Facing tough times ahead? Pray like Jesus on his way to the cross
These are tough times, and many of us are suffering in one way or another.
Many of us have felt some measure of loss. We’ve lost jobs, opportunities to travel or even a loved one to COVID-19 itself.
Many of us are more depressed and anxious than before. We’re having to deal with ever-changing regulations, home-based learning (for ourselves or our kids) and not being able to hang out with friends.
It’s tough to live under the risk of us or our loved ones contracting the virus. In light of the suffering, loss, anxiety, depression and pain many of us are facing, it’s hard to see the good that can come out of all this.
Yet the Apostle Paul tells us: our suffering helps us to know Jesus better.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him… I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8-11)
The Greek word for garbage that Paul uses — σκύβαλα — can also be translated as dung.
The truth is, everything else can be considered as garbage or dung compared to intimacy with Jesus.
One way we can know Jesus better is by praying the same prayers He did as He faced death on the cross. As you read the following prayers, picture yourself in Jesus’ shoes — and also picture Jesus’ in your shoes.
As you pray the same prayers He did, I pray that you will get to know Him better by sharing in His pain, suffering and anxiety.
Finally, as you pray your own prayers in the mold of His, know that Jesus, our great intercessor (Romans 8:34) who understands our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15), is praying alongside you too.
A PRAYER FOR UNITY
The first prayer that Jesus prays after Judas leaves to betray Him is often called the High Priestly Prayer (John 17).
It’s a long prayer, but the central theme is “oneness”. Jesus prayed for Christians to be one with one another, just as Jesus is one with us, and the Father one with Christ.
This oneness and intimacy then leads to Christ being glorified in us (John 17:10), Christ’s joy in us (John 17:13) and the Father’s love in us (John 17:26).
Even as the chain of events that would lead to Jesus’ crucifixion were already set in motion, Jesus’ main concern was for oneness — between believers and between us and Him.
He knew that if we were one, no pain or suffering could overcome Christ’s joy in us and the Father’s love in us. Wow!
As we all deal with loss and uncertainty, let’s take a step back and pray for the bigger picture. Pray for increased unity in the Church, here and abroad.
Pray that this time of momentary suffering will not be wasted, but instead bring about a deeper intimacy between us and Jesus.
“Lord, even as the pandemic has hindered the church’s ability to meet in person one way or another, I pray for unity. That our love for one another might transcend Zoom meetings and smaller worship services. That you would help us to navigate divisive issues that may have arisen with love. That in this season, we would grow in intimacy between ourselves, and with You as we share in each other’s and Your suffering.”
A PRAYER OF SUBMISSION
Sorrowful unto death. Greatly distressed. Troubled. Agony.
These are the emotions that Jesus felt as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46).
He prayed with such intensity that His sweat looked like drops of blood falling down (Luke 22:44).
What follows is one of the most famous prayers in the Bible: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus knew that He was about to drink of the Cup of God’s Wrath (Jeremiah 25:15, Isaiah 51:17) on our behalf.
Even as the Son of God, Jesus knew the suffering He was about to endure was going to be great. So great that He honestly and earnestly prayed to be spared the pain and horror of the Cross.
Brothers and sisters, we can be completely honest with God about our desire to escape the pain and anxiety that we are facing now.
We don’t have to pray “correct” prayers all the time. Go to God with all the grief, anguish, fear and uncertainty you have, and ask Him to take it away from you.
It’s okay. Who loves suffering? No one does, and God knows this. Don’t worry.
But Jesus also prayed: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
I love this prayer because it reveals so much of the human side of Jesus. He was honest to God with his emotions, and yet He never sought to impose His own will upon His Father’s.
He knew that His Father’s plans were ultimately for good (Romans 8:28).
So let us adopt the same posture as Jesus did. Let us come to the Father in complete honesty, while also submitting our current circumstances and futures to His will.
“Father, I really wish this season of suffering would end. I’ve already lost so much — I don’t know how much more loss I can take. I feel like I’m just trying to get through each day at a time. Hope seems so far off. Yet, I know Your plans for me are good. May Your will, not mine, be done.”
A PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
As Jesus hung on the cross, He didn’t stop praying for others.
What’s interesting is that right after this, the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes.
This is no coincidence. The Psalmist (King David) talks about others dividing his clothes among them in Psalm 22:18. In Psalm 22, King David was also scorned (Psalm 22:6). He was also mocked (Psalm 22:8) in the exact same way that Jesus was mocked on the cross (Matthew 27:42-43).
Jesus on the cross is the fulfillment of Psalm 22. Go read Psalm 22 in light of this: everything King David went through, could also be used to describe Jesus on the cross.
This gives us a deeper glimpse of what Jesus must have felt — His bones felt like they were out of joint, and His heart felt like it was melting inside His own body (Psalm 22:14).
And yet, His chief concern was for others. What an example to follow!
“Lord, even as I feel angry and hurt by so many things like people, COVID-19, close family and friends, or even people in church — please forgive them as You have forgiven me.”
A PRAYER OF A PSALM AMIDST PAIN
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1)
Once again, Jesus is identifying with King David in Psalm 22 as He hung on the cross. The full context of Psalm 22:1-2 goes:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.”
This was probably the most pain that Jesus ever felt in all eternity. Imagine an infinite being, who exists both inside and outside of time and space, eternally at one with the Father and the Spirit, now being separated from the Father.
That momentary separation, as God’s wrath came upon His own Son for our sake, must have felt worse than all the lashing and the crucifixion that Jesus had endured so far.
Yes, Jesus knows what it’s like to feel like God is far away. And for many of us, God indeed seems far away in this season. Where’s the victory? The healing?
Lord, why did you allow Covid-19 to happen? Why did you allow my loved one to be taken away from me? Why did you allow my dreams, my marriage, my hopes, to die? Where are you?
“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!” (Luke 23:46, Psalm 31:5)
Jesus’ last words before His death. Even here, He is praying a psalm: Psalm 35.
As we’ve been exploring Jesus’ final prayers in His distress and agony, we can take heart by the choice of psalms He has chosen.
I highly encourage you to take some time to read both Psalm 22 and Psalm 31.
They are honest prayers to God that go into the depths of human despair. And yet, both psalms end with hope.
Hope in God. Hope for deliverance. Hope for His people. Hope for the world.
As we pray Jesus’ prayers on His way to the Cross, let us take heart that after the dark night of our souls, daybreak comes. Resurrection comes.
“Lord, we can’t begin to imagine what Your Son went through to save us from our sins. As He was crucified, things must have looked hopeless in the eyes of His disciples. Just as things seem hopeless for us now.
Yet we know that in the end, you will be glorified! People will praise you! You have done all that needs to be done for our sake on the cross, so what do we have to fear? You are a faithful God. You look out for your people.
Strengthen our hearts today, as we place all our hope in you! Amen!”
THINK + TALK
- What does Jesus’ death on the cross mean to you?
- Read 1 Peter 2:24. How might that impact the things you do or words you say today?
- Take a quiet moment to pray — as Jesus did — for yourself. Then pray for someone else today.