Jesus explained that when he was gone, and the disciples would have the Holy Spirit, they would no longer be asking Jesus for things, as they had while he was with them.
I am sure they once again turned to each other with questioning looks.
What could he mean?
Of course, if he were dead and gone, they would no longer come to him! Why would he even have to say that? So, because he was saying it, it must carry a meaning they could not discern.
Which was, in itself, troubling.
They would instead pray in Jesus’ name, and that prayer would have power.
There was no context for them to understand that statement with. Praying to Almighty God carried power in it. Praying to Jesus . . . ? Did he mean what it sounded like he meant?
Thy had eaten a full meal with several courses. Plenty of matzah, for it was the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And with their matzah had been many of the delicious dishes reserved for festival feasts, served with several cups of rich wine.
Though it was yet the spring, and the air had a crispness to it, still the braziers and oil lamps warmed the room. The night was waxing on, and Jesus’ words were heavy with import and meaning. Their heads were also growing heavy, as Jesus instructed them. A silent anxious undertow tugged within them as they listened to words such as “depart,” and “when I leave you.” This was the language of death, the words of permanent parting.
And yet, Jesus also spoke of a return.
Did he mean remembered, as they each wore his mantle of teaching, and invoked his name as they loosed and bound with his authority?
Was he speaking of that last great and glorious day when Almighty God would right all wrongs, and usher in the New Age?
Or, did he have the afterlife in mind? That he would return for each of them when they lay on their deathbed, ready to be taken up to their forefathers?
And what did it mean to have the Holy Spirit?
Ask in Jesus’ Name
Jesus was speaking of a new kind of relationship with God that would bring a spiritual intimacy no person had ever yet experienced, a communion so organic, so complete, the only language that could begin to describe it was one of union. God and Christ would make their home—their tabernacle—within each person who received Jesus in faith. And this union would be sealed by the Spirit of God.
Prayer was not new to the disciples, they had grown up with prayer, all forms of prayer. They had recited the words of the Shema every day since the time they could first form those ancient words in their young mouths.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.Deuteronomy 6:3-5 (NRSV)
They understood the prayers of confession and contrition, the prayers of petition and thanksgiving, the prayers of adoration and worship. All their lives they had spoken the prayers of blessing over every meal, and over the morning times and the evening tides.
And, in their lives, God had answered in the ways you and I hear God answer today. Sometimes silence, sometimes inner affirmation, sometimes a sense of God’s power, glory, and majesty.
But Jesus was speaking as though there would be incalculably more power, now, if they were to pray in Jesus’ name—in the authority and assurance of his character and spirit.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you all would ask the Father he will give to you in my name; until this hour you all have not asked even one thing in my name: Let you all ask and you will receive, in order that your joy has been made complete.Jesus, John 16:23-24
Let you all ask!
In Greek, the form of the verb is called an imperative—it is a command. Jesus was telling them, not inviting them, to ask the Father to give them what they were prompted to ask for in Jesus’ name. And for Jesus’ sake, God would grant that request, with all the infinite and eternal power that is God’s.
An Invitation to Prayer
Though God commands prayer through the Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian Testament, prayer is really the Lord’s invitation to intimacy with God, knowing that God nourishes, restores, heals, and transforms through prayer.
Prayer is about letting ourselves experience being loved by God, spoken to and claimed by God, opening ourselves to the infilling of God’s presence. Sometimes prayer feels like work, but that is the intercession part. The most important part of prayer is the opportunity God gives us to experience the Lord’s healing and transforming love, through worship, thanksgiving and confession of sin.
Pray in Power
In reading the book of Acts, it soon becomes clear the early church depended on prayer, and believed in faith that God would empower them. The Apostle Paul affirmed Jesus’ teaching about prayer in his letter to the Philippians when he said,
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)
Prayer as Conversation, ACTS and “M”
Prayer is conversation with God. You and I speak with our voices, and most often God speaks through God’s word and through the Holy Spirit within you and me. Still, God also speaks through visions and dreams, through circumstances, and through other people. It is upon us to listen, attuned to God.
You are probably familiar with the ACTS acronym, I’m adding one more letter: Prayer includes adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and meditation.
Adoration: The disciples would remember with increasing understanding the sheer brilliance of Jesus’ glory which had blinded their physical eyes on the Mount of Transfiguration. They would recall the magnificence of Jesus’ power as he healed and restored, as he walked on water and fed thousands. But most of all, they would remember Jesus’ love, his tender mercy, his capacity for grace.
Confession: Jesus had taught them of the importance of humility, that in fact God always responds to the contrite spirit. Jesus had spoken with honor of a certain publican,
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee: standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
But the tax collector: standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”Jesus, Luke 18:9-14
Thanksgiving: Time and again the apostles would raise up thanksgiving with the people for the great salvation Jesus had wrought.
Supplication: And just as often, the apostles would ask for the impossible, and God would grant it.
Meditation: But Jesus is not a story from the past. Jesus is here today, our Living Lord, who is still speaking, still moving in power among his own. You and I need regular times of meditation when we lay our thoughts before the Lord and invite God to speak to us, then listen for Jesus’ voice, which will always be in harmony with the words Jesus has already spoken, and are recorded in scripture.
Metaphor to Reality
Jesus reassured his disciples that even though he was speaking in metaphors right then, everything would be made plain to them once they had the Holy Spirit living within them
This is the deepest purpose of Bible study and prayer – to come to know and experience God’s love for us, Father, Son and Spirit, and to share God’s love with each other. The transformation of the Holy Spirit begins and ends here, in God’s love.
[Prayer | Photo by Michael Heuss on Unsplash]