Note: I want to thank Nikki and Renee in my Women’s Bible Study group, and Christine in Living Stones, for their comments that provided the inspiration and direction for this post.
In any discussion of prayer, we all come around to the fact that sometimes we simply don’t know what to say.
A friend falls victim to cancer, and our prayers for comfort and encouragement feel weak and inadequate. A relative faces a difficult divorce, and our requests for guidance and well-being seem to miss the point of her need. A natural disaster leaves us breathless from the misery left in its wake, and we have no words for the needs of the hundreds or thousands dead or displaced.
Even in our own lives—when we have an argument with our spouse that is weighing heavily on our hearts, or we feel unsure about handling a disciplinary issue with our children—we don’t know exactly what to ask God to do for us. We don’t know the best thing to say to Him in the face of our circumstances.
Jesus’ first miracle—the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana—offers us a model for prayer in just these kinds of situations.
When we talked about this passage in my Women’s Bible Study group at church, we laughed at some of the humor. Remember in the story that Jesus goes to a wedding along with his mother and his disciples. Our Associate Pastor pointed out the passive-aggressive nature of Mary’s comment, “So, um, son…they ran out of wine.” And after Jesus’ response—essentially, “What has that got to do with ME?”—Mary turns to the servants and instructs them, “Do whatever he tells you.” I picture there a great sigh coming from Jesus. “MOTHER!” I can hear, in the tone of a frustrated son, perhaps used to being backed into the corner by his mom.
Let’s look at what Mary did NOT do before we consider what she DID. She did not say to Jesus, “Son, they’re out of wine. Go next door to the neighbor’s house and collect as much as they can spare.” She did not say, “Just get a few more glasses filled; the party is over soon.” She did not say, “Just get them some cheap wine; they’re too drunk to know the difference anyway.”
Rather, she presented the problem to Jesus, and left it up to him to handle. She knew the situation, that the reputation of the host was in jeopardy for his poor party-planning, but she did not presume to know what needed to be done.
(I’m not sure we can fully appreciate the importance of the situation when matters of hospitality are not such sacred duties in our own place and time. Running out of food or drink at a party might be a social embarrassment today, but would most likely not insinuate an insult to our guests, or result in the kind of social shame and disgrace that would be seen in Jesus’ time and place.)
Mary had confidence in her son’s ability to handle the situation—we don’t know if she foresaw him using natural or supernatural means—and she left the “answer” up to him.
And by leaving it up to Jesus, Mary allows an even greater miracle to happen: not just a little extra wine to get through to the end of the party, but wine in great quantities—six large stone jars full, each holding from 20 to 30 gallons, and filled to the brim. And not just sub-par wine, but wine of great quality—so good that the master of the banquet praises the bridegroom for bringing out the best wine at the last, rather than getting everyone drunk on the good stuff first, and then replacing it with the cheap.
Sometimes when we pray, we either think that we have the answer about what should be done, so we ask God to do it for us, or we feel some sort of uneasy obligation to come up with what to ask for, but we’re not really sure what the situation requires.
What if we just went to God in faith and confidence, and told him our situation—the problem we are facing, the challenge that stumps us, the tragedy that overwhelms us, the circumstances we need help with? And then what if we left things up to Him? You know, the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe? The one with the master plan? The One who loves us more than we can ever fathom?
What if, instead of trying to feed Him our solutions, we laid our concerns at His feet, and stepped out of the way to allow Him to work in our lives?
By leaving it up to Jesus, we allow even greater miracles than anything we could create for ourselves. We get God’s best, and in great abundance.
May we take notice of Mary’s confidence in Jesus when the crisis of hospitality occurs at Cana, and pray with the same confidence in our own situation.
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts
to those who ask him!”