Prayer, Hope, and Becoming Like Jesus
The Lord has promised to transform us into the perfect image of Jesus. This transformation began when we came to faith, and will be completed on the day of resurrection. For now, we are in process, like unfinished sculptures emerging from a block of stone.
Transformation can seem painfully slow at times, and we often find ourselves wishing that the Lord would just get on with it – that he would change us dramatically with a bolt from the blue. Instead, the Lord leads us on a path that requires strenuous effort. We are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and to “discipline our bodies and keep them under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Why does he ask this of us?
Because that is what he asked of Jesus!
We cannot think, feel, and act like Jesus without developing those traits in the same way that he did. Jesus relied on hope and prayer throughout his life to empower him in the face of temptation. We see this at the start of his ministry, just before he went into the wilderness to be tested by Satan:
Now when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
The Father answered Jesus’ prayers with a declaration of love and pride – words that strengthened him to hope in his Father and remain loyal to him through temptation.
We also see hope and prayer at work near the end of Jesus’ ministry, when he prayed in the hours before his betrayal and arrest:
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him and angel from heaven, strengthening him. (Luke 22:41-43)
The perfect Son of God, who had no sin in his heart, needed prayer to fortify his hope. That hope, in turn, led Jesus to pray more, not less. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “more earnestly, his sweat becoming like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). As temptation increased, so did Jesus’ prayers. As his prayers increased, so did his hope. As his hope increased, so did his love and obedience.
Because Jesus hoped perfectly in his Father, even to the point of dying on the cross, we are forgiven and accepted. The same words that the Father spoke over Jesus are now spoken over everyone who believes in Jesus. We can hope fully in Jesus to strengthen us through our prayers, just as the Father strengthened him. When we experience continued struggles with particular sins and temptations, we can know that they are not evidence of the Father’s apathy towards us, but invitations from him to wrestle even more strenuously in prayer – calls from Jesus to run after him, even as he runs alongside of us.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some specific ways that we can improve the quality and quantity of prayer in our lives and our congregation – repentance, encouragement, and participation. Each step requires hope, not just for a positive outcome, but in the process that the Lord uses to make us like Jesus.