This Sunday marks the end of a liturgical year and the last week of our Pray series. The liturgical calendar organizes the year into seasons and highlights traditional times of celebration and reflection. The calendar includes recommendations for scripture based on a three-year rotation beginning with Matthew and followed by Mark and Luke. The last Sunday of the liturgical year is commonly known as “Reign of Christ” Sunday.
It’s fitting that we end our study of the prayers of Jesus on this theme. While suffering on the cross, Jesus left us with prayers that call for deeper reflection into our relationship with Him.
Home Alone was a popular movie about a young boy on his own at home after his family left for vacation. After panicking when he discovered his family had left without him, the young boy asked himself what his parents would do in the same situation. He needed to be the parents until he was reunited with his family. This helped him cope with the anxiety of feeling alone and abandoned.
Anxiety insists on action. In How Your Church Family Works, Peter Steinke differentiates between reacting to anxiety, which is automatic and originates out of survival, and intentionally responding to anxiety. A response is a choice.
Anxiety occurs when the status quo is suddenly changed. When this happens, our priority is to restore what was. And our reactions are driven by the part of our brain focused solely on survival. In this mode, we react to anxiety.
Zach Meers, a licensed therapist, warns that if we do not deal with anxiety in a healthy way, we’re likely to experience long-term adverse health effects. We all experience anxiety but to varying degrees. At its core, anxiety is fear stemming from apprehension about the future.
But there is great news for believers.
Researchers from Baylor University found that people who pray are less likely to experience anxiety-related disorders. Prayers worry less, are less fearful, and are less likely to experience obsessive-compulsive behavior. But it makes a difference, according to their study, in how we perceive God.
When we believe that we’re praying to a loving and protective God we reap significant health benefits. Much more so than if we pray but don’t expect any comfort or protection from God. Their study, entitled “Prayer, Attachment to God, and Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Disorders among U.S. Adults,” was published in the journal Sociology of Religion.
How do we know what to expect from God when we pray?
The Prophet Elijah was sent by God to speak truth to power which angered King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. After a very public confrontation, Queen Jezebel ordered Elijah to be hunted down and killed. Running for his life, Elijah felt alone and abandoned by the very God who sent him. Escaping certain death, Elijah made his way up to safety on a mountain, hoping to encounter God in person.
Elijah expected God’s presence in the obvious. Perceiving God is more like we experience with a modern-day dictator, Elijah anticipated God to arrive amidst the spectacular. But God wasn’t in the howling wind. Nor did Elijah find God in the head-rattling earthquake or even an all-devouring fire.
Instead, God chose to speak to Elijah in the silence of deep reflection.
After the spectacular had passed and Elijah settled into seeing deep within the source of his anxiety, God arrived. But, likely to the shock of Elijah, God didn’t bring up the past. Instead, God sent Elijah toward a different future.
According to Mark, a few wondered aloud if Jesus called out to Elijah as He neared death on the cross. Spectators mocked Jesus as He suffered the death of a criminal. Indeed if He is truly the Messiah, they reasoned, Jesus would perform the spectacular and save Himself first.
Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.
Peter Steinke argues that false prophets push for peace by reacting to anxiety with quick fixes aimed at self-preservation. Instead of calling for reflection and transformative change, false prophets offer simple, immediate relief.
Instead of reacting, Jesus responds with a thought-provoking prayer, saying, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.”
The leaders expected the spectacular from God’s Messiah. They also expected God to be found in a demonstration of destructive power. They anticipated a king more like the kings they had encountered. A king who would put his needs over the needs of ordinary people. Instead, they witnessed humility fueled by a love beyond their grasp.
Mark’s account of the crucifixion includes Jesus crying out of His agony to God. Theologians have debated the meaning behind His prayer for centuries. “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?”
Robert Morris reminds us that the Greek word often translated as “abandoned” can mean to leave behind or be left alone. And in his interpretation, Rev Morris perceives our Messiah. Instead of a king or dictator as we see among humans, we experience a Savior who took on the sin of the world and put it on himself on the cross.
Jesus alone carried the sin of an entire world so that you and I can be free to pray to a God who responds with love.
Each Sunday during our series, Pray, we’re collecting prayer requests. You can submit a request online from our website home page. In addition, prayer request forms are located around the church and during water and food giveaways.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Content for this series is based in part on:
Robert L. Morris, Jr.. Pray Like Jesus: What We Can Learn From the Six Recorded Prayers of Jesus. Bloomington, IL: Westbow Press, 2019.
Steinke, Peter L. (1993, 2006). How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute.
Zach Meers, LCPC, NCC. “Long Term Effects Of Stress And Anxiety.” © Pathways Psychology Services, 2022. Retrieved from: link
“New Study Examines the Effects of Prayer on Mental Health.” © PsychCentral, September 18, 2014. Retrieved from: link