An Answered Prayer: Duane W.H. Arnold
An Answered Prayer
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, even as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us…”
In the last hours before his arrest, trial and death, Christ is praying for us. He is praying specifically for each one of us. He is praying for Michael, and Kevin, and Dan. He is praying for Xenia, and Alan, and Linn. He is praying for each of us, as though it were by our names. He is praying for all of us who have believed the report of the disciples that God has come among us in this person, the person of Jesus Christ.
As Christ prays for you and for me, he makes two requests. Firstly, that we might be one, one with each other and with God. “I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world might know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.” Secondly, Christ prays that we might behold his glory, the glory that was given to him in the Father’s love before the foundations of the world.
Unfortunately, there are some of us, myself included, who are sometimes tempted to believe that Christ’s prayer has gone unanswered, or, at least, that the answer has been postponed. We point to the divisions of the church. It seems as though things are getting worse rather than better when it comes to Christian unity. We look at the enmity between Christians, both corporately and individually and often despair. When we speak of sharing in the life of God, or of beholding Christ in his glory, it is usually in the context of describing what we believe will take place at his coming, or after death when, following some process of purification, we arrive at the beatific vision. Still, we are left, it seems, with an unanswered prayer.
Perhaps, however, this might miss the meaning of Christ’s prayer for us. We think primarily in terms of unity as we understand it, that is, unity among ourselves now, or possibly the unity of the Church in the age to come. Yet, is this what Christ is praying for in his final hours?
Certain of the Church Fathers understood this prayer very differently. For them the unity of which Christ speaks, of which he desires us to be a part, is the unity of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He prays that we might enter into the life of the Holy Trinity and behold his glory, not in some distant time to come, but now, today, in the everyday lives that are ours.
In fact, in this understanding, you may have already experienced that unity and that life today. This morning you might have started your day with a prayer. You lifted your voice to your heavenly Father. Yet, what is it that is prompting you to pray? As Christians we recognize that what is prompting us to pray is also God – God the Holy Spirit, within us, so to speak, moving our hearts. Yet we also know that our real knowledge of God has come through the revelation of Jesus Christ, the man who was God. Moreover, we know that it is Christ who in some sense is standing beside us, helping us to pray and, indeed, still praying for us.
Do we perceive what is happening? We have, if only for an instant, entered into the very life of the Holy Trinity and, as each of us prays and enters into that life, we find ourselves at one with every other person – past present or future – who has likewise touched the life of God. This interpretation would suggest that the unity for which Christ prayed, although often hidden from our sight, is, in fact, the reality in which we as Christians are called to live out our lives and it is there, in those moments in which we touch the life of God, that his love and our unity is truly made known to us. Might it also be true that it is in those moments of love, life and prayer in which we catch a glimpse of Christ’s glory. As Irenaeus, a second century martyr wrote, “The Glory of God is the man who is fully alive; and the true life of man is the vision of God”.
If this is true, and I believe that it is, then all of us who name the name of Christ are not only the object of his prayer, we are the answer to that prayer as well.
If this is true…and I think it is…we are striving for something already finished…that we fail to even acknowledge…
I think you are right…
As I read this wonderful post two things came to mind:
1) Could it be that the reason we consider it unanswered, or at least by all appears the evidence points towards that conclusion, is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what unity looks like or even is? Maybe there is too much weight placed on the idea of complete or absolute unity. Could an essential component of unity, humanly speaking, be the process instead of the finished product. In the process things are often messy. In the process disunity must be worked through and solved, often I might add with much conflict and great pain.
This also has me wondering where is this place with say the passage in which the disciples are arguing over who will be greatest in the Kingdom and all there other shenanigans? What I am getting at is that this prayer began amongst those who are no different than we are as it extends across the days, months, years, decades, centuries, and millenia to us.
Plus there is this idea that the Godhead itself is distinct but unified along with the ancient adage “unity in divesity.” I do think that last one probably needs clarification especially as there have been not only conceptual but substantive changes to what these words can and should mean.
2) Just how lax I have become in my own prayer life. It seems I spend more time frustrated and asking why my body does not work like it used to and why is everything so hard? I am glad that most of these moments when I yell, slam, and throw things are shared with God. As far as I know no other human sees or hears this sad display of faith. Then to stop for a moment and read this article and consider that when Christ prayed that prayer, as the weight of his crucifixion was nearing even knocking on the door, it was for me. It was not only for me but it was nonetheless for me.
“Lord Awaken my heart to the wonders of your Spirit may I commune and be one with you not only for my own benefit but for your body. I have many deep wounds that need healing. If only I could touch the hem of your garment…”
“I am out of balance in so many ways, physiologically and spiritually, bring me back into balance. Forgive my frustration and unbelief. Give me compassion and grace with my brothers and sisters in the faith every working in the trenches of unity. May we in our love for one another be the expression, even the answer, to your prayer. Thank you for this day and Duane’s article, amen.”
Considering myself an answer to Christ’s prayer is a tough pill to swallow but God can’t be wrong can He? As much as it pains me to admit it I know deep inside He is not but this does not make it any less mysterious.
Many thanks for your reflection… he prays for us…
Thank you, Duane!
OK. I ha e questions about this…don’t crucify me! But What is the effect of Christ praying for me?
