Who Is Praying For You?

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.

In Jesus’ Name We Pray

Most of the prayers I’ve ever prayed end with the words: “In Jesus’ name. Amen.” I hear others ending their prayers in the same manner. Why do we do this?

We do this because Jesus has instructed His followers to pray in His name. For example, in John 14:13,14, Jesus says, “whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Here we have a compelling reason to pray in a particular manner. But surely Jesus intends for more than us tagging the end of our prayers with a catch phrase. What, precisely, does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”?

A look at the context of John 14 provides us with some clues. The context to praying in Jesus’ name is Jesus announcing His departure to His disciples. Jesus begins to speak of His departure in chapter 13, verse 33 by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” He repeats this instruction three verses later, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me” (13:36). Jesus then goes on to say in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 14 that, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again“.

The context of Jesus’ promises to His disciples is His departure from them.

The disciples, we are not surprised to read, are unsettled by this news. Both Peter and Thomas ask Jesus, “Lord, where are You going?” (13:36; 14:5). The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. They were committed to following Him. They loved Him. But now, Jesus explains to them, He has to go away.

Aware of their anxiety, Jesus begins to give them reasons to be encouraged. The first thing Jesus does to comfort them is He reminds the disciples of who He is. Jesus reminds them, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me” (14:11). Because Jesus and God the Father are One, the disciples must understand that the departure of Jesus will only be temporary–“I will come again” (14:3) is the promise of Jesus.

The second thing Jesus does to comfort the disciples is that He tells the disciples what they are capable of. “Truly, truly” Jesus says to them, “greater things than these shall (you) do; because I go to the Father” (14:12).

The disciples had witnessed the miracles of Jesus. They had, no doubt, witnessed the conversion of a great many people as a result of His teaching. And now Jesus was promising that His departure would enable the disciples to do “greater things” than Him. Not greater in kind, but greater in scope.

Jesus could only heal, visit, and preach to so many people. The geographic area in which Jesus ministered was relatively small. But with the departure of Jesus, the disciples would be commissioned, empowered, and expected to take the gospel to every nation in the world (Mt.28:19).

The third thing Jesus says to His disciples is that He promises them answered prayer–“whatever you ask in My name, that will I do“.

My only caution as we seek to understand these words is that we not isolate the words “whatever” and “anything” from the rest of the sentence. Jesus does not say, “Whatever you ask for, I will give you.” Nor does He say, “I will give you anything you ask for.” No—Jesus says He will give us “whatever we ask for in (His) name.

I fear that many Christians today misinterpret this instruction. Many Christians treat the phrase “in Jesus’ name” as if it were some magical incantation to get whatever we want in prayer. But can you imagine the implications if this were really the case? If praying in Jesus’ name was some magical incantation that forced God’s hand, can you imagine what would be going on in heaven when we prayed?

You would have someone praying, ‘God, I need you to do this thing for me…in Jesus’ name’, and then God would say, ‘Oh no! They said the magic phrase! This is going to mess up everything we are trying to do, and now we have to answer this prayer.’

Friends, prayer is not magic. And we do not get to assume the role of the Sovereign when we pray.

What then, does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? The instruction to do something in someone’s name would have been readily understood by those Jesus was speaking to. In the 1st Century the people did not have telephones, email, or facebook. If you wanted to send a message to someone in a distant land you sent an ambassador—and the ambassador would go in your name. The ambassador, also known as a herald, would be charged with saying EXACTLY what you wanted said.

To pray in the name of Jesus then is to pray as Christ Himself would pray.

We see this principle also in John’s first epistle, chapter 5, verse 14: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

To pray in the name of Jesus means to pray for the things that Christ would pray for if He were among us in the flesh. This interpretation makes perfect sense in the context of Jesus’ earthly departure. Just as Jesus expects His disciples to carry on His works and mission in a manner consistent to His own, so does He expect His disciples to pray in a manner consistent to His own.

When we pray in a way that is congruent with how Jesus prayed, we can be confident about receiving a positive answer.

But let’s also be honest about the fact that we are well-acquainted with unanswered prayer. Not all of our prayers receive the immediate, affirmative, response that we are hoping for. Unanswered prayer sometimes baffles us. We often can’t comprehend why the Lord wouldn’t want to give us what we are asking for.

The Scripture does have some things to say about unanswered prayer. While some unanswered prayer may baffle our understanding, other occasions for unanswered prayer are readily explainable.

One reason for unanswered prayer that we frequently see in the Scriptures is the hypocrisy (or sin) of the one praying (see Isaiah 58, James 4:3 , 1Peter 3:7 for examples).

A second reason why our prayers might not be answered is because they are not in our best interests or in the best interests of others. As finite human beings with limited perspective we sometimes ask for things that would actually be detrimental to us in the long run. In such cases, God in His grace does not answer our prayers. C.S. Lewis went as far as to thank God for all of the unanswered prayers in his life. Lewis writes, “If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where would I be now?”(Lewis, Letters To Malcolm, 28).

A third possibility for thinking that our prayers are unanswered is that we sometimes lack the ability to see answered prayer. When God answers prayer, He often does so in a manner we wouldn’t expect and with timing we wouldn’t choose.

God does indeed answer prayer. Not always in a manner we would expect, and not always as quickly as we would hope for, but He does answer prayer. And the key for us to experience answered prayer is to pray as Jesus Himself would pray.

Thankfully, God has revealed much of His will and so we can pray for these things with confidence. We know for certain that God wants to be glorified in every situation. We know for sure that God desires for the Gospel to spread. We know that God desires His Spirit to transform individuals, congregations, and communities into the likeness of Jesus. We know that God desires to manifest His strength in our times of weakness.

