This week we begin an 8-week series on the topic of prayer as we observe Holy Cross Day. It is here, at the foot of the cross that we learn how to pray. In St. Luke’s account of the Crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 23:26-49) we hear three great examples and models of prayer for us:
Let’s take these in order.
First, ‘Father, forgive them.’
Forgiveness is close to the very heart of the life of prayer. Forgiveness is the decision not to take revenge. When you make the decision to forgive, you decide to swallow that desire for revenge and you refuse to indulge in resentment – and that is painful. This is part of what it means to take up our cross and deny ourselves when it comes to the life of prayer. We deny ourselves the innate desire for revenge; and the pain that involves is a kind of crucifixion – it unites us with Jesus on the cross. ‘Father, forgive them.’ That’s the first model prayer for us.
The second is that of the good thief: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In order to be able to pray, we must acknowledge that Jesus is King, and we are not. We all have this tendency to want to be the lords and masters of our own lives. This desire for self-lordship, self-determination, is the basic cause of most of our struggles in life because we cling to a role that we are unqualified to fulfill. Like thieves we steal a prerogative that belongs only to God.
But the good thief, the repentant thief, shows us that the life of prayer involves surrendering to Christ in a spirit of humility and dependence: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Here again is what it means to take up our cross and deny ourselves.
That brings us to our third and final prayer - the last words of Jesus before His death on the cross: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’
Friends, can I make a suggestion? Pray this prayer every day this week when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed at night. In this prayer, we commit, we dedicate ourselves, our souls, our bodies, and all that we have to God. So like the last one, this is a prayer of humility, but it’s also one of self-offering – presenting yourself as a living sacrifice to God, making yourself available for the Lord’s service, which is perfect freedom.
Here Jesus is actually quoting the first half of Psalm 31 v. 5, which reads: Into your hands I commend my spirit, / for you have redeemed me O LORD, God of truth.
How is it that we can commend ourselves utterly to God? Why is this the good and proper thing to do? Very simply because He has redeemed us. Through His death on the cross, Christ has redeemed us from bondage to self-lordship; He has delivered us from the prison of self-centeredness. And therefore to take up our own cross, deny ourselves and to follow Him is perfect freedom.
That is the beginning and purpose of life of prayer.