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Gather for Prayer

May 22, 2017

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath’s day walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . They all joined together constantly in prayer . . . “ (Acts 1: 12-14).

My brother and sister-in-law gave us a sofa pillow for Christmas with the word “Gather” beautifully embroidered in gold on a beige background. I keep it on the sofa year-round as a reminder of the power of gathering together as a family. There is strength in numbers. When we gather together as a family we share each other’s joys and sorrows. We share stories about our day or week. We laugh together. We make music together or listen to music. We brainstorm with each other. We help each other. We put our arms around each other in joy or sympathy. We pray together before meals and during devotions.

Parents are often told that their kids are always paying attention to what they say and do—and that like it or not– they are the primary examples of behavior for their children. I inherited my love of gathering from my mother and grandmother who set great examples of the joys of family gatherings. My grandmother and her brother and sisters came to America at the turn of the 20th century. They were alone in a new country and understood the importance of gathering together. In 1960 they began a tradition of an annual family reunion in Ohio. To this day, family members travel from far and near to gather every year to catch up on each other, to tell family stories, to laugh, and to pray together before sitting down to a wonderful potluck buffet in a park.

This week’s Scriptures[1] show us how Jesus and his disciples set an example for us of the importance of gathering together for prayer. The texts remind us to turn to God in times of joy to thank him for our blessings, and also in times of uncertainty, suffering, weakness, and challenge, as we would turn to a trusted friend, with whom we have a long-standing relationship.

Jesus gathered his disciples together to break bread with them on that last Thursday before his arrest. The group then accompanied him to the Garden of Gesthemane to pray. The 17th chapter of John records Jesus’ prayer in the Garden. Jesus began by acknowledging that “The hour has come.” (John 17: 1). His last act before his arrest was to model to his disciples what to do when faced with life’s most difficult challenges—pray. He knew that the best thing he could give his disciples at that moment was to gather them together and to pray for them. He also knew that the image of him in deep prayer would remain with them for the rest of their lives. In verses 6-11 he prayed for his disciples who did not fully understand what was to come. In his prayer Jesus says that God’s glory—his presence and character– was revealed through him, and will continue in his disciples: “And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11).

Jesus’ prayer challenges us to live lives that reflect God’s glory—that reflect his presence and character. It’s a tall order, but in praying for them, Jesus was showing his disciples how to gain the strength of character they would need in the coming months and years. He also prayed that the group would remain as one, as he is one with the Father; this prayer was for the unity of the church— his body in the world.

Jesus asked the Father to protect his disciples. He knew that they would be encountering difficult times and he wanted them to be strengthened by God for what was to come. The disciples and all of the early Christians were persecuted for their faith. Many paid the ultimate price with their lives. Unfortunately, Christians are still persecuted today in many parts of the world, and must meet in secret, or face imprisonment or death. In other places Christians are maligned and insulted. Peter tells us not to be surprised if you are insulted or otherwise suffer because of your faith. “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4: 16)

Like children who follow their parents’ examples, his disciples remembered the examples set by Jesus and followed his lead after he ascended into heaven. The disciples watched him ascending into heaven—proof that he was God: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1: 8-9). Luke’s account was recited to him by the eyewitnesses to the event. That experience was one that they would vividly remember for the rest of their lives. It was one of many experiences they were blessed with while they walked with him on earth and that led to their conviction that Jesus was who he said he was—the Son of God.

 When Jesus left them, the disciples felt truly alone and were uncertain about the future. They all gathered together and prayed constantly for guidance: “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath’s day walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . They all joined together constantly in prayer . . . “ (Acts 1: 12-14). There is strength in gathering with your fellow sojourners in faith in your local church and praying with them as the body of Christ each week. God lives in each of its members, and gathering together strengthens each of its members just as it strengthens the whole. God listens to the prayers of all, but it is truly beautiful when many are gathered in his name, and the prayer of each heart is sent as one to the Father. The disciples modeled what we should do when we are at crossroads in our lives and do not know which way to turn: follow the example of the disciples and the old hymn and “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Gather with body of Christ, his church on earth, where others will put their arms around you and pray with you and for you, and where your prayers can join with the prayers of all.

Peter gives us some practical advice: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . . and the God of all grace . . . will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5: 7-10).   As weak and defenseless animals are easy prey for lions, so we are low hanging fruit for Satan to pluck when we are weak, alone, and suffering. Surround yourself with other prayerful souls, especially in times of need.

Gather with your friends in Christ who will love, support, and pray for you so that you can live a life pleasing to God. Take your joys and disappointments to God as an individual and as a member of the body of Christ. God has promised to be there when two or three are gathered in his name. As we discussed last week, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the advocate, to live within each of us. The strength of the Holy Spirit living in each person gathered can fend off attacks by the minions of the evil one. Call upon the Spirit to build your relationship with him, and to strengthen his body in your church. He is there for you, as sure as the air you breathe. And he can be trusted.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan


[1] The Scripture texts for the 7th Sunday after Easter are Acts 1: 12-26; Psalm 68; 1 Peter 4: 12-19; 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11.

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