Praying With Jesus
On the afternoon of September 7, 2019, the Golden Ray docked at the Brunswick port on the coast of Georgia and unloaded 280 compact cars. The Brunswick port is the second busiest new automobile destination port on the eastern coast of the United States.
The Golden Ray was a 656-foot transport ship built for the Hyundai Corporation in Korea and commissioned in 2017. It was designed to hold up to 6,933 cars on 12 interior decks.
So when it took on 359 Kia SUVs bringing its total cargo to 4,161 cars, there was no alarm.
Not until it made its last turn, to starboard, leaving the Brunswick River to enter the St. Simons Sound on its way out to the Atlantic.
It was 1:36 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. That’s when harbor pilot T. J. Tennant, a 20-year veteran of guiding these huge ships in and out of the harbor, felt the ever-so-slight tilt.
I know what pilot Tennant and Korean captain Gi Hak Lee were praying for: that the list they felt in the disposition of the ship was not what they feared. Deep in their souls, perhaps in un-worded petitions or even vulgar exclamations, the prayer went up to God Almighty with some version of Psalm 54. “Come with great power, O God, and rescue us!”
God heard their prayer! God saved their lives but not the boat.
It took that experienced pilot just seconds to know what was about to happen. He directed that huge vessel to the north side of the channel halfway between Driftwood Beach to the south on Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island Pier at Neptune Park to the north. When the sun rose the next day, we saw that monster ship laying on its side, partially submerged in 30 feet of water, resting on a sandbar. 23 crew members were trapped inside.
I know what those merchant men were praying: get me out of this boat alive. Their prayers were answered. Emergency welders cut through the hull to rescue every single soul who was precious to God. Their prayers were answered.
Now, insurance companies in London are praying! The ship and all its cargo are a total loss. Crews are in the last days of cutting up the great ship and hauling it away. The cost of this tragedy has run up to $900 million!!
What are you praying for today?
Maybe this is your prayer: Psalm 54. Come with great power god. Rescue me. Defend me with your might. Underline this psalm in your Bible. Meditate on it. Commit it to memory. Someday you may need it.
It is an intensive version of what our Lord taught us to pray and what we in fact prayed this morning: Deliver us from Evil.
Jesus had reason to pray this prayer. When the Herodians were seeking to kill him, he may have been too young, but his parents were just the right age to pray: Strangers are attacking us, violent people are trying to kill us.
Jesus prayed this prayer in the wilderness, after his baptism, when the devil tempted him with false promises and thin rewards. Listen to my prayer O God. Pay attention to my plea!
Jesus prayed this prayer when the congregation in Nazareth turned against him. Much like we are seeing these days, in video after video when a rational person wears a mask and asks others to do the same: people go crazy. They grew irritated at Jesus’ preaching; they formed a mob of religious people; they stormed the synagogue; they beat Jesus and bruised Jesus and bounced him out of town. All the while Jesus was praying for God to intervene on his behalf. May the evil plans of my enemies be turned against them.
Jesus prayed this prayer when they strapped on their swords and lit their torches and came looking for him. They were led by the traitor named Judas. He kissed Jesus and they seized Jesus; and Jesus knew where all this was headed. He was praying this prayer: Rescue me from my troubles and help me to triumph over my enemies.
God heard and answered that prayer; but not in the way Jesus wanted. Let this cup of suffering pass from he, he later prayed. He was kneeling in the garden of Gethsemane.
What are you praying for today?
Help me, Jesus is one of the two basic forms of prayer. The other is just as short, Thank you Jesus. These two form the backbone of this eternal prayer identified today as Psalm 54. This is a prayer for you.
Deliver me from these people who are trying to harm me. Delver me from this system that has me trapped, and trembling, and in despair. Deliver me from this disease that has crept into my body. Deliver me from the wind and fire and rain that threaten to wreck my business, destroy my home, and take my life. Deliver me from that worst of all enemies, my own self: my selfishness, my bad habits, my mean instincts, my wicked desires.
This is your prayer. 108 words in this translation. It takes 40 seconds. You don’t need a long prayer when you are in trouble. In fact, Jesus said we never need a long prayer. Some pious people think their prayer is heard because it is long! When you pray, don’t babble on and on, as Gentiles do. Jesus said.
