Prayer is often described as trying to hail a taxi in the rain. You're standing there, getting soaked, and no matter how much you wave your arms, no one seems to notice you. So when Jesus tells us to pray in his name, we think of it as if he's some sort of divine Uber driver who will take us where we need to go.
But, that’s not prayer. Prayer is not just about asking for things. It's about receiving what has already been given to us in Christ. When we pray in Jesus' name, we are acknowledging that everything we need has already been accomplished through his death and resurrection. We are simply asking to receive what is already ours.
And yet sometimes prayer feels like we're shouting into the void. We ask for things and it seems like no one is listening. Or worse, we get what we ask for and it turns out to be a disaster. So what do we do? Do we give up on prayer altogether? Do we turn to drugs, alcohol, or some other distraction instead?
No, we keep praying. We keep turning to Jesus, because he is the only one who can give us what we truly need.
For people that don’t know the love of Jesus, I believe the only thing that makes life bearable is their irrational belief that tomorrow will be better than today. And in an odd way, for Christians, the only thing that makes prayer bearable is our irrational belief that God is listening and that he cares.
And sometimes that belief does feel irrational. We look at the world around us and we see chaos, suffering, and evil. We wonder how a loving God could allow such things to happen. But that's the point. Prayer is not about getting God to fix our problems. It's about asking for the strength to live in the midst of chaos, suffering, and evil at the same time that God is destroying them.
But this is nothing new. Jesus assured his disciples that, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is the heart of the gospel - that in the midst of all the pain and death that occurs in this world, there is still hope. There is still love. There is still Jesus.
So when you're going to pray, pray in Jesus' name. But don't expect him to be your genie in a bottle. Don't expect him to make your problems disappear. Instead, trust that he is with you in the midst of your problems, to bring about a greater good for you. Even when life feels like it's falling apart, remember that you are not alone.
And that's why we are taught by Jesus to have faith like a child. Children have an innate sense of trust in their parents. They know that their parents will take care of them and protect them. Even when they can't see what their parents are doing behind the scenes, they know that their parents are working for their good. In the same way, we are taught by Jesus to trust in our Heavenly Father.
But that doesn't mean we should be naive or simplistic in our faith. We need to ask the tough questions, to wrestle with the difficult aspects of life, and to be honest about our doubts and struggles. That's why I love the honesty of the Psalms. They show us that it's okay to be angry, to be sad, to be confused. They show us that God can handle our raw emotions and that he is present with us even in our darkest moments.
No matter how dark and difficult things may seem, we are never alone.
And that's where the cross comes in. The cross is where God puts our pain and suffering on Jesus, but it's also where our hope and redemption hangs. Jesus’ cross is a reminder that God is not distant or aloof, but that he entered into our pain and suffering, took it all on his shoulders, and buried it once and for all. So he knows what it's like to feel abandoned, to be betrayed, to face death. But he also knows what it's like to overcome death, to rise again, and that’s why he gives new life to us.
So when we face struggles in our own lives, we can look to the cross as a sign of hope. We can remember that Jesus faced off against all the problems we struggle with and that he overcame them. We can trust that he is with us in the midst of our struggles, to bring about a greater good.
But you might be thinking, "Well, that's all well and good, Pastor Riley, but what does it really mean to have Jesus with us?" And I'm glad you asked, because it means everything. It means that no matter what happens in our lives, no matter how dark and difficult things may seem, we are never alone. We have someone who is walking with us every step of the way, guiding us, protecting us, and yes, even sometimes pushing us when we need it.
And that's what we read throughout the gospels. Jesus often speaks to his disciples, preparing them for the difficult times that lie ahead. He knows that he will soon be arrested, tried, and crucified, and that his disciples will be scattered and afraid. But he wants them to know that they are not alone, that he is with them always, even to the end of the age.
He's not saying that we won't have problems, that we won't make mistakes, that we won't fall short. He's saying that even in the midst of all that, we can have hope, we can have peace, we can have joy.
And that's why he tells them, "In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23).
He's not promising us an easy life, a life free from pain and suffering and disappointment. He's not saying that we won't have problems, that we won't make mistakes, that we won't fall short. He's saying that even in the midst of all that, we can have hope, we can have peace, we can have joy, because he has overcome the world.
He's saying that we don't have to be afraid, we don't have to despair, we don't have to give up, because he is with us, he is for us, he is defending us. He's saying that we can face anything, anything at all, with confidence and courage and faith, because he has already won the victory.
Whatever you're going through, whatever struggles and pains and doubts and fears you may have, know that you are not alone. Know that Jesus is with you, that he loves you, that he is fighting for you. And know that you have a community of fellow believers, fellow strugglers, fellow sinners, who are there to walk with you, to support you, to encourage you, to challenge you, to love you.
We are not perfect, we are not immune to sin or suffering or doubt. But we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are called to be salt and light in this world. So we live in the midst of chaos and suffering, doubt and struggles, strengthened and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit and emboldened by the grace of God, to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, praying for and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to a hurting, dying, hopeless world.