In John chapter 17, Jesus starts by praying for himself, quite understandable in the circumstances; and concludes by praying for those who will become new believers in the days to come. In the middle section of this prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples. We can certainly deduce from this, that Jesus would also be praying for us – as we, his modern-day disciples, seek to be obedient and share his love with others. So, today, I will zone in … on this middle section (of John 17). Another by-product of this part of Jesus’ prayer, would be learning how we can effectively pray for another.
Many of the challenges we have as individuals, as families, and as churches … are quite complex and difficult. Not much comes easily in life. We can become daunted! On the other hand … if you find life easy, then you can’t be moving very far from comfort; and thereby are likely missing what God has for you to do, along with missing many opportunities of (personal) growth, and also probably missing out on Jesus praying for you! So we should embrace and expect these life challenges, and hang in while certain issues are being resolved.
Naturally, under duress, we would pray! We would pray for ourselves and the complex situations we find ourselves in, we would pray for others and their needs (that we have become aware of), and we would pray for the success of the mission of the church in reaching new people for Jesus. Yet, despite praying for ourselves, and others, and the church, we could still find ourselves giving in to the difficulty we find ourselves in, especially when we lack patience or faith, or when we don’t hear an answer that we can discern, or like, or when we can’t seem to find the right ways of living and working together with others.
In this space … this is when it is fantastic to know, that Jesus is likely praying for me, for us – SOMEONE (JESUS) who will never lack patience or faith, and never stop believing in those he has called! I reckon that it was Jesus praying for Peter, that meant, despite Peter’s very public failure, Peter was able to be quickly brought back into his ministry calling (following Jesus’ resurrection). Let us NEVER restrict the possibilities, when Jesus is praying for us! When you feel the pressure of being an ambassador for Jesus in the public place, know that Jesus is praying for you!!
As Rhett ably explained to us last week, we should never feel we are ‘too small’ to achieve. Even when we forget to pray, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus is interceding for us (Rom 8:34, Heb 7:25). A 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies – yet the distance makes no difference; he is praying for me!” Would it give us more courage to know that Jesus is praying for us?!? Well, Jesus is praying for us!!
The Ways Jesus Prays for Us
- (We have to hear that) Jesus prays not for the world, but rather for his disciples (v 9)
Rather than praying in a general way for a lost world, Jesus prays for his disciples. Why?? Because it will be Jesus’ disciples who will have the responsibility of taking God’s love into the cut and thrust of the world, and it will be they (us) who need prayer. Any great advancement in world affairs will be facilitated by Jesus’ disciples. Jesus’ disciples are the best equipped stewards of God’s creativity and grace (Gen 1:26). All creation awaits the revealing of the true children of God (Rom 8:19). We are God’s ambassadors, and Jesus is making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:20).
So, like what happened for Peter, Jesus prays for his disciples – that they will be prepared to receive from God’s Spirit all they need to be effective disciples; and with all that in place, that they will influence other lives for good, with the Gospel; and that through this ministry, the world will become a better, more just, forgiving, peaceful, God-honouring environment. So the process works like this: we have responsibilities, Jesus prays for us, we are willing to change, we become reconciled to God, we start bringing a ministry of reconciliation, others change, the world is a better place, heaven comes to earth.
- Jesus prays for our “protection” (v 11b, 15b) or “preservation”
Jesus actually prays for God to “protect them in Your (i.e. God’s own) name” (v 11b). As a “name” here refers to a person’s (or in this case God’s) identity and character, this refers to our connection to God as His children, being part of God’s community, where we come to be like Him. Our protection or preservation revolves around our ongoing and growing relationship with God.
But “protection” from what?? Not normal safeguarding; because we know that life is fragile and comes with few guarantees. Two particular areas of “protection” are mentioned:
- Firstly, this is a prayer for “protection” against anything that would disrupt our … ‘oneness’! Why?? Because if we fail to be “one”, then our witness is diminished – and God can be said to be ineffective. The ‘oneness’ that we should be attaining to, is a ‘oneness’ based on the ‘oneness’ that the Father has with Son and that the Holy Spirit has with both the Father and the Son. Without being “one” (or expressing ‘unity’) we are potentially exposing ourselves to appearing hypocritical (and dishonouring God or de-glorifying God’s name).
No wonder Jesus prays for his disciples to be “one”! We shouldn’t have to force ‘unity’, but rather simply embrace being “one”. We are tied together as we are tied to God. We have a common love for Jesus, and in this common love we face all of our challenges. We collectively discern how God is moving by His Spirit. We should be working towards the same goal in perfectly complimentary ways.
But, what disrupts ‘oneness’?? Three (of many) possibilities: (i) Thinking and acting only as individuals (rather than as a member of a body). (ii) Treating our gifts as superior to others (when all gifts are actually designed to be complimentary). (iii) Distancing ourselves from others, and thereby inevitably retreating from the faith. Jesus is praying that this will NOT happen … that none of this will happen; praying that we will take our responsibility to collaborate in unity with one another seriously.
- Secondly, this is also a prayer of protection from the “evil one”. Here, in the “evil one”, is the embodiment of all that is opposed to God’s ways; and this is very pertinent, because we are called to function as disciples in a world that is often antagonistic to us … at some risk. The world wants to pulls us into uniformity with its viewpoint and culture. This is a prayer for us to be protected from the negative impact of all that is corrupt.
