Recently I re-read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) noting those places where God the Father speaks directly to Jesus, and those places where Jesus speaks directly to the Father. Since then, I have been reflecting on them in this way (suggested by my friend Mike Breen): to see the words the Father addresses to Jesus as being addressed to me, and to make the words Jesus addresses to the Father my own prayer.
Jesus’ words to the Father are perhaps the most intimate insight we are given into his life, and show us what it means to live a life so secure in the knowledge of the Father’s love for us that we can lay down our life for his glory.
Because Jesus refers to God as Father, everything he says to God is grounded in the language of covenant, of the relationship by which two persons become one. (This is why Jesus can say to his disciples, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.) In general, the kingdom language of God as King is found in Jesus’ teaching, including many of his parables. Nonetheless, some of the occasions where Jesus addresses his Father display the covenant thread, and some display the kingdom thread.
Having sent his disciples out in mission:
“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”
(Matthew 11:25, 26 & Luke 10:21)
This is a kingdom prayer, a prayer of recognition that our Father is also Lord of heaven and earth. Not surprisingly, it comes in the midst of Jesus’ ministry, at a point where he has sent out the disciples he has trained up to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has come near, by driving out demons and healing the sick. It is a prayer that rejoices in God’s up-side-down kingdom that frustrates worldly structures. It is a prayer prayed with joy – joy that originates with the Holy Spirit, is given abundantly to Jesus, and given back to the Father. And as it becomes our prayer, so the presence of joy in our lives will start to increase, built-up with exercise.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
“Abba, Father”...“everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
These are covenant prayers. Prayers of recognition that Jesus is not a lone agent, but is in covenant with one greater than himself (this is deep theology for a Trinitarian; in part, Jesus has emptied himself of all that comes with being equal with God in order to be fully dependent on the Father; in part, Jesus, even resurrected, ascended and glorified, lives to glorify the Father). Knowing the Father’s love, he can offer his life in submission to the Father’s will. Nonetheless, the fact that he is in covenant with the Father means that he can ask, and is listened to: this is a conversation, only one side of which we overhear. There is progression here (as revealed in Matthew’s Gospel), as Father and Son together arrive at their decision. As we grow in our knowledge of the Father’s love, so we grow in our identity as his sons; and as we grow in our identity, so our capacity for obedience in the face of the hardest things the world and the accuser can throw at us increases.
On the cross:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
This is a covenant prayer, a prayer of the deepest vulnerability that cries out, where is my covenant partner?
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This is a kingdom prayer. In forgiving those who crucified him, Jesus disarms the accuser of any legal right to have them tried by God for the murder of his Son. When we are wronged, we can demand justice. But when, instead, we extend mercy, the accuser is disarmed. Forgiveness of those who have wronged us – and we will be wronged – is one of the most powerful weapons we possess.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This is a covenant prayer. Indeed, following Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34, it is a reaffirmation of covenant: though the evidence suggests that I have been deserted by God – though, like Job, I am told to curse God and die – yet I will trust in him to rescue me.
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
(John 11:41, 42)
This is, really, a kingdom prayer, though covenant is very close to the surface. Indeed, Jesus even states that this is not about covenant, not about his relationship with the Father (that is the already secure grounding), but is a kingdom breaking-in moment. Unless we are also secure in covenant, we will not be able to pray kingdom breaking-in prayers in public: there will be that nagging doubt, will God hear and answer me, or not? But if we are able to make this prayer our own, it will be not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those around us who need to know that God has sent us, with good news.
Predicting his death:
“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
(John 12:27, 28)
I have already touched on this kingdom prayer in Part 1, because this is the one time in the Gospels where we are privileged to hear both sides of a conversation between the Son and the Father. The Father responds, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” This is a doing prayer, a prayer of kingdom action, of taking on the very task given Jesus to fulfil. We, too, have a calling, a kingdom part to play, by which we will be used to bring glory to the Father. And we, too, will face the temptation to draw back from the doing, to settle for the being alone. But doing flows out of being; being is not self-serving.
If we were to pray the prayers of Jesus with him, to make them our own, what might happen?