Prayer and Trust
Brennan Manning, in his book, Ruthless Trust tells the following:
When ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”
She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”
When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So, I will pray that you trust God.”
What I have learned in our study of “What Does Prayer Have To Do With It?” is that Jesus prayed to keep his focus upon God. After ministering to the crowds, he would go into the wilderness, a lonely place, a deserted place, to pray.
I have discovered that his life of prayer was not only to keep him focused on God but to keep his trust in God.
Jesus did not need clarity as much as he needed trust.
A Prayer of Trust
In Luke’s gospel, while he is on the cross, Jesus prays a prayer of trust.
The death of Jesus occupies six verses in one small paragraph. In the middle of that paragraph, Jesus is praying.
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” Luke 23:44-49
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) is a prayer of trust.
Nowhere in Luke’s story is there a call for an emotional response. Nowhere do you feel you need to feel bad for Jesus.
With Luke’s story in mind, let’s look at the death of Jesus in the context of the gospels and how this first prayer unfolds. The Gospel writers expresse Jesus on the cross in different ways.
The Cross and Mark’s Gospel
In Mark’s story, Jesus is on the cross for about six hours. We are told he is crucified at 9:00 in the morning, darkness covers the earth at noon, and he dies at 3:00 in the afternoon.
When I read Mark’s story, I get the feeling that crucifixion put family members in a difficult situation. I can image questions like:
- Do we protect them from the sun?
- Do we cover them when it is cold?
- Do we give them water?
- Do we hope they die soon?
Many Jewish families knew the pain of crucifixion.
The Cross and John’s Gospel
But in John’s story, there is nothing that shows a problem or pain. Jesus knows everything that is going to happen.
It is as if Jesus is taking care of business. He takes care of his mother. He fulfills the scripture by saying he is thirsty (Psalm 69).
There is no thrashing about, no struggle, no pain.
The Cross and Luke’s Gospel
In Luke’s story, there is quietness. Luke has Jesus praying from the time he is baptized to the time he ascends into heaven. Jesus is not surprised by life but is prepared for life. There are three responses to his death:
- The first is the Roman Centurion who says, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
- Next, there is the crowd. These spectators come to all these kinds of things. Then they go home beating their breasts which is an act of grieving as well as an act of bewilderment and disgust.
- Finally, there are the followers of Jesus, his friends. The group includes the women who had been with him since Galilee. They stand off at a distance and watch what is going on. We later find out that they are preparing to take care of the body when the Sabbath is over.
The Seven Last Words
Over the years, tradition teaches us that there are seven sayings from the cross. We know these sayings as “The Seven Last Words of Jesus.” Three of the saying are found in Luke.
- “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.”
- “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
- “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
You can find three sayings in John.
- “Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”
- “I am thirsty.”
- “It is finished.”
Matthew and Mark share one of the sayings.
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Both Mark and Luke have Jesus praying from the cross. There is one prayer in Mark, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
In Luke, there are two prayers. We have examined one of those prayers, “Father, forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.”
The Second Prayer
Let’s look at the second prayer, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,”
The prayer shows no distance or pain in relationship to God. It is a prayer of trust. Jesus is praying the psalms, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Psalm 31:5).
This is not a resignation. This is who Jesus is.
In Luke, he is conceived by the Holy Spirit. After he is baptized, while he is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to pray. It was in those moments of prayer that he sought clarity and direction in regard to God’s call upon his life.
In his sermon in Nazareth, he quotes the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me…” In Luke, Jesus not only possesses the Holy Spirit but promises the Holy Spirit to his followers. So, in The Acts of the Apostles, we witness how the Holy Spirit lives and works in and through the church.
In this prayer, “Spirit” simply means “breath,” or “life.” “Father, into your hands I commit my life.” Luke replaces the despairing cry of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” found in Mark with a quiet confidence and trust. Just as Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness becomes a model for his disciples, so his dying prayer of trust in God is used by Stephen at his death (Acts 7:59).
The way Jesus died brought glory to God. “Certainly, this man was innocent.” Rome recognizes that Jesus’ death was a great injustice, that in executing Jesus they killed an innocent man. This is a theme Luke carries throughout The Acts of the Apostles.
Standing at the Cross
I find it interesting that Luke does not rush to the joy of Easter morning. For Luke, Easter can only be grasped by those who have stood at the cross and reflected upon their own involvement in the sins of humanity that have led to the rejection of God’s revelation in Jesus.
Just as the tax collector, who lamented and beat his breast in repentance, did not presume that he would go home justified, neither did the mourners at the crucifixion anticipate the resurrection. As we have seen before, for Luke, grace can only be amazing grace.
What does prayer have to do with it?
So, what does prayer have to do with it? In quiet trust and confidence, Jesus commits his life into the hands of God.
From his baptism to his decision to go to the cross, Jesus prays.
From his teaching about his death to the misunderstanding of who he was as the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus prays.
From teaching his followers to pray to forgiving those who intentionally turned their backs on God’s love, Jesus prays.
As he commits his life into God’s hands, his witness continues, “Certainly this man was innocent.” So, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
O God, we pray for such trust and confidence as we continue to commit our lives to you.
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