When you can’t pray

Glen here.  How much thought do you give to the Priesthood of Jesus?  It seems to me to be a much neglected teaching.  But it’s absolutely crucial, especially when thinking about mental illness.

What’s it all about?  Well here’s Job, Paul and the writer to the Hebrews…

“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.”  (Job 16:18-20)

“Christ Jesus… is also interceding for us.”  (Romans 8:34)

“Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

According to the bible we have a Friend in high places.  And He’s praying for us.  Continually.

I remember speaking at a prayer meeting and beginning with these words “You’re all late to prayers.”  One person who’d only just stolen in at the back spoke up sheepishly, “Sorry I had car trouble…”  I said, “You’re not the only one late.  I was late.  Everyone was late.  We are all always late to prayers.  Before we ever think to pray, Jesus has already been offering up to the Father the perfect prayer, the perfect obedience, the perfect worship, the perfect love.  He has been doing it in our place and on our behalf.  And He always will.  Any prayers we pray are just the Amen to His perfect prayer.”

In other words, Jesus is our Priest.  And He will continue to be our Priest forever. Our whole lives are offered up to the Father perfectly by Jesus, no matter where we are or what we are doing.

That’s crucial when dealing with depression or with any kind of dark time.  When it seems impossible to pray, when I don’t even want to pray, Jesus is praying for me.  When my heart is as hard as nails towards God, Jesus is the true Man after God’s heart.  When my internal world is completely chaotic, Jesus is my peace.  And He always lives to intercede for me.  My status before God is not me – it’s Him!

Therefore when times are hard and my heart’s a mess, my hope is not in sorting myself out.  My hope is not in me rising above it all.  My hope is seated far above my stormy circumstances and He is immovably secure.

Emma and I have a friend who wrote to us with a letter addressed to God.  It was full of mixed emotions – wanting to serve God yet feeling completely unworthy.  On the one hand she had great love for God but on the other, terrible anger and feelings of distance and loneliness.  It was an unresolved tension throughout her prayer.  Extremely presumptuously, I wrote a reply to her as Jesus.  It was His Priesthood that I really wanted to communicate.  Here’s what I wrote (in Jesus’ name):

Dear Lucy,

I hear you.  I know you.  I’m for you.

In the midst of your darkness and pain and in the midst of your sin I hear you, I know you and I’m for you.
I have you on my heart before the Father and I pray for you.  Constantly.  However you feel and however you rebel, you are secure before the throne of God.  I’ve got you.

I offer to God the perfect praise, the perfect sacrifice, the perfect obedience, in your name and on your behalf.

You are more than forgiven Lucy.  Your sins have been covered, cleansed and removed as far as the east is from the west.  My work on the cross was complete.  There’s nothing between you and God now.  Only me.  And I am keeping you together.  I will do that forever – I will never leave you or forsake you.

When you feel unable to pray – I am praying for you.
When you feel far from God – I am lifting you to Him.
When you wallow in the darkness – I’ve got you in the light.
When you sin – I am bearing the wounds of your forgiveness.
When you cut – I am robing you in righteousness and love.

I am yours forever,

Cheesy I know.  But it’s the Priesthood of Christ that lifts us out of ourselves and allows us to take our eyes off our own stuck-ness.  Even if we don’t feel it, that’s ok.  It’s true.  Far above and beyond our own hearts it is true.  So then, let’s allow ourselves to be told the truth:

Before the throne of God above,
I have a strong, a perfect Plea,
A Great High Priest Whose name is love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

10 thoughts on “When you can’t pray

  1. Thanks Glen. I’ve been wallowing in stuck-ness this week, feeling like just giving up on trying to battle the eating disorder. I’m going to print out that wonderful hymn and stick it somewhere prominent to remind me to lift my eyes to Jesus who saves me completely, keeps me securely and intercedes for me perfectly.
    ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’

  2. And even before you battle, He has battled for you. And won. And even before you’ve lifted your eyes, He has lifted you to God.

    You’ve just quoted my favourite verse in the whole bible!

    God bless, we’ll be praying. And so is He!

  3. Indeed the Holy Spirit truly does intercede for us when we don’t know how to pray, or what words to say.

    In Romans chapter 8:
    Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 (KJV)

    That being said, I’m not sure that if we have strife, discord, or are in rebellion towards God- i.e., “Hard as nails towards God” that Jesus is able to abide in that sin and rebellion. Surely HIS grace and mercy are ever present, but God desires a relationship with us and will wait until our hearts are softened and we cry out to HIM. If we are in rebellion/sin God will convict us, or allow circumstances to come into our lives that ultimately draw us back to HIM. For whom the Lord loveth, HE Chastens.

    Ultimately we do have to learn who we are in Christ Jesus. I know Emma has addressed this in many of her posts about overcoming addiction and sickness. If we don’t know who we are in Jesus, then we will ultimately be a slave to our own emotions and our mental states.

    Great post!

  4. Hi Mark,

    I hear what you’re saying, but if Christ isn’t offering me perfectly to the Father in the midst of hard-hearted rebellion then I don’t have a prayer! (In every sense of the phrase!) If I live as though my relationship with God is dependent on *my* faithfulness then I think the bible calls that “living under law.” The good news is that my relationship with the Father is always mediated through my Priest and my Priest is always interceding for me. I clearly have ups and downs in terms of my faithfulness, but thank God that He doesn’t.

    It’s fascinating in 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul discusses Christians going to the brothel. He doesn’t say that they leave Jesus at the door when they go in to the prostitute. Their union with Christ is not broken by sin. Jesus is bigger than sin (thank God!). Of course that makes the sin all the more heinous because we *have* made Jesus “abide” in it, as you put it. But it’s heinous not because we’ve left behind our union with Christ, it’s heinous because we haven’t!

    I find the priesthood of Jesus vital especially when handling mental illness. I have two guys in my bible study group with manic depression. At times they do things that are absolutely *nuts*. Things I’d never think of doing, but things they feel compelled to do in ways I don’t think I’ll ever appreciate. There is not a preacher in the world or a will-power strong enough to “put out the fires” that they speak of. If their standing before God is down to them, I don’t think I have a gospel for them. But if Jesus is their standing before the Father – and unbreakably so – then we have good news to proclaim.

    Happy to keep talking, thanks for a thoughtful comment.


  5. Very late to this but I wanted to say that this post chimed strongly with me. I had about 6 months during my worst period of depression when I couldn’t pray at all. All I could do was cry in front of God. The priesthood of Jesus and the intercession of the Spirit were things that I clung to fiercely to get me through that time.

  6. Thanks Ros, He’s seen me through some very dark times too. When I am not a man after God’s heart, I’m glad there is a Man after God’s heart for me.

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