Christian leaders pray for their followers. Jesus set the pace for this principle. After the disciples argue concerning who will be the greatest in the kingdom, Jesus teaches them that the one who rules among them must be like one who serves. He then speaks words that must have cut through Simon Peter’s heart: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). As he had also done with Job, Satan sought to test the faith of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus prays that Simon’s faith would not fail, and asks Simon (Peter) in turn to encourage the other disciples when he had regained his own footing. Jesus prays for Simon, informs Simon that he has prayed for him, and asks Simon to perform a specific action when the prayer of Jesus for him has been answered affirmatively. What are our other responsibilities towards those for whom we pray? What are their responsibilities after the prayer has been answered?
Simon quickly demonstrated his need for Jesus’ prayers on his behalf. Although he had assured Jesus that he was ready to follow him to prison and to death, that same evening Simon denied Jesus three times. Jesus gave Simon Peter more mentoring after his resurrection, stressing to him the meaning of love, instructing him to feed the disciples, and reminding him of the cost of discipleship (John 21). Ultimately, Simon would overcome temptation. He would provide leadership for other disciples and would preach powerfully on Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus back to the Father.
Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. He told him about the prayer and gave him a mission – to strengthen other disciples. Failure sometimes intensifies the desire to persevere and to succeed. We can only guess what motivation Peter received from his memories of Jesus’ prayer for him and his own initial failure to stand up for his Messiah after that prayer. The book of Acts records that Peter repeatedly would pass the test when persecuted. Acts also records Peter’s practice of prayer. He met with other disciples to pray (Acts 3). He prayed when trying to discern God’s will (Acts 9). He learned from Jesus when to call for fire.
O Lord, when we are tested, give us the grace to respond to the challenge with courage and humility. Remind us also to encourage others after we overcome the attack against us. Survivors who pass the test give hope to those who still struggle. May our victories inspire others to believe. In Jesus’ name, Amen.