Is a long prayer better than a short prayer? Would you rather listen to a long prayer or a short prayer?
Hear this story of D L Moody. He died in 1899. I am not he! He was 63 years old and is buried in Northfield, Massachusetts. But in his hey-day he was the most popular and influential evangelist on the American scene. Since then, he is most often quoted minister in American history, some say: because he was very quotable: pity sayings, quick responses, memorable phrases.
Like the day he was preaching in an urban mission, before a very large crowd. He had arranged for a local minister to pray. When that now unnamed minister came to pray, he forgot the rule about short prayers. He forgot what Jesus taught him. He prayed and prayed and prayed, stuffing two of his best sermon into one public prayer. Until Mr. Moody, as they called him, came to the edge of the platform, and without benefit of amplification, said to the large throng, “While our brother finishes his prayer, let the rest of us stand and sing a hymn.”
The hymn they sang that day could have been a prayer. Guide me O thou great Jehovah! Pilgrim though this weary land. I am weak but thou art mighty, hold me with your powerful hand. Is there a better prayer to pray?
Or this one: Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. That prayer shaped my life as a teenager.
Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt. fightings within and fears without, O lamb of God, I come, I come.
What is your prayer today?
For yourself? For Somebody else? Pray for somebody in Afghanistan. Thousands are in danger. Pray for somebody in Cuba. People are desperate for food and freedom and friendship. Pray for somebody in Hendersonville. Pray for the person sitting next to you: on the pew, on the couch, on the screen. Right now! as I preach. Pray for somebody.
Somebody near you has it worse than you. Their enemies are more formidable. Their health is more precarious. Their finances are in worse shape. Their attitude is more deplorable. Their addiction is deeper and more deadly. Pray this psalm for them. For somebody you love. For somebody you hate. For somebody you know. Pray for them because Jesus is praying for them; and for you.
Jesus is praying for you. I know that. I don’t know about anybody else, dead or alive. The book of Hebrews in our Bible is full of strange and confusing things; but this assertion is clear and precious: Jesus lives forever to intercede with God on our behalf. Chapter seven, verse 25.
Many Christians believe people who have died and gone to glory are praying for us. Saints, and parents, and friends, and more saints. Especially Mary. The petition to Mary—we call it the Hail Mary—reads like this: pray for us sinners now and at the time of our death. It is one of the most widely known and frequent recited collection of words in any human language.
I don’t know what to think about this. There is precious little said in the Bible about such things. But the conviction has grown up in the Christian community that those who have come before us on this journey called life are praying for us. In heaven. With Jesus. I hope so.
My parents were praying people. I hope they are still praying for me. I need it. I want it. I hope they are praying; but I don’t know. I know this: Jesus is praying for you and for me. Father, forgive them, Jesus prayed for them and for you and me. Father, make them one, Jesus prayed for them, and for you and me and all the Christians today living and worshipping in this divided and often hostile Christian community. Father, help them survive and thrive!
What prayer do you need Jesus to pray for you?
Sixty-one years ago, Ruby Bridges was a six-year-old girl. She was ready to begin school, in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was November 14, 1961. It was William Frantz Elementary School. It was one of the most dramatic days in American history, full of sadness and also of silent resolve. The white students stayed home. All of them, all semester. The white FBI officers escorted young Ruby off her bus, down the sidewalk, and into the school.
One person who took interest in this event was then-skeptical Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles. He interviewed young Ruby Bridges at great length and later wrote a book about it. He wanted to understand her frame of mind, the source of her composure, what made her strong, resilient, and brave.
“I see you on the bus talking to yourself,” he said to Ruby.
“I am not talking,” the little girl replied. “I am praying.”
“What are you praying?” he asked.
“I am praying what I learned in church: Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
Deliver us from evil.
What are you praying for today? For courage to face a trial? For strength to confess a sin? For grace to forgive a wrong? For resolve to deal with a danger? For discernment to find a way? For help to survive the meanness of others and the messiness of life?
Pray without ceasing, the good book says. And the old song is helpful also: It’s not the preacher or the deacon but its me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!