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“I gave up all that [superficial righteousness] so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.”
Philippians 3:10 (The Message)
There probably is not a season when my Christian angst is greater than during the one through which we are currently passing. My earliest memories of this season are set in my church-of-origin. My father, who was a great preacher, would preach the Crucifixion story using words that evoked such violent and horrific mental images that it made my hands, feet, and side hurt. And my heart – my heart would break to think that anyone as good as Jesus would have suffered all that he suffered. No matter how many times I heard Daddy (and others) explain that a loving God not only permitted, but willed, that to happen so that God could forgive us for our sins, it was hard for me to reconcile the end with the means, and the means with love.
If you’re like me, you may need the occasional reminder of just how powerful a tool for living we have in prayer. It’s easy to forget, quite simply, because we don’t get everything we pray for. And perhaps some of us, in our deepest heart, still lapse into thinking of prayer as being mostly about asking God for things. When we get what we want, our prayer was answered – praise God! When we don’t, well, we’re not quite sure what to think about that; since we know that God does not fail, and we know that God can do anything God wants to do. And so, over time, after enough losses and disappointments and “unanswered” prayers, it can all start to seem somewhat random. Some prayers get answered; some don’t. Sometimes prayer “works;” sometimes not so much. That’s how it might seem.
But there is another way to look at that; and it’s good news! Prayer is powerful and its power is not dependent on whether we get things we ask God for. The power of prayer does not lie in whether or how it moves or changes God; it lies in whether and how it changes us.
I’m working on a sermon, for this Sunday, that takes us back to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. One of the things I’ll remind us of is that the immediate response to that prayer didn’t come off as a great success – if you define “successful prayer” as prayer followed by the desired outcome. Jesus asked God to let the cup pass, and it didn’t.