Teach Us to Pray

Teach Us to Pray

Ascension Sunday
Pastor Mitch Coggin May 12, 2024 Easter

Today is Ascension Sunday. Jesus was preparing his disciples for his ascent back into heaven following his resurrection. Over these weeks following Easter and leading toward Pentecost next Sunday, we’ve been looking at the Gospel of John, the Epistle of first John, and Acts trying to get a sense of the early church and how it was formed, why it was formed, and how we as the church are to make a difference in the world. Sometimes popular music often reflects the experience of all of us in a way that makes us take notice.

Demi Lovato is a singer, songwriter. After years of addictions and after six years of sobriety she reflected, “I’m even more miserable than I was when I was drinking.” When Lovato confronted her agents about these thoughts, they responded with, “You’re being very selfish, this would ruin things for not just you but for us as well.” she felt completely abandoned. This young woman was crying, pleading for help but no one heard. She wrote a song called “Anyone” that expresses the depth of her despair. I tried to talk to my piano
I tried to talk to my guitar
Talked to my imagination
Confided into alcohol
Tired of empty conversation
‘Cause no one hears me anymore
A hundred million stories
And a hundred million songs
I feel stupid when I sing
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening
I feel stupid when I pray
So, why am I praying anyway?
If nobody’s listening
Anyone, please send me anyone
Lord, is there anyone?
I need someone
Nobody’s listening to me
Nobody’s listening
Four days after recording this song, Demi overdosed, was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told her that she had minutes to live if she had not been found when she was. She did not sing again until she sang this song two years later at the 2020 Grammys, crying tears of relief throughout her performance.

Our world often seems in desperation mode. We may even feel stupid when we pray and think “Why am I praying anyway? Is God listening? Does anyone care? Is anyone listening? “Nobody’s listening to me.

David Bartlett, in Feasting on the Gospels, writes that this prayer is not a model for intercessory prayer for a congregation. Its function is to inform disciples and then the readers of this Gospel of the right Christology and the right Ecclesiology. Christology is a sense of who Jesus was, why He came. Christology is our developing understanding of the person of Christ. Jesus lived among them for three years, but when he asked them who He was, He got all kinds of answers. Like the disciples, we struggle with our own understanding of who Jesus was and is now in our own lives.

The verses we read from the Gospel of John is another example of Jesus teaching his disciples about prayer. The prayer Jesus models in verses 6-19 strengthens the closeness between God and Jesus and the disciples. Jesus makes it clear that his prayer reflects a close personal intimate relationship to God the Father. Jesus prays to God, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours and you gave them to me and they have kept your word.”

He is showing the disciples that they are to live beyond this prayer and beyond his physical life with them. Jesus prays in verse 13, “But now I am coming to you [God], and I speak these things in the world so that they [disciples] may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

In verse 15 & 18, Jesus continues, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” The disciples are to live beyond all the knotted complexities of the world without getting entangled. We have the tendency to withdraw from the world when the world changes and to pull the proverbial covers over our heads and wait until the darkness passes. Jesus is praying to God asking for God’s presence and guidance as the disciples, now commissioned as future apostles, are sent to the world as witnesses to God’s love and unity.

Jesus knew what was about to happen, the disciples did as well. although it was difficult to accept that he would be leaving them. This prayer provides an alternative to retreat from the world without giving into the pressures of the world. In the story of the early church recorded in Acts, the disciples were choosing who would replace Judas and chose Matthias who “must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

Does prayer matter? Does prayer make a difference? Does prayer change reality? When people are vulnerable, and are crying, “is anyone listening, is anyone noticing, does anyone care?” Does prayer really make a difference? Yes, prayer does make a difference, whether we perceive that or not, it does. As John’s epistle reminds us in 1 John 5:10-11: “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts… And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

We need not be ashamed if our own prayer life feels like it is in shambles. Jesus shows us that prayer is messy. True prayer always tests the limits of language and shapes us as much when it fails as when it succeeds. If we go through desert times when we feel neither God’s presence, nor our own transformation, we may be learning something about the great gulf that God must reach us to overcome. Table graces, bedtime prayers, and prayers before meetings may feel perfunctory, yet these habits mold us gradually. Bumping into the mystery of prayer can help us understand the mystery of who Christ is in our lives.