Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:23–24)
If your mother became very ill, near to death, and you couldn’t be at her bedside, what would you write to comfort her?
When Joseph Scriven received news that his mother was very sick back home in Ireland, he was more than three thousand miles away in Bewdley, Ontario. In 1855, three thousand miles may as well have been three hundred thousand, compared to how easily we travel today. He could not see his dying mom, but he could write, so he wrote her a poem titled, “Pray Without Ceasing.” The poem began,
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
All our griefs to bear. As Joseph grieved how sick his mother was, and how far away he felt, and how little he could do, and how soon she may be gone, he remembered he had a friend in heaven. A friend who had tasted grief and death, who had overcome the grave, who had breathed life into Joseph’s dead heart, and who had now promised to bear his pain. Because of Jesus, Joseph could do far more than write; he could pray.
What Peace We Forfeit
Before Joseph Scriven lost his mother, he had lost his fiancée twelve years earlier. She drowned the night before their wedding. Fifteen years later, several years after writing the lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” he fell in love again and was engaged to be married. But his fiancée came down with pneumonia and died. Knowing what he suffered, what pain he carried with him, the familiar lines seem almost entirely new:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Like so many of the great hymns, his was written from the valleys of devastating sorrow. Over and over, the deepest sorrows seem to draw out the deepest, most profound realities in life, realities like the friendship of Jesus.
You Are My Friends
As Jesus prepared for his hardest, most painful day, he spent his last hours with his friends, the men he had known and loved most. On the night he was to be betrayed, he said to them,
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13–15)
When Joseph Scriven felt the fragility of his precious mother’s life and his powerlessness to help her, and he needed a place to stand, he went here: “I have called you friends.” The Son of God not only took on flesh, but befriended those in the flesh, the very ones that despised, abandoned, and betrayed him. Anyone who has believed what Jesus has said, anyone who obeys what he commands, anyone for whom he bled and died, is a friend of the Most High. If he is your Lord, Savior, and Treasure, then he is also your Friend.
Like any good friend, he will love you with devotion, intentionality, and affection. But unlike any other friend you have or might have, he rules over everything that might worry or wound you — every pain and grief, every weakness and burden, every trial, trouble, and temptation. And he invites you to lay them all at the feet not just of a King or Judge, but of a Friend.
Take It to the Lord
Jesus says to his friends, those gathered around him at the Last Supper, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23–24). Up until then, they had not prayed in his name, but going forward they would have a Friend before the throne, an Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). Heaven was now opened to them like never before. And to us.
If what we ask in the name of Jesus will glorify the Father, he will surely do whatever we ask. If he does not do it, we can assume he will be more glorified in some other way. Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14).
If the glory of God is our greatest burden in prayer, the thread in and through all our prayers, we will never find a friend so faithful, and we will never find a joy so full.