Turning to God for the help we need – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 16:23b-28

It can be difficult to rightly interpret a text when we’re given just a snippet of it, as we are in today’s gospel reading.  To better understand it, we need to see it in its broader context.

These verses are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, given to his disciples after the Last Supper and before his betrayal and trial.  He has told them that “in a little while” they will not see him and “in a little while” they will see him again.  Naturally, the disciples are confused about what this could mean and struggle to grasp the reality that he is about to leave them.

It is unclear, too, what John is referring to when he records these words of Jesus that he will go away and then come again.  Does this refer to Jesus dying and then being raised?  Does it refer to his ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit (a major theme in the farewell discourse)?  Does it refer to Jesus coming again in glory at the end of time?  We’re not sure.  It may refer to all three.  John is used to speaking to his readers on different levels, so he could have all three of these possibilities in mind.

Notice that there is a kind of apocalyptic reversal here: when he goes away, Jesus says, his disciples will “weep and mourn” but the world – i.e. Jesus’ enemies – “will rejoice” (16:20).  It will seem for a time as if Jesus’ enemies have prevailed, but then, Jesus promises them, “Your pain will turn into joy.”  He likens it to childbirth, noting that a woman in labor has pain, “but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world” (16:21).  In the same way, says Jesus, “you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22).

“On that day,” Jesus says, “you will ask anything of the Father in my name [and] he will give it to you”(16:23).  Up until this point, they have relied on Jesus for guidance, for encouragement, for healing, for strength, and for help.  Now that he is going away, he encourages them to turn to God in prayer for all these things, and to ask for anything they need.  Their new relationship with the Father enables them to approach God confidently in prayer: “Ask and you will receive” is Jesus’ promise.  The Father will provide all that you need.

I wonder, how often do we miss out on joy because we are too wrapped up in our concerns even to pray about them?  How often have we remained troubled and comfortless, when we could have received consolation and help from God?  How often have we stayed mired in a muddy situation and never thought to pray about it or to seek an answer from God?

I once asked a retreat group to name for themselves the three top concerns that occupied their thoughts.  Then I asked how many of these concerns had they had brought into their prayer.  Very few, as it turned out.  We often think we can, or we should, handle life’s challenges ourselves.  We think it’s up to us to figure it out somehow.  But we forget God’s promise and we fail to turn to God in prayer.

There is an old Protestant hymn that comes to mind when I read these words of Jesus, encouraging us to turn to God in prayer when we encounter trouble.  It goes like this:

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit
O what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

This is the promise: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8).

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1 Comment

  1. Michael Ricca on May 30, 2023 at 14:22

    Dear Br. David,

    Your gentle words and wisdom spoke directly to my need today, and you reminded me of something so simple and obvious, which often goes unnoticed.

    Thank you!

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