Most of us can hear in our minds the anguished voices of Christians and even non-Christians pleading to us, “Pray for me.” And quite often at the moment we make the promise to pray for others, the thought flashes, “But, what will I pray?” Paul wrote: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms…. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:12,18
Intercessory prayer is the act of petitioning God or praying on behalf of another person or group. Prayer is the answer for all situations; but, what exactly do we say to God concerning others? This is a valid question especially in situations where we are requested to pray for someone we do not know – or requested to pray for a situation where we do not know all of the circumstances, or requested to pray in a situation where we have no clue what needs to be prayed. Sometimes we just end up saying, “Lord bless them.” The wonderful prayer of Jesus we will study today teaches that we can pray more effectively. We can pray like Jesus prayed and pray that the person will have unhindered fellowship with the Lord. We can pray like Jesus prayed and pray for others to have joy in the midst of opposition. And we can pray like Jesus prayed for others to have devotion for Jesus’ mission.
When we are requested to pray (especially in a situation where we do not know the person), I believe that it is best to stop immediately and pray. If the situation is such, you and the person requesting the prayer will be blessed, if you take a moment right then and stop and pray. Sometimes during the work day, I will receive a personal prayer request through the email. In those cases, I frequently type my prayer to the Lord and send it through the email back to that person. The reason I advocate stopping and praying immediately for prayer requests is that if I do not, I easily forget as the cares of the day wear on. But thank God, He never forgets our prayers!
We look at a prayer situation where Moses prayed for the Israelites after the golden calf incident. God was so angry with the Israelites that He was ready to destroy them. After Moses interceded with God on behalf of the people we read in Exodus 32:14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. God changed His mind in response to a prayer. We cannot completely unlock the mystery of how God uses prayer to work out His will.
In order for our prayers to become genuine “antibiotics” in the lives of others instead of just “Band-Aids,” let’s look at how Jesus Himself prayed.
Most often we think of the “Lord’s Prayer,” as the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6 – Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name… In many Bible studies, scholars refer to the prayer in Matthew 6 as the Model Prayer instead of the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17 on the night before His crucifixion could more aptly be described as the Lord’s Prayer. It is the longest of the Bible’s recorded prayers of Jesus. It falls into three parts: prayer for Himself [verses 1-5], prayer for His disciples [verses 6-19], and prayer for future believers [20-26].
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 should not be confused with the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane described in Luke 22:44 as a prayer of agony. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. The prayer recorded in John 17 was prayed just before Jesus went to the Garden. John 18:1 records: When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.
We have heard it before but let us go back to the events that preceded the Lord’s prayer in John 17. The disciples had been disputing among themselves as to which of them was to be the greatest in the kingdom. It had been a longstanding problem among them. Jesus had been telling them that He was going to be crucified but they failed to “get the picture.” They kept envisioning a world empire in Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus got down on His hands and knees and washed their feet, the menial service of a slave, to burn into their minds that He had called them to serve and not to rule. Christ’s followers even today still face this same age old problem. It was under these circumstances that Jesus began to pray that the disciples would have unhindered fellowship with the Father
Read John 17:9-12 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
Jesus’ statement that He was not praying for the world does not mean that the world is beyond God’s love. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus knew that ‘the world’ was to be reached through these 11 disciples and, therefore, He prayed for them. With all of their failures and faults, the disciples still received His word of commendation: “glory has come to me through them.” Jesus’ prayer reflected the time that was quickly approaching when He would no longer be with the disciples in the flesh. The disciples would still be in the flesh but they were going to be able to live through the Spirit just like we can today!
Jesus said in John 10:30 I and the Father are one.” Yet, here in this passage He prays to the Father as if He were someone different from Himself. The Bible teaches that there is one true God, but that the one God exists and has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is how we experience Him – as Father to whom we pray, as Savior who came to earth and gave His life for us, and as the Holy Spirit who moves in and among us.
