Pray it forward
All blessings come from God, but through prayer we are able to ask God to pass his blessings on to others.
Stephen M. Luchterhand
At the pick-up window in the drive-through of your favorite coffee establishment, the server informs you that payment for your order was made by someone in the vehicle ahead of you. How thoughtful! You now have a choice: Keep the “pay it forward” chain going or end it by choosing not to pay for the order of the person behind you.
Choosing to pay for the $5 triple-shot espresso drink of the person behind you would hardly be considered an act of charity. It is a simple, small act of kindness and generosity and can fill the giver with joy . . . for a brief time. Such gifts are often one-time events.
But are we able to do more than just “pay it forward,” engaging in polite but ordinary random acts of kindness? Why not offer a more powerful and meaningful gift, a gift that you can give more than once, a gift that you can keep on giving? Why not, instead, “pray it forward”?
The concept of selflessly considering the needs of others has a powerful model in Jesus Christ. Everything he said and did was carried out for others. Jesus’ prayers concern two key entities: his Father and everyone else.
Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (John chapter 17) is often called his greatest prayer. His two primary concerns are the Father’s glory and the protection of believers. In an example of literally “praying it forward” into the future, Jesus prays, “My prayer is not for [the disciples who first heard his prayer] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (v. 20).
In the prayer regarded as his model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus establishes a pattern of focus on others. Not until the Fourth Petition, “Give us today our daily bread,” does our attention turn to self, while the Father’s glory (the First Petition, “Hallowed be your name”) and the welfare of others (the Second Petition, “Your kingdom come,” and the Third Petition, “Your will be done”) take precedence.
Perhaps the ultimate example of Jesus “praying it forward” on behalf of others comes from his lips while on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He prayed for those who neither knew nor cared what they were doing. But Jesus made this request to the Father so that one day they might know and care and, by grace, repent and believe in him.
Of course, as Creator and Redeemer, Jesus is able to do more than cover someone else’s overpriced latte at a drive-through window. Forgiveness and life with God are gifts of unsurpassed value. All blessings ultimately come from God, but through prayer we are able to ask God to pass his blessings on to others.
MORE THAN WORDS
As we have been blessed by God in so many ways, we want to pass on the knowledge and blessings of this God. So we pray for others. Are these prayers mere words? Only if they are delivered in a mindless, unthinking way. But when offered by a heart of faith that thrills to be in the presence of the Father, prayers are more than words.
But when I pray for others, I wonder. Am I telling God something he doesn’t already know? Is it appropriate for me to inquire about this particular need? Am I using the right words? Will my solitary prayers even make a difference?
What is wrong with the previous paragraph? My focus has subtly shifted to self. But prayer isn’t about me or my “form” or my fears and inadequacies. It’s about others, especially about the God whom I am addressing. Prayer taps into God’s power and strength. We dare, by faith, to ask God for his undivided attention. And he gives it. We dare, by faith to ask God to direct his unlimited resources to another precious soul. And he does so according to his will.
When I pray for others, something happens within me. As I think about others and their needs, my awareness grows. When I contemplate the needs of others, my compassion grows. When I ponder the needs of others and imagine all the ways God may respond, my appreciation at God’s mastery of all things and his goodness in all things grows. Awareness and compassion may actually lead me to offer more than words in prayer. I find that I may be part of the answer to someone else’s need, as I offer myself and my resources in Christian love.
WHEN THERE IS NO MORE “FORWARD”
It was Dr. Seuss who wrote, “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” Sometimes, life only seems to have a fast-forward button. It’s a relentless rush to the next thing, the next event. We’re constantly on the move, always pushing to get to “forward.” But suddenly, one day, there will be no more “forward.” One day, life will come to an end for all.
For God’s people, there is a “next thing,” something to look forward to at the end of this life: life forever in heaven with Jesus. This is, in fact, the end goal of all our prayers. We ask that God keep us in his care so we will arrive safely at our Savior’s side. Our prayers for others also have this overarching goal: that they too will be able to enjoy life with Jesus forever.
The apostle Paul had reached an immoveable wall, the place where there was no more “forward” for him in this life. Soon to be put to death at the command of the Roman emperor, Paul speaks directly and lovingly to young Timothy in his second and final letter. The entire letter resonates with relentless urgency as Paul offers final encouragements and blessings to his young friend.
Make his words your own as you look forward to the time when there will be no more “forward,” only eternity in the presence of Jesus. Share these words with others. Forward these words so all may have a similar confidence. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. . . . The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:7,8,18).
Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.
This is the final article in a seven-part series on prayer.
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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015
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