One of my all-time favourite quotes comes from the 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert McCheyne: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million of enemies…and He is praying for me.”
I covet the prayers of others. I regularly ask people to pray for me, and I believe their prayers on my behalf make a difference. But even more heartening is the reminder that the follower of Jesus is always being prayed for…by Jesus!
This is what we are assured of in John 17. From this prayer of Jesus we are able to glean some priorities for our Christian walk. And, if we desire to know how we ought to pray for ourselves and for others, there is much to be gained by studying how Jesus prays for us. Here are some things we observe in the prayer of Jesus:
Jesus prays that His followers would be marked by joy.
What do you think of, when you hear the word “joy”? Many of us think of joy as a feeling of happiness. Joy is something we feel when our circumstances are favourable. Joy is what we feel when our favourite sports team wins the big game. Joy is what we feel when we are reunited with a loved one who has been far away.
Is this the joy that Jesus wants us to have? I don’t think it is. The joy I have just described is not unique to being a Christian. You do not have to be a Christian to be a “happy person”. But you do need to be a Christian to possess the kind of joy that Jesus calls for. Jesus prays, “that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13).
It is not any kind of joy, but Christ’s joy that should mark the Christian. So, how do we get that? What we commonly find in Scripture is a connection between Christian joy and faithful obedience to God’s commands. In John 15:10ff, Jesus says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love…These things I have spoken to you (in order) that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.“
What I find most striking in that is the notion that obeying God is joy-producing. Many imagine the opposite to be true. Many imagine that if we did all that God required, our life would be devoid of happiness and excitement. Jesus insists, however, that the one who has the deepest joy, the one who has an abiding joy, is the one who faithfully obeys God’s commands (John 15:11). To this end, Jesus prays for the fullness of our joy while He also prays for the progress of our sanctification.
In addition to praying for our joy, and for our sanctification, Jesus also prays for us to be marked by unity.
Jesus prays, “that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:22, 23).
We see here that Jesus is not calling for organizational unity. Nor does He call for a sentimental, handholding, kind of unity, but rather, He prays that we may be one just as He and the Father are one.
How do we accomplish that? To answer this, A.W. Tozer employed the analogy of tuning pianos. Tozer noted that if a 100 pianos were merely tuned to each other, their pitch would not be very accurate. But if the 100 pianos were all tuned to one tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to one another. Similarly, unity in the church isn’t trying to be the same as everyone else. Rather, unity is achieved by becoming like Christ.
And, finally, Jesus prays that we would be marked by love, asking that “the love with which (the Father) loved (Him) may be found in (us)” (John 17:26).
Again, not just any kind of love is called for, but rather, Jesus is praying for a manifestation of Divine love in the lives of those who would come to follow Him. Accordingly, we don’t establish the standard by which we love others–it has already been set. Jesus didn’t simply say, “Love one another“, He said, “Love one another just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
So much is required of us–to be filled with joy, to be increasingly sanctified (obedient to God’s commands), to be united, and to love according to God’s standard. This would appear beyond us if it weren’t for the fact that Christ is praying for us!
If we belong to Christ, we can expect profound, ongoing, change in our character. We can expect this transformation in large measure because of the prayers of another.
Follower of Christ, I hope you are massively encouraged by this. Jesus is praying for you. And the prayer of Jesus will most certainly be answered.