We’ve posted a couple of times recently on prayer. It’s such a crucial part of the Christian life, but can be so hard.
Do you find this?
You struggle to approach God, feeling empty and unworthy. Things get in the way – your sins, daily life, doubts. You find that even if you do pray your prayers seem to go unheard or unanswered – they don’t get beyond the roof let alone up to Heaven.
Then there seems to be a downward spiral. You don’t pray so other aspects of your spiritual life suffer – you stop reading the Bible, you find the preaching inaccessible, you get more worldly, you sin more. And, because of all these things, you struggle all the more to pray!
A theme we’ve touched on before is that when we get into such a vortex, rather than despairing or even trying to fix ourselves, we should turn our eyes upon Jesus.
An aspect of this we have not explored is that of Christ’s prayers, and more specifically his prayers for his people. So much could be written about Jesus praying and what it teaches us – about his humanity, about his deity, about the importance of prayer and much more. However, in this post, I want to focus on the encouragement to be found in both the fact of Jesus praying for his people and the specifics of what he prayed on their behalf.
Even though a man, and tempted just like we are, Jesus was without sin. His prayers did not suffer from the same shortcomings as our prayers. Think of it like this. Jesus’s prayers were always genuine, sincere, from the heart and effective. Therefore they were always heard and answered. So when we struggle to pray, we can look at the things the Lord Jesus prayed on our behalf when on earth and take comfort in the knowledge that these prayers will be answered even now.
In the second part of this post are some key points to reflect on from Jesus’s great High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17.
Before we move on though, a couple of things.
We should not think of Jesus’s prayers on our behalf as being in the past tense and the effect of them making their way down through the centuries. This is true, but more wonderfully, Jesus is now glorified in heaven, at the right hand of God the Father and there makes intercession for his people (see Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is still praying for each of his people now.
Neither should we just think of Jesus praying for his people as a collective group. He did pray for the ‘church’, but in an amazing way, Jesus cares for each of his people as individuals and prayed/prays for them as such.
When you feel discouraged in your prayers, read through Jesus’s High Priestly prayer for his people in John 17. There is a completeness and richness here that fills so many of the gaps and shortcomings in our own prayers.
1 – Jesus is praying for his disciples in the specific context (verses 6-9, those to whom he has ‘manifest’ or shown himself whilst on earth), however, he also extends the prayer to all Christians (verse 20, not just for these but also for those who believe through their preaching). So the blessings of this prayer are for all believers.
2 – Jesus prays for Christians as those who are Christ’s and have been given to him by the Father (verses 2, 9-10). Therefore, their eternal safety is bound up in the very nature and person of God. If Jesus loses one of his people, then God has failed. This is an impossibility. In other words, no matter how bad you feel to be, or how distant from the God you have professed to love, you are still safe in Christ.
3 – Jesus prays for his own glory and for his Father’s glory (verses 1, 5), but shows us that this is revealed in the giving of eternal life through the Lord Jesus to his people (verse 2). This is the ultimate goal of our God – to glorify himself through his Son in the saving of his people. It is this that Jesus prays for, and more than this, he tells us that none of them is lost (verse 12).
4 – Jesus goes on to say that he has finished the work which God the Father gave him to do – the redemption and salvation of his people, through living in obedience to his Father’s will and his atoning work on the cross. Whilst he had not yet gone to the cross, he speaks of the work being complete because, as Dr Gill writes, ‘the time was come to finish it, and he was sure of the accomplishment of it.‘ Everything needed to make our salvation certain has been finished by the Lord Jesus. Our sin and hard heart cannot get in the way of this.
5 – Jesus asks his Father for five things that will be given to his people:
- That they might have Christ’s joy (verse 13). This is the reciprocal of the joy Christ feels in completing the work of salvation for the people he loves and reuniting them with himself – ‘he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied’ (Isaiah 53:11), ‘for the joy set before him…’ (Hebrews 12:2). So when you feel sad and down, remember that Jesus prayed for you that you might have joy, his joy.
- That they might be one with God and the Lord Jesus (verse 21). God’s people have been eternally his, and here Jesus prays for that time when each of his people will be converted and will openly follow him, showing that they love him. This will be perfectly completed when they are all brought safely home to God in Heaven – something that Jesus also then prays for explicitly…
- That they might be with him where he is (in Heaven) and behold his glory for ever and ever (verses 2, 24). For each of his people, Jesus prays that they will one day be with him, seeing him face to face.
- That the love of God to Christ, that most perfect and complete of loves, will be in his people as well, (verse 26).
- That Christ himself might dwell within his people, (verses 21, 26).
Jesus acknowledges to his Father that his people must live in the world and that it will be hard. However two things he says are particularly encouraging:
- He makes it clear that whilst in the world they are not of the world (verse 16). As believers we have been made different, we have been sanctified (verses 17, 19), set apart by God and given a new heart, a new nature. Therefore, through Christ we have already defeated sin, we are no longer enslaved by it, we are free – if Christ has made you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). We will never be perfect this side of heaven, there will always be set-backs, but we are no longer enslaved to Satan and do not need to despair about our sin, we can beat it.
- Jesus prays that whilst we are in the world, God would ‘keep us from the evil’ of it (verse 15). Maybe you find it hard to pray against your sins. Maybe the world is still very attractive to you. Remember, Jesus has prayed that you will be kept from the evil.