I wish I could do this for a living–blogging or writing or spending all my time thinking about Scripture and helping others discover kernels of delight and morsels of joy. There's so much to take in on every page and it sincerely makes me happy to share it with others.
My Psalm reading is still going strong and I am discovering new things with each turn of the page. I wrote a post called Learning to Talk in my Lenten Reflections series about learning how to pray the Scripture and making the words of Scripture the words of our prayers. I found some more notes I had made on the subject and something I came across struck me as a compelling piece of evidence for my thoughts.
It's a very simple thing concerning Jesus, the Psalms, and his prayers. The book of Hebrews tells us that 'during the days of Jesus' life, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission' (Hebrews 5:7). Sadly, we do not have a written record of these prayers. Wouldn't it be kind of neat to know that while he was on earth, 2,000 years ago, he mentioned you or me or our friends by name?
Well, even if he didn't mention us by name back then, we can take comfort in the fact that he is mentioning us by name right now, today, in the Father's presence. Consider Romans 8:34: "Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Or consider Hebrews 7:25: "Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." I love that when I struggle, He is praying for me. I love that when I sin and condemn myself, He is interceding for me.
I love knowing that Jesus is mentioning me, and you, by name.
But back to my main point which is simply that we have only a very small written record of the actual prayers of Jesus. Of course John 17 comes to mind. John 12:27-28 too. John 11:41-42 also come to mind. Maybe we can also include Matthew 6 and it's parallel in Luke 11–what has been traditionally called 'The Lord's Prayer.' I think also Luke 22:39-46 and it's parallels in Mark 14:32-42 and Matthew 26:36-46.
There may well be others, but my point is that there are not many examples of Jesus' prayer words. Even in Luke 6 where we learn that Jesus 'went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God,' we do not have a recollection of his actual words. I think it's probably safe to assume that he had spent the night praying about the Twelve and perhaps mentioning them by name, but in truth we do not know. Yet, we are not entirely without hope in this area of Jesus' prayer words. There was one other occasion when I specifically recall Jesus praying and what is interesting is the words he used when he prayed. It was on the cross.
Jesus famously spoke seven times on the cross. Here's the catalog:
1. John 19:26-27: Jesus asked one of his disciples to care for his mother.
2. John 19:28: "I am thirsty."
3. John 19:30: "It is finished."
4. Matthew 27:46 (Mark 15:34): "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"
5. Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
6. Luke 23:43: "Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise."
7. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
It is probably understandable that Jesus wasn't preaching sermons while on the cross and that his words were few and choice. What is amazing to me, however, is that four of the times he spoke, he was praying. What is more amazing, is that three of the four prayers were quotations from Scripture. Numbers 3, 4, and 7 are all from the Scripture.
1. Number 3, when Jesus declares 'it is finished,' I take to be a direct reference to the creation account found in Genesis 1-2: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."
2. Number 4, when Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 22:1–a Psalm laden with allusions and imagery of crucifixion. But it's not a mere 'cry of dereliction' as some would have it–not if Jesus quoted the first verse while having the entire Psalm in mind. The entire Psalm ends on a note of triumph: "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" It gives me chills reading that. "He has done it!" Wow.
3. Number 7, when Jesus breathes his last. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 31:5: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God." It is a Psalm of trust that God will 'preserve those who are true to him' (23). It is a Psalm of confidence, 'But I trust in your, Lord; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.' (14-15) It is a Psalm of hopeful expectations. Yet it is also a Psalm that seems to be saying, "I will not exercise my will in these matters. I will trust you Lord to do that for me." Again, all I can say is, "Wow!"
As a side note, number 5 (and perhaps number 7), when Jesus asks the Father not to hold this sin against his enemies, I find a parallel in Acts 7:59-60 when Stephen is being executed. So even early in the church, the Church was praying the Scripture. Stephen was not only praying the Psalms, but he was praying the very words of Jesus as his own!
Amazingly, the church practiced this earlier too in Acts 4:23-31. There the church prays Psalm 2 and claim the words of the Psalmist as their own: "Why do the nations rage and the people's plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one." So we see the church and individuals in the church using the words of Scripture as their own words of prayer. It is profound to me that so many of the occasions in Scripture when the church is praying they are praying the words of Scripture right back to God, making the Word of God their words to God.
And it makes me wonder why we do not do the same thing in our prayers–especially in our public and corporate prayers. It makes me wonder sometimes why we complain about God not moving in our churches or in our communities–I mean maybe it's because we a) don't know the Scripture well enough, b) trust our own ideas more than God's ideas, or c) think our own words are more powerful than those that the early church prayed.
Let's be honest, the prayers we pray in the church are anemic and empty. I'm not even going to say this is a matter of 'well, church folks are simple folks and we don't need to worry too much about the depth or quality of the prayers they pray; we should be happy that such folks even get up in front of people and pray at all.' I call hogwash on that. The point is that we should know Scripture, we should pray Scripture–Scripture should be infused into our conversations and prayers and thoughts. Those leaders who lead churches should take this very seriously and teach the members of the church the Scripture and teach them how to pray the Scripture and how to make God's words to us our words to God.
If it was good enough for Jesus and the church in the Bible, why isn't it good enough for us? Maybe we are afraid to pray the Scripture? Maybe we are afraid that if we pray something like Psalm 2 that something will happen in the world and we might be the blame? Maybe we feel if we are suffering and praying Psalm 22 people will think us arrogant. But isn't that the very point of those words existing? Are they just for us to read and take note of and perhaps hear a sermon from every now and again?
Or is there something deeper in the Words of God that we should be praying?
Are we as a church truly committed to the Scripture? Do we really believe what God says in Scripture? Do we really believe the Bible is God's Word to the church? Are we really committed to praying these promises of God back to God? It's not that God needs to be reminded, it's just that when we do this very thing we are saying, in effect, that we are more concerned about what God wants than we are about what we want. It is our way of saying to God, "Father, into your hands we commit our church." It is the church's way of saying we trust more in God's word to us than we do in our words to him.
It's not that God needs to be reminded of his words as much as it is that we need to be reminded of his words. Praying the Scripture grounds us in the reality of God's working in the world, grounds us in the reality of God's plans for the world, and grounds us in the reality of God's purposes for his church in the world. We can set our own agenda or we can pray God's agenda.
This is the point.