The emphasis in this passage is on the safety of the believer; God keeps His own. Remember that when fears begin to override you. Our safety depends on the nature of God, not our own character or conduct. When He was on earth, Jesus kept His disciples and they could depend on Him. If the Savior, in a human body, could keep His own while He was on earth, He certainly is able to keep us now that He is glorified in heaven. He and the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, are able to guard and secure God’s people! Romans 8:31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Jesus had said earlier in Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Take refuge in the truth that when you accept Jesus as Savior, our Lord does gather you under His wings of protection. You are safe and secure.
The son of destruction or perdition as the KJV translates was Judas Iscariot. Judas is not an example of a believer who lost his salvation. Judas is an example of an unbeliever who pretended to have salvation but was finally exposed as a fraud and never accepted Jesus as Lord although there was still opportunity after the betrayal.
When undecided what to pray for someone – pray for that person to have unhindered fellowship with God. There are so many things in this world that occupy our thoughts and time that try to separate us from the love of God. How wonderful to know when we have reached the depth of despair that someone has gone to God on our behalf and prayed: When you breathe your prayers to God, remember that general prayers are okay but specific prayers are even better.
Jesus was specific. He said He was not praying for “the world.” He was praying for His followers. Jesus gave a basis for His prayer. He appealed to God that the disciples were not His alone but that they belonged to the Father also. One way to take our prayers beyond the “God bless them” prayer is to remind God of the person’s faithfulness or love for Him. Psalm 91:14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
When a situation is so desperate that we have absolutely no clue as to what to pray, the prayer can always be for “joy in the midst of opposition.”
Read John 17:13-16 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
Jesus was very much aware of the world’s hatred. He was to be crucified the next day and yet He prayed that the disciples would have a full measure of joy within them. Notice particularly verse 14: I have given them your word. The Word is the gift of God to us. The Word is divine in origin, a precious gift from heaven. We must never take God’s Word for granted. Know the Word and how to use it in daily life. The Word of God gives us joy and answered prayer brings us joy as well. Last week as we learned how to better pray in Jesus’ name we read the words of Jesus in John 16:24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
When we are “born into the Kingdom of God,” we are not suddenly whisked out of the world away from trouble. We are to be “Lights in the darkness.” One way to bring that Light to friends in distress is to pray, as Jesus prayed, for them to have a full measure of Joy in Jesus. Joy is the fruit of a right relationship with God. It is not something people can create by their own efforts. Joy is the fruit of a Spirit-led life; therefore, our prayers are powerful when we pray for others to have joy. The third divine way to pray for others is to ask for others to have devotion to Jesus and His mission.
Read John 17:17-19 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Sanctification means being set apart for God. When we were saved we were set apart for God. As we grow in our faith, we experience sanctification more and more. We should love sin less and love God more as the years go by. We are sanctified as we serve Him and become a blessing to others. God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17). God’s Son is Truth (John 14:6) and God’s Spirit is Truth (1 John 5:6). Warren Wierbse says: We need all three if we are to experience true sanctification, a sanctification that touches every part of our inner person. With the mind, we learn God’s truth through the Word. With the heart, we love God’s truth, His Son. With the will, we yield to the Spirit and live God’s truth day by day. It takes all three for a balanced experience of sanctification. It is not enough merely to study the Bible and learn a great deal of doctrinal truth. We must also love Jesus Christ more as we learn all that He is and all He has done for us. Learning
and loving should lead to living, allowing the Spirit of God to enable us to obey His Word. This is how we glorify Him in this present evil world.
Sanctification leads to personal holiness, and out of personal holiness comes powerful prayer. You may be a shy person. You may be unable to speak out in group settings. Your financial giving may be small because of limited resources. BUT, you can become a “Mover and Shaker” in the Kingdom of God. The next time someone says, “Pray for me” and you are uncertain how to pray, pray like Jesus – that is, for unhindered fellowship with God, joy in the midst of opposition, and devotion to Jesus’ mission. The words won’t matter. Jesus listens to your heart. James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.