We can also be susceptible … because God’s Word is often inconvenient to us; we hesitate to obey, because it demands something of us (that doesn’t often come naturally). Therefore we can be easily dissuaded and diverted from God’s will. Jesus’ hope and Jesus’ prayer … is that we will not yield to such temptation. Jesus himself knew the pressure of temptation. The ‘devil’ sought to divert Jesus from his mission, and did so by trying to twist and distort God’s Word.
So we can call upon Jesus’ example (early days – Matt 4:1-11) – Jesus said to ‘Satan’ … “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”; “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”; “Away with you Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’”. And then when facing suffering and death – Jesus said … “Not my will, but yours” (Matt 26:39).
[Where Jesus, in the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:13), teaches us to pray for deliverance from evil – here Jesus joins in with the complexity of our lives on earth, by himself praying that we would be protected from the “evil one”. What a friend, what a brother, what a king!]
May the Lord free us from all temptation that separates us from what is essential in our mission and help rediscover the beauty of faith (Pope Francis).
- Jesus prays that we will have his joy complete in us (v 13b)
Jesus’ own joy is connected to his harmonious relationship with his Father within the Trinity (the Divine community). Jesus wants to draw us into this same harmonious relationship with God (that he enjoys), involving the full experience of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus wants us to feel safe and secure in the Rock of all ages! We have been accepted, valued, and we belong to Jesus. This means we would worship God with all of what we have … joyfully!
I sometimes feel unsettled that I am able to worship God enthusiastically when others are NOT in this position. This could be because life has led them down a track where God seems remote, or perhaps they are suffering under extreme persecution or injustice. Shouldn’t I wait until these ones are free to worship as well … before I sing and dance with joy?! Actually … NO – Jesus wants me to joyfully express worship now, and in so doing fully experience and appreciate the oneness of God’s community. In this I grow, and then I’m better attuned and able to help others toward also knowing such joy.
Of course for us, “joy” should be part of all of life’s adventures. “Joy” is about being within God’s will. As Jesus gained his joy from doing the will of his Father (John 4:34), we will maximise our joy by doing the will of Jesus (Acts 5:41). In prayer, and in hope, Jesus wants to know that we will remain loyal. And Jesus certainly does NOT want any of us to ever become lost again, like what happened to Judas (v 12). Nothing on earth can tear us away from God, including illness, hardship or suffering (Rom 8:38), unless we let it.
- Jesus prays that we might be “sanctified” meaning ‘set apart’ or ‘holy’ (v 17, 19)
Jesus is praying for our fitness, but in this case – our spiritual fitness. This is NOT so we can be separate or exclusive – quite the opposite. This IS so that we can engage wholly in human community, but at the same time be different, i.e. shining a light, making a difference for good, redeeming what has been lost. This is how spiritual hunger is created – by effectively displaying alternative and much more preferable pictures of human interaction and Divine possibility. Again we follow the life example of Jesus, who was wholly and completely ‘set apart’ for God’s purposes, to the extent of the greatest sacrifice ever; yet at the same time, Jesus took up residence on earth to engage with and redeem people for God in person.
Jesus uses the phrase “sanctify them in the truth” – meaning that we are ‘set apart’ in the reality of who God is. There are certain truths (in God’s Word) about the character of God and how God seeks to express love and mercy to the world. Jesus prays that we would know all about this, but more importantly, that we would live lives that fully reflects such truth.
This truth is NOT a ‘weapon’ or a sledgehammer, but rather a sweet fragrance that people can easily come to appreciate (2 Cor 2:14-7). It will still offend some, who will reject it; but this will not deter us … from the many who will be open to the truth (that will make all the difference) – or so Jesus prays!! God is love, and as we live in this love, the world has a chance to experience God’s love … and believe!
There is a sense here that Jesus wants us to move forward with our faith … into a complete dedication to God’s cause, where the integrity of such a life … means that God can be recognised, appreciated and worshipped. In a sense, God can be recognised within kind actions and thoughtful decisions – especially in comparison to much of the way the world works. A person who is ‘set apart in truth’, becomes a trustworthy reliable ‘go to person’ for all those who are serious in their seeking.
- Jesus prays not for the world, but rather for us. Why?? We are ambassadors, and we are stewards!
- Jesus prays for our protection
- That we will experience “oneness” – thus working together effectively and making a good impression
- That we will be protected from the “evil one” – and therefore be able to flourish through living in God’s will
- Jesus prays that his “joy” will be complete in us – and this will reflect in our worship and life activity
- Jesus prays that we will be “set apart” – and this will make a big difference (for good) in our community.
What does it mean for us, that Jesus is (right now) praying for us (in these ways)??
- We can be courageous. We can walk a little taller – in that, as we humbly empty ourselves of the worthless clutter, Jesus will fill us with fruit and effectiveness. We have purpose. We can walk together arm in arm. We are being shielded against defeat. Our lives mean something. People are being blessed. Jesus is walking beside us, and praying for us!
- AND, these prayers of Jesus for us are being answered! And, answered in the affirmative!! About Jesus’ praying here, Larry Richards writes, “This prayer has been, is being, and will be … answered”! Such was Jesus 100% connection to God’s will, that these prayers will get a result!! It is up to us to know, understand and apply … that we ARE being prayed for, and ARE therefore being prepared, equipped, preserved, blessed and set apart.
- We can experience “oneness” with Jesus and each other in the ‘Body of Christ’. In the face of evil, we can know we are on the victory side. We can experience the glory of God, as God becomes evident around us. Know this! We can live in the assurance of this prayer backing us up all the way. No need to fear. No need to place limits. No need to feel alone. No need to lack hope. No reason not to think big! There is plenty of good to invest in.