Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Anger arose from the people yelling for the execution of Christ. The thought of his exemption only fired up their fury. A murderer was a far better substitution than a man they believed to be perverting the people. The crowd shouted, “Away with this man! release Barabbas to us!” He had been beaten, humiliated, and mocked for who He was. He was forced to wear a crown of thorns and a scarlet robe. He endured being yelled at, spit on, and laughed at. As He hung on the cross, He still had the strength to utter a prayer to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” How could Christ feel remorse towards those who hurt Him? He prayed for them, despite what they had done. Praying is easy when you pray from gratitude, but what happens when you must pray for a person or situation that has brought you harm?
Have you ever been in a place where you were hurting, felt knocked down, or bruised from a situation? Were you ever offended by the actions of others so much that it made you angry? Some people would use that ammunition to respond to evil with more evil. Instead, look at what Christ did in the scripture. After being beaten, ridiculed, and embarrassed, he prayed for them. He looked past what they were doing emotionally, and realized their lack of knowledge about what was really taking place. As humans, this can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. We have emotions, and that gives people the access to hurt us. When they do, our instant reaction isn’t remorse or empathy, but it’s hurt and anger. Christ’s infinite love for us was portrayed in this defining moment of selflessness. Rather than saying, “I forgive them,” He understood the principle of love and communicated back to the source (God) to pardon them, even if they didn’t deserve it.
Prayer is a direct communication to speak with and listen to God. Prayer is like dialing for the operator -you wait for an answer, and you follow with a question. All the answers rely on the retrieval of the operator. I remember a time when my boss said something to me that made me very angry. I could’ve just brushed it off, but it really irritated me. I wanted to stay mad at him and say colorful words to show my anger. However, I knew it wasn’t in my character or who I was, as a Christian. Therefore, what I did was pray for him, instead. It was difficult because I didn’t want to speak life, blessing, or forgiveness towards him. I was too pissed for that, but I knew this would allow me to grow, in the end.
Jesus not only prayed difficult prayers; He also interceded. An intercessor devotes himself to prayer for others and answers the call for persistence and perseverance through prayer. Could you give yourself in prayer for someone you think you hate? Could you give yourself in prayer to a horrible situation? Could you give yourself in prayer to fear? Prayer is not fashioned to worship God and walk away broken; it is made to mend and heal. Prayer is the follow through to the issues you choose to hide from or hold on to.
Christ knew Peter would deny Him, and spoke to Peter as if his interaction with Satan had already taken place. (Luke 22:31-34) What was interesting was that Christ prayed for him. He didn’t pray that He would forgive him of his betrayal, but that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail him. Even in prayer Christ was selfless. Our prayers can sometimes seem selfish because we are praying from the side of anguish and we are asking God to help us, and strengthen us to deal with the people and situation, rather than praying for the source of the hurt. Peter’s faith needed to be strengthened because he was about to experience a considerable amount of guilt that could lead him towards mental disparity. Knowing this, Christ prayed for Peter to have the faith to bring him through his situation, and the courage to spread the gospel further, afterwards. Can you pray or intercede for someone who you know will let you down?
I have fallen on my knees before God when I had to pray prayers that were so difficult for me to address. The most difficult of these are the ones dealing with things I learned about myself that needed to be reshaped before God. Is praying for things you may not want to relive and let go a daunting task? Yes, it is. However, this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. Do not think of prayer as a continual slot machine that can only provide answers. Instead, think of building that intimacy with God, even in times of difficulty.
May you learn to open your heart to God, especially at the moments you feel like being closed off. May God lead you to pray past the pain.