Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. Jesus spoke his prayer to God the Father just before he was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. In a matter of hours he would be crucified, but first he prayed.
Earlier that evening Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. He spent time preparing his small group of followers for what was about to happen. They would soon take over the mission of God’s Kingdom in this world because Jesus was about to return to the Father. He taught them many things. He mentioned prayer several times. It was now time for them to begin praying in his name.
To pray in Jesus’ name is more than just saying “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers. In part, it means to pray like Jesus prays. While those eleven disciples listened, Jesus gave them an example of how he prays. He prayed for himself, then for his close group of believers, and finally for all who would become his followers.
If the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of God’s people, needed to pray for himself, then we certainly need to pray for ourselves as well. Jesus prayed about his mission, his calling. Like our Lord, we should pray about our calling. The Lord has a purpose for each of us. Knowing and following God’s purpose gives us a great sense of confidence.
After praying for himself, Jesus prayed for his close circle of followers, the eleven men who were his disciples. They started out as the Twelve but Judas had left, making final preparations to betray Jesus. So Jesus prayed that his close group of eleven followers would be safe from evil and that they would be focused on fulfilling God’s mission in their lives. He prayed that they would penetrate the darkness of this world without being absorbed by it.
We live in a world full of spiritual darkness. Compromising with the ways of this world is deadly. But avoiding all contact with the world is disobedient because Jesus sends his followers into the world to carry on his mission. Like Jesus, we need to pray for one another that we can be in the world but not of the world, representing our Lord faithfully to the world. Together, with God’s empowering Presence, we will be light in a dark place.
Finally, Jesus prayed for all those who would hear the Word of Truth and believe. His prayer for all believers focused on unity. As he looked into the future of his Church, our Lord knew what a struggle his followers would face in order to stay united in worship and service. Many divisions have fractured Christianity since Jesus’ prayer late that night. Division weakens God’s people, but unity at the expense of truth is deceptive.
Jesus’ prayer is as relevant today as it was that night almost 2,000 years ago. Since unity is so vital to Christ’s Church, then we should only allow matters of the utmost importance to separate us from other believers. When the Truth is at stake, we are not dividing; we are defining the true Church. We must pray that our church will have the courage to stand strong for the Truth, and the wisdom to recognize when the Truth is really at stake.
Please pray like Jesus. Pray for yourself that you will be clear about your mission in life. Pray for fellow Christians whom you know well, that they will be protected from evil and passionate about following Jesus. Pray for the church that we will be wise and courageous about standing strong for God’s Truth. And pray that our Lord will continue to teach us to pray.
May the Lord’s light shine clearly through us despite the darkness,
Brother Richard Foster, Pastor
Grace Baptist Church, Camden, AR