Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I pray and this prompted two questions.
First, “How did I learn to pray?” I mostly learned how to pray from listening to people I respected in church, at home, or over a meal at a restaurant. The reason I found this question important is because of the way I was taught to pray has impacted the content of my prayers.
That leads to the second question. “For what do I pray?” Ultimately, I find my prayers revolve around the typical categories of health, family, finances, guidance, and missions. Nothing is inherently wrong with that list. It is right that these things are brought before the Lord in prayer. My concern comes when I am honest about the emphasis in my prayers when praying for these things.
In praying for health, family, finances, guidance, and missions, I tend to pray for the result that will bring me the most comfort. In its essence, praying for comfort is not wrong, but honestly, it seems to be the core of most, if not all, my prayers. This fact is further highlighted when I realized that I pray more frequently and fervently when I am discomforted in one of these areas.
Recently, I had the privilege of teaching on John 17. Preparing to teach that material proved rather convicting. I’ve studied and taught many times on Jesus teaching us to pray, but it has been a long time since I’ve studied how Jesus actually prayed. This passage was uniquely convicting to me because, in it, I was personally included in his prayer for all future believers.
Here are four things that Jesus prayed for me and for all who believe in him, which I believe should help shape our prayers today:
1. Protection from the evil one (17:15-16).
Jesus’ prayer isn’t that his disciples wouldn’t experience physical harm or have tough times as the enemy attacks them, but that in the midst of this fallen world, their faith would be safe from the enemy. Jesus, in Luke 22:31, prayed for Simon Peter in a similar way. Satan was going to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus prayed for his protection. Jesus didn’t pray for physical safety or the removal of the emotional bombardment he was about to receive, but he prayed that his “faith may not fail.” This perspective is most consistent with Matthew 13 where Jesus presented the Parable of the Soils. The evil one, in this parable, comes and snatches away the word of the kingdom of God before someone can understand it and be changed by it. In other words, the enemy keeps them from believing, following, and becoming transformed-fruit-bearers for Jesus. In the same way, Jesus is praying for his disciples that their faith would hold in the face of the enemy and they would be protected from the disillusionment and distraction that he brings.
2. Sanctification by the truth (17:17-19).
Jesus prayed that his disciples would be set apart from this world while in the world serving him and his purpose. He prayed they would be holy, abstaining from sin. What if one of my primary concerns in every situation was my holiness instead of my comfort?
3. Unification in Jesus Christ (17:20-23).
Jesus prayed that those who believe in him would be unified, and that through this unity of purpose, the world might believe that Jesus was sent from the Father.
4. Experience Jesus’ eternal glory (17:24-26).
The last thing Jesus prayed is that believers would experience the full glory of Jesus when they are joined with him in the fullness of his kingdom. This aspect of the prayer provides a future confidence that followers of Christ will one day join him in his kingdom and behold him in all his glory. That glory will be such that it will make the sufferings of this world dissipate like smoke in the wind (Romans 8:17).
Seeing how Jesus prayed for me challenges me in two specific ways.
First, Jesus’ prayer challenges how I view my purpose. God desires that I be protected, sanctified, unified, and ultimately experience Jesus’ eternal glory. That purpose should provide a context through which all present and future circumstances are experienced.
Second, this prayer challenges how I pray for myself and others so that the motive in my prayer might be that God would protect faith, sanctify life, unify his people, and bring all believers through to the end so that they would experience the fullness of his eternal glory!