Pray for these things with great confidence. Pray for these things absolutely knowing that God wants these things also. Our God is good. He is generous. And He is eager to answer our prayers when we ask in Jesus’ name.

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In Jesus’ Name We Pray, based on John 14:13,14, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

Prayerful Life, Joyful Life

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Every Christian knows that we are supposed to pray, but I’m not sure that every Christian understands the purpose behind and the benefits of prayer. As a result many Christians fall into one of two traps: either we neglect prayer because we don’t understand it, or, we misuse prayer because we don’t know what we should be praying for.

I have met lots of people who believe that the primary purpose of prayer is to get us out of trouble when we find ourselves in a desperate situation. For such individuals, prayer is what we do when we have nowhere else to turn. But prayer is so much more than this. I submit to you this morning that prayer is the primary way in which we communicate with God.

One might want to say that reading the Scripture is the primary way in which we communicate with God, and yet, to effectively understand and apply the Scripture to our lives it is necessary that we read it prayerfully. In John 16:24, we see another heartening aspect of prayer. Not only is prayer the primary way in which we communicate with God, but prayer is also the primary way in which we enjoy God.

We could talk at length about why we ought to pray, but here we are being given a compelling reason for why would want to pray. When we pray rightly, what we gain is joy-producing fellowship with the God who created this Universe.

Would you agree that this is not a common perspective of prayer? Would you agree that, for many Christians, prayer is more focussed on what we can get from God?

By way of illustration, I’d like to demonstrate why using prayer to get things from God misses the mark. Imagine yourself buying 2 tickets for a sporting event or for a theatre production. You then give one of those tickets to a friend because you want to spend more time with him/her. How would you feel if your friend then turned around and sold that ticket to a stranger in order to gain money to spend on something else?

This, unfortunately, is what we often do with the gift of prayer. God has given us prayer in order that we may learn the joy of having fellowship with Him. But instead we have grown accustom to using prayer to get things from God.

Prayer was never intended to be a means of gaining things to delight in apart from God. The intention of prayer is to enable us to delight in God.

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The Key To Lasting Success

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The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, has an important message for the people of our day. Some might accuse Solomon of being unduly cynical in Ecclesiastes, but I don’t think this is the case. Here is a sample of the testimony of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 2:

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards…I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecc. 2:4,8-10).

Solomon had seemingly unlimited access to worldly pleasures—access to real estate, to natural resources, to money, to power, to fame, and he even had a harem. Reflecting upon all that he had acquired and accomplished, Solomon offers the following conclusion:

When I had surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecc. 2:11).

Really Solomon? Meaningless? Nothing gained? Solomon explains how this is possible at the outset of Psalm 127:

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus offers a very similar warning to would-be followers in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel. Jesus declares: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). What is Jesus saying here? And in what sense could it be true that Solomon, in all of his splendour, had gained “nothing”?

As I compare these texts in the light of all of Scripture, I reckon that what Jesus is saying is this: Apart from Him we are incapable of pleasing GodApart from Christ, we can accomplish no lasting thing.

I grant you that a person may become quite popular and successful with worldly matters without ever enlisting the help of the Lord. Undoubtedly, we know of individuals who have accumulated great wealth apart from having any kind of devotion to Jesus Christ. Important competitions are won, and significant milestones are reached, by individuals who never took a single moment to call upon the Lord for help.

Admittedly, there is a way to succeed without the help of the Lord, but the Bible continually warns us that this way leads to ruin. As Solomon has said in Proverbs, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Or as Jesus put it, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26).

So you see, there are at least two categories for success:
1. Success that counts for this world only
2. Success that counts for this world and the next.

Friends, I want the latter for you. I don’t want our efforts to be in vain. I want our work to count for something. I want our work to last. Beloved, I fear that all of us have spent considerable time and energy on things that will not be regarded by our Lord in eternity. I suspect that, even now, many of us are neglecting to engage in the right things—or we are engaged in the right things, but in the wrong manner.

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us of just how badly we need Him. We need Jesus to help us set our priorities. And, secondly, we need Jesus to help us complete the work entrusted to us. We may win awards, there may be dinners in our honour, we may be financially rewarded for our work in this world, but if the Lord is not in our labour our reward will be limited to this life only.

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The Perfect Helper

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Have you ever found yourself “in over your head”? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were utterly convinced of your inability to do something?

In my life, the examples where this has been the case have been numerous. One example I can give you is from a couple of years ago when I decided to build a wooden deck for my cottage, which is north of Kingston, Ontario.

I had participated in deck-building in the past and understood, for the most part, what was required. What I doubted, however, was that I could adequately build the deck on my own. This deck needed to be safe for children and it needed to meet the decorative expectations of wife. To this end, I resolved to get help. I enlisted the help of a friend, an engineer, who was experienced in building stable foundations and had helped me build decks in the past.

Before engaging in any part of the work, I made sure that my friend was nearby to keep me from making any critical errors. I could not have built this deck properly if I had been left alone. And my confidence in doing the work was entirely bound up in the accompanying presence of my friend.

I share this illustration with you because in the text before us this morning, Jesus is addressing the anxiety His disciples were feeling as they anticipated carrying on the ministry without the accompanying presence of Jesus. The opening words of this chapter mark Jesus’ desire to encourage them, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

From this statement we learn at least two things. First of all, we learn that followers of Jesus are not immune from having troubled hearts. Our tendency, if we lack someone alongside us, is to fret. If no one is looking out for our well-being, our temptation is to be fearful.

The second thing we learn from Jesus in this verse is that the antidote for our troubled hearts is bound up in our relationship to Jesus Christ. While we concede that anxiety may befall a Christian, I submit to you that anxiety need not master the Christian. Anxiety need not be the constant companion of the Christian. “Let not your hearts be troubled” Jesus says, “believe in God, believe also in Me.

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