Let me tell you about an evening I experienced a little over a week ago. If you weren’t there, I would encourage you to seek out the next opportunity. If you were there, I hope you share some of this perspective, and I welcome your commentary. IF:Pray – a gathering of women whose purpose is “to ask God to move in our generation…to advance the good news of Jesus, that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This evening was fitting in its timing because I’ve found myself struggling with offering up time to pray. I mean, I find that I pray throughout the day with great frequency, but those are often short bursts of prayer sprinkled here and there. What I needed to be reminded of, and give myself space and time for, is the kind of prayer we engaged in at IF:Pray.
For a Monday night, the parking lot was already crowded when I got there and the Student Center was cozier than I’ve ever seen it. But what was most striking to me was the sheer number of women in that room and their exuberance for the meeting about to take place. Sitting to my left: someone I shared the IF:Gathering with back in February and who I dearly admire. Sitting to my right: someone I didn’t know but found great encouragement from (and likely without her even realizing it). When we entered, we were excited and intrigued. When we left, we were connected – not just to each other because of the proximity of our seats but because there was a palpable, tangible sensation that swept over the room. The connection was something I sensed across space in those moments. Women were gathered all over the world to pray. It was electric. Not a shocking volt, but a far-reaching wire.
The scripture most referenced during this meeting, this time of prayerful worship, was John 17. Jesus speaks to God for this entire chapter. I won’t copy it all here, but I encourage you to look it up. First, we are called to prayer to offer gratitude, and what a great reminder that when I pray, I should start with what is most important: thankfulness. My prayer was heartfelt and quiet and internal. It was movement between my beating heart and my constantly-rapid-firing brain and the God who loves me bending down to be in that space. I could feel the prayers in the room being lifted. It was beautiful.
Jesus says, “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours” (John 17: 9 CEB). This struck me particularly because of all the recent media coverage of the refugees fleeing the Middle East, and how God’s people – Christians all over the world – are being targeted. Jesus is praying for His Father’s people in verse 9. If He is openly and boldly doing that, shouldn’t I? And not just folks in far-flung locales – I should be on my knees praying for the people in my church with just as much urgency as the ones fleeing ISIS.
Jesus continues “I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17: 14-15 CEB). If we aren’t bold for God now, will we ever be? Jesus wasn’t ashamed of me when He willingly and knowingly went to the cross (and truth be told, he probably should have been). So, it’s my turn to love Him openly. I may not ever get to any of those far-flung places where our sisters (and brothers) are boldly worshipping our God and suffering for it, but I can pray them here and now. I can share the message of the cross here and now with those I do come into contact with. And I can pray some more.
Jesus doesn’t leave out the rest of the folks walking around on this planet in His prayer to God. “I’m not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me” (John 17: 20 CEVD). I do pray for our world, but honestly out of selfishness sometimes, because I have two precious boys who are growing up in it. Jesus gives me more to pray for here: Pray for those who don’t believe, or don’t know Him, and that they might encounter believers who show them by word and deed what it means to follow Him. Jarm Turner, Student Ministry pastor’s sermon this summer on “What Would Jesus Say” addressed this as well. Watching the video of the children—kids the same age as mine— are being taught to hate, taught to kill and destroy. I need to pray for them that somewhere at some point they will meet Jesus in such a way that they can’t help but fall in love with Him. I need to pray for the people in my own community who don’t have any idea what Jesus is all about, and I need to be more cognizant of the message I send in my everyday life so what they see might be Him in me.
We closed IF:Pray with a time to pray for unity and love. The notes on our journal reminded us that Father and the Son are “in perfect unity” and we can, then, believe that unity is attainable. We can and should see other people through God’s eyes (remind you of something Bob said this past Sunday?), and that people around the world might know God by our love. “If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13: 35 CEVD).
So, what did God stir in me on that Monday night? I can (and should) be more focused on pouring out my heart to Him (Psalm 62:8) and directly lift up the people around me and those farther afield. If I truly want to get intentional about it, my focus can be less about me and what I need, and more about what He needs from all of us here and now. Will I still pray direct prayers over my children or family or friends? Yes. But I can expand my prayer horizons a bit more and do more good by remembering everyone else, too. Friends, “I pray that the Lord will bless you and protect you” (Numbers 6:24 CEVD).