“Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Lk 22:31-32
Jesus assures us that we can ask anything in his name. Yet, faced with this situation, it is revealing how he himself chose to pray.
Master, you prayed with an keen awareness of the spiritual forces at work. You knew that the accuser had demanded permission to ‘sift’ your first disciples like wheat. This phrase carries the idea of ‘picking them apart;’ testing them to expose their weakness and to separate them – especially from you.
I know well enough that when I go through testing times, the primary objective of the evil one is not merely to hurt me, nor even just to corrupt me, but to separate me from you, my Lord. There lies the crux.
You were fully conscious of what the accuser was seeking to do, and yet you seemed to recognise that in some sense he did have the right to make this demand. (Perhaps a reminder Job chapter 1.) So you chose not to hastily pray against this. You did not pray that the evil one be denied this chance to sift your friends. That would surely have been my prayer, but it was not yours.
Whatever ‘rights’ Satan might claim, perhaps you understood that this testing would, in the long run, prove invaluable for these apprentices of yours, puncturing their naïve self-assurance and replacing it with some realistic humility. Discipleship 101. Help me, Lord to embrace this lesson.
Holy Spirit, my heart companion, help me to perceive where the enemy is at work and to discern what he is seeking to do. Give me an increased awareness, so that I may not be ‘ignorant of his schemes’ (2 Cor 2:11). But more than this: armed with this awareness, help me to know what not to pray.
Yet Master, you then go further. Recognising that this whole group were going to be sifted, you chose one individual, arguably the least self-aware individual of them all, one who you knew was about to blatantly deny you (vs 34), and you prayed thoughtfully, prophetically and strategically for him.
You didn’t pray that Simon would make good on his confident boasting and demonstrate courageous loyalty. Instead you saw beyond his impending and abject failure, and you prayed for what would follow. You prayed for the days after his betrayal; for his future recovery and restoration. Because it is a favourite tactic of the accuser to trap us at the point of our failure, imprisoned and paralyzed by shame. He whispers to us that now we’ve failed so badly, we might as well give up and simply wallow in our defeat. It is tempting to remain in that place.
Jesus, in wisdom you chose to pray against this disempowering paralysis. With quiet confidence you interceded for your friend, praying that – much chastened – he would gain the strength to ‘turn back’ and once again take his place as your servant, and a support to others.
‘Turning back’ is much more (though not less) than simple repentance for a stark failure. It means turning back to you, Jesus, undoing the deadly separation that was triggered by the ‘sifting’. The condition of my relationship with you, my King, is always the heart of the matter. Some days later, after breakfast on a beach, I see the profound impact of your strategic prayer for Simon. (Jn 21:15ff)
“Spirit of the Lord, rest on me. Spirit of wisdom and understanding, Spirit of counsel and might, Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (See Is 11:2)
So teach me how to pray. And what not to pray.