So much of Christianity is based upon symbolism that represent something concrete (like the discussion on the Eucharist). Or theologically ideas that simply have to be believed in faith But I don’t know that I experience anything truly concrete because of Christ’s prayer for me. I know I should be moved by the notion but in truth I am not.
So any thoughts on the practicalness of. Christ’s prayers for me would be helpful
I don’t necessarily se the effectiveness of my own prayers much less, Christs’
These thoughts come to mind:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. I John 2:1
He is our advocate before the Father when we sin.
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Rom 8:34
He intercedes on our behalf before the Father.
Also, Hebrews 7:24-25, 1 Timothy 2:5, and my personal favorite Hebrews 4:14-16
These verses help me appreciate how much Jesus understands me and that he is always interceding for me before the Father. That’s an encouragement!
You got it…
Thanks for taking the time to respond, Linn
So, it should create a sense of personal encouragement?
Sounds like the value we give metaphysical things is what we give it. Like carrying a rabbits foot in your pocket, or posting a horse shoe with corks down. Wearing rally hats at a baseball game. To one person these things have meaning. But in reality, it’s just superstition and in reality has no impact.
I tend to think that a lot of what we do in Christianity has value and meaning if we give it value an meaning.
I think God’s Word itself gives it value and meaning, even when I don’t feel or “get” it. As I spend more time in the Word and prayer, the meaning becomes more significant to me. I may have an emotional response, but if I depended on that alone, I would have given up on prayer ages ago. Believing that God’s Word is true gives prayer significance, while my emotions can be all over the place like an elusive blob of mercury.
I find your words disturbing…but I may be wrong.
You seem to believe that anything worth practicing must have a pragmatic, temporal effect.
That…is not the Christian faith.
The scriptures speak of another realm and unseen forces, things that are only apprehended by faith.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
(Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
I taught on this last weekend…biblical faith is not just believing in God, but believing God…even when there is no pragmatic reason to.
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
(Hebrews 11:13 ESV)
There are many things I do not understand…things that cause me much pain and deep grief.
seemingly unanswered prayers, unmitigated sufferings, wrong roads taken when I thought the signs were clear…there is a long list.
I almost gave up…but I choose to pray “I believe, help my unbelief’…I still don’t understand, but I know Him.
I appreciate your comments. I haven’t given up on prayer but unfortunately, while I am a follower of Christ I don’t have a great track record when it comes to prayer. I feel like it’s just a religious exercise that Christian’s do. People ask me to pray for healing, and as a pastor, I do. But i don’t think God is going to answer that prayer.
I wish it weren’t that way and that somehow, I felt some connection with Him when I pray, but after 52 years of following Christ, I’ve kinda given up on praying with any earnest.
There is so much more to prayer than praying for other’s or our own needs. Intercession and petition are a part of prayer, but that is one aspect of it. I think what we often fail to admit that when we pray for God to do something in our’s or another’s life, we are really looking for sign and wonders. We rarely call it that, unless of course you are charismatic and into renewal, but that I believe is the spiritual reality of what we are doing when we pray such prayers. We further forget that “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Mat 17:21).
Joan Chittister, OSB, commenting of Chapter 9 of The Rule of Benedict notes that in the Night Office , there are four elements of prayer : the versicle, the doxology, responsories, and explanations of Scripture. “This develops in us a “prayer life grounded in faith, witness, attention, and serious study. Here is a prayer life that is serious, not superficial,; concentrated not comfortable; full of witness, full of faith.” When this takes place, the miracle is that unity with God and therefore others within the Body of Christ that the OP spoke about.
At the heart of Christianity is ‘mystery’… the mystery of salvation, the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of the Holy Trinity and, yes, the mystery of prayer. Mysteries in the strict sense, since they concern realities of the divine order, are beyond the comprehension of any created intellect. This special obscurity comes from the fact that they have to do with an eternal God. In this sense mystery may be defined as “A hidden reality or secret. More specifically, in the theology of revelation, a truth that human beings cannot discover except from revelation and that, even after revelation, exceeds their comprehension.”
To have a problem in understanding prayer is part and parcel of Christian faith. Denying the efficacy or reality of prayer owing to our lack of understanding is something else altogether…
“The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary— not necessarily the most important one— from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.”
To be clear, I pray and I pray often. But not with the effect I’ve been led to expect. Unfortunately, is is more of a religious thing to do.
Regarding the “mystery” aspect of God, I agree with your comment. No thinking person can read the scriptures and not come to that conclusion. But I wonder if some place too much emphasis in that quality. There is a lot of freedom in interpreting the mystery. And that scares me.
Sometimes it sounds like God doesn’t know what he is doing. Something I don’t believe
“But not with the effect I’ve been led to expect…”
That’s what Lewis was addressing…
I just found time to pause and reflect on this… and to revisit Jn 17… wonderful insight
Our unity is impossible apart from our union with the Triune God…
Thank you Duane… this puzzling call reframed lessens our sense of failure and increases our desire to revisit the matter … Once again this unity was to be manifested in our participation in ONE table
This is a hopeful call. We have a unity of and in the Spirit. I see this manifested when I travel internationally and meet believers in other lands….we immediately know one another … and share a bond greater than we share with those outside our faith …
Ok I have to reflect more lest I miss it… like looking in a mirror we have it until we turn away
We are the beneficiaries of your contemplations upon this matter