By Jason Hallman
There, one row up and across the aisle, I watched a young woman snap a selfie with her smartphone. Our plane was mid-air and all 110 of us were just passing the time. I thought nothing of it and went back to reading, but then her movements caught my eye again. I looked up to see her snap another selfie… and another… and another.
This continued for a large portion of our flight. Pose after pose, like Narcissus before the pool, she seemed transfixed by the images of herself shining back at her. With eyes wide I was quick to ridicule in my mind… but I caught myself and repented. I then wondered if I was so different.
Last week Pastor Rossow emphasized how Jesus prays for us and alongside us. In reflecting on my own prayers of late, they have been snapshots of my struggles and cares. They sometimes weigh heavy on my heart, and what weighs on our hearts is important to Jesus.
Yet in bringing these snapshots to Jesus they become a sort of spiritual selfie: images of my daily life containing only myself. I bring Jesus another… and another… and another. “Jesus, help me with this.” “Jesus, carry me through that.” It’s as if I only want Jesus to be a part of this narrow, blurry headshot of my world.
Reflecting on how Jesus intercedes for us challenges this selfie approach to prayer. Could it be that Jesus intercedes on our behalf not just for our deepest struggles, but also to give us the freedom to multiply our prayers for those around us? With the knowledge that Jesus is interceding for me, I’m free to intercede more on behalf of others.
After Luke writes his Gospel, he writes in Acts 2 that the fellowship of believers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching [i.e., discipleship] and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul…” This description is our example: our calling is to discipleship and to relationship and to prayer. The only logical intersection of these is intercession for one another.
And so I’ve taken Lent as an opportunity to try out the discipline of intercession. In this season I’ve made an intentional effort to pray for those around me in place of myself.
Yet even when I try to pray for those I care for, I’m often mixing my own life into theirs. “Jesus, my coworker treats me poorly at the office. Please help him be more like you.” “My friend wants to move away; please send them an opportunity near me.”
Like an off-center group selfie, I’ll lean in awkwardly and capture an image of their life to show Jesus… but I’m still in the image. Am I really praying for Jesus to work his will in their lives, or am I praying for him to work my will? It’s not easy for me to know.
But Jesus offers grace anyway. This week Pastor Flynn preached about Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane. Luke describes the scene: “And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ and he touched his ear and healed him.”
Am I really praying for Jesus to work his will in their lives, or am I praying for him to work my will?
There in the Garden of Gethsemane, a place of prayer, the disciples drew swords in an attempt to follow Jesus. (After all, Jesus told them to buy swords in the Upper Room scene only a few hours earlier.) Yet when they misunderstand his will and act against it by cutting of the ear of the chief priest’s servant, Jesus reaches into the mess, heals the damage, and immediately sets things back in line with his mission.
Likewise, when I bring nothing but selfies to Jesus, he can reach into the mess that is my heart. He sets things in line with his mission no matter what. But by learning to intercede for others, I’m again inviting Jesus to set things in line with his mission in me.
We all have struggles and cares of our own. Jesus intercedes for each of us because of his relationship with us. We in turn do the same because of our relationships with one another. And all of it works together to draw us into closer relationship with Jesus.
As I begin to see a little more clearly what Jesus is doing in and through my intersession for others, I find my prayers slowly become less and less like blurry and narcissistic images of my own will.
It’s a good thing too… I’m terrible at selfies, anyway.
The Promise of Jesus’ Prayer