39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. (Luke 22:39-43 ESV)
I have recently been blessed with an opportunity to meet some people who are praying for Harvard, even though they have no connection with our campus. They know the impact Harvard could have on other campuses and nations, and so they are praying that Harvard would bring back its original meaning of truth, revive its passion for Christ, and lead change in people’s lives. Seeing them so passionate for my campus made me reflect on myself—was I praying for my campus? I found the answer to be “occasionally,” and I was embarrassed to admit that. I am a Harvard student. I am a child of God. And I was called here, not only as a student, but also as a Christian. My mission is to spread the good news, and yet I was not praying for that to happen.
I could argue that I have been trying—I have been meeting with people intentionally, fostering relationships that would eventually lead to vulnerable discussions. But I had not been praying about it. You could ask, why does that matter? Are not our intentional actions enough? Why pray when it seems to accomplish nothing?
It is true that prayers seem futile—we talk into the air, and nothing really gets done in that instant. It is not like making a wish to a genie and seeing what you asked for in front of your eyes right then and there. But that is one of the reasons why prayer is so important for us. Praying is a physical expression of entrusting ourselves to God, acknowledging our own helplessness and asking God to do what we cannot do on our own.
If that is why we should pray, then how should we pray? It is not wrong to pray for what we want. Jesus himself asks God to take his cup from him. But it is wrong to pray for God to do what we want. God is not our genie. Our prayers should be aimed at glorifying God through what He wills for us, not the other way around. Jesus knew even as he prayed this prayer that what he wanted as a man was not what God wanted for humanity. We are not Jesus, so we do not even always know what God wants for us. But we should pray in order to know it and carry it out. And yes, that can be difficult. As Jesus himself struggled, what God wants may bring pain and suffering to us. We may have to make sacrifices and endure hardships. We may have to knowingly walk into all that, as Jesus did to his death on the cross. But we are weak human beings, and we cannot possibly do such things on our own strength. This is why, as here in the scripture, when we pray for God’s will to be done, He sends angels to strengthen us to carry on (Lk 22:43).
As we can see in this passage, Jesus prays regularly. He goes out to pray “as usual,” and this should speak to us (Lk 22:39). Here is Jesus, the man who has the most intimate relationship with God in the entire history of humankind, praying on his knees in order that he would be able to do what God wants. We are not Jesus. We are not part of the Trinity. We do not have that level of intimacy with God. But this should not discourage us from praying; it should encourage us. If communication through prayer was so important to Jesus, who was also God Himself, it must be all the more important for us.
I want to see Harvard, Boston, and our whole nation seek the real truth, and I believe that that is what God wants for us as well. I want Christians at Harvard to love and serve our community not only through everything else that we are doing, but also through praying together. For Jesus says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” When we unite our hearts in prayer and encourage one another in our own walks with God, God listens. So I invite all of you to consider joining a Christian prayer group to reach out to our campus and pursue change through prayer:
- Christian Impact & Athletes in Action: Fridays 4pm – 4:20pm in Memorial Church pews
- Graduate Intervarsity Prayer: Every weekday 8am – 8:30am in Pusey Room (2nd floor of Memorial Church)
- Harvard College Faith & Action: Every weekday 8:45am – 9am above Annenberg
- Memorial Church Morning Prayer: Every weekday 8:45am – 9am in Appleton Chapel
- Soulfood (Black Christian Fellowship): Wednesdays 8:30am in Annenberg; 8pm in the Quad
Please feel free to comment below the times and locations of any additional prayer meetings on Harvard campus.