless. On the one hand they support the faculty they loved. On the other hand, they are aware that the Board of Trustees does have certain legal powers and obligations to maintain a business-as-usual stance.  Since then, there is a growing list of professors from other seminaries and institutions, pastors, and concerned individuals pledging their support for the faculty, urging for reinstatement of the affected faculty. The eight faculty members have put up a website to argue their case. Dean Dunkle made a statement on October 3rd,2014. Observers like Frederick Schmidt over at Patheos have called it a “crisis” and blames the escalation of the problem squarely at social media.

The faculty's letter to the students ended with these words: "Please continue to pray for us, in our urgent call for negotiation." The letter from the Board of Trustees began with "Yesterday, after much prayer and deliberation" and ends with "and pray that our decision was the right one."

If God receives two prayer requests, one from the eight faculty, and another from the Board of Trustees, and many others in-between as well as far away in social media networks, I wonder how He would respond. Are those prayers humble submissions or divine manipulations?

B) Hong Kong Protest Movement

Everyone Fights for their Rights, but Is Everyone Right?
By now, photos and headlines would be splashed over the front page about the protest movement for democracy in Hong Kong. For over a week, thousands of young people in Hong Kong have occupied key streets in the bustling city, bringing lots of disruptions to the normal life. Showing defiance and anger at the Chinese government, they want the democracy promised to them under the "One country, Two systems" rule of law. While the movement has no links to religions or non-profit charitable organizations, news agencies quickly picked up on one of the leader's staunch Christian roots. Some Christian leaders support the protest movement partly out of fear that if they do not, their religious freedoms would be compromised next. As usual, if one receives a prayer request from any of the protest leaders, how then would one pray? What about members in the Hong Kong government who are also Christians? How can one pray? Whose will be done? The protestors, the Chinese Government, the divided population, or God's?

For both cases, God certainly has His work cut out. I cannot imagine how God would do in such complex situations in which it is so hard to find a clear and clean cut solution. If everyone are right, then why are there so much disagreements? If no one agrees, how can one therefore pray? How would God answer prayers? I am glad I am not God. It is a tough decision.

C) Jesus's Prayer

When do prayers become divine manipulations? In disputes, a common refrain would be the forceful use of the words: "I'll pray for you!" after a heated argument. People use prayers as a weapon against one another, that if they cannot convince the other party to give in, they would invoke divine powers to force them to cave in. Even in written communications, especially open letters, there is a tendency to paint a virtuous side of ourselves, while expanding the vices of others. Like the letters or the prayer requests, how do we pray? When we pray, are we asking for favourable outcomes for our friends and loved ones? Or are we asking for God's will be done, that truth be fully unveiled even when it means the answer does not sit well with us?

At the Mount of Olives, we read of how the disciples followed Jesus and were told explicitly, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." There is no indication of whose will be done yet, for that seems too premature. What temptation is Jesus talking about? This temptation is probably similar to the same prayer taught in the Lord's prayer: "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." The temptations are many. Unbelief is one of them. Such unbelief puts faith away from God unto men or circumstances. It is a symptom of where our idols are. When we pray, this is a key focus in directing our attention. It is not about an external offense against the forces of evil or principalities. It is very much an inner defense. Without a good defense, we may very well be our own biggest enemies. In teaching the disciples to watch out for temptations, Jesus knows that the main battleground for spiritual warfare is often not out there but close within our hearts. That is consistent with Jesus' teachings about murder, lust, greed, and all manner of tit-for-tat, as mentioned in the Sermon of the Mount.

After that, Jesus led by example in offering his own life as a sacrifice, asking that God's will be foremost in his mind. He knows that it will be more comfortable for him to simply take his cup away. Yet, there is that intentionality that puts God's ways as higher than his own.

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

How many of us dare to pray this way? Only those who have recognized the dangers of temptations. Otherwise, we cannot even take this step of God's kingdom first.

D) Protection and Provision

The Olivet prayer according to Luke 22:39-46 begins with a prayer for protection against temptation. It follows with a provision for God's will be foremost. That is how we all need to learn. As far as GTS is concerned, I am not sure if their asking for prayer is within the spirit of the Olivet Prayer. I am not even sure about the Christians protesting in Hong Kong whether they have asked for God's will in such a manner. What I do know is this. When anyone of us seeks to pray for God's will to be done, we must pray the Olivet Prayer. We need to pray for God's protection for our hearts not to be swayed by hatred, by spiteful behaviour, or plain vengefulness. How can we ever pray hurtful things toward our enemies when Jesus Himself had taught us to love our enemies? How can we pray only according to our own feelings and our own wants, and to render God a spiritual genie always waiting to pander to our every requests?

Mount of Olives (Present Era)
Once we have successfully overcome the temptation of selfishness, unbelief, hatred, fear, and evil thoughts, we are ready to see more clearly God's will and God's kingdom come. For when it comes to God's will, there is no stones to be left unturned. If we pray for his will to be done, it is not only for those who disagree or agree with us, it also applies to us too.

This is how we ought to pray. Pray for humble submission of our own wills and deepest desires, to be under the protection of God. We are weak and easily led to do foolish things, hurtful acts that disrupt the peace and harmony of the community of God. Words hurt. Words can heal too. Pray to fight against the temptation to manipulate man's will against man. Pray against the temptation to manipulate God. There is no room for self to sit on the throne. Only God is worthy to sit on the throne. Whatever he says, we will do. Whatever he decides, we will follow. The Olivet Prayer will end with a sense of peace and trust, no matter what happens. This is the silent power of prayer, that the one most changed is not others, but self.

THOUGHT: "Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections are dead and my heart is dead; but You are a living God and I bear myself upon You." (William Bridge, 1600-1670)

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