In the tense hours of life, a relative or a friend may seek to comfort us by telling us they are praying for us. These are comforting words. In the Scriptures, Jesus is praying for us. That is even more comforting, for He knows exactly what our real needs are.
The problem for many of us who live in a personal relationship with Christ is not how to pray, but for what to pray. When teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “When you bring your prayer, address God as Father.” This tells us that prayer is very personal. The closer our relationship is with God, the more intimate our prayer life will be. We talk to our earthly fathers about matters that we would not discuss with a stranger, or even with a neighbor whom we have known for years. Therefore, it is clear that our Heavenly Father tells us He is open to all our requests. However, God does not tell us what priority he places on our individual requests.
An earthly parent will listen to his children’s requests, but some requests get his attention more than others. “I have a pain in my stomach” gets dad’s attention more than “I need a new bicycle,” especially when seven bikes are already sitting in the garage. So it is with our Heavenly Father. In our text, Jesus is praying for those who trust Him as Savior and Lord. Let us look at His prayers for the Church. It might give us a better understanding of for what we are to pray.
Jesus prayed that His Church would be obedient to God’s Word.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:6-8).
As long as Jesus was with His disciples, they were obedient to what He taught them. They might have had questions about what Jesus was teaching them, but they were willing to listen and in the end were committed to all the Savior had said. Now He was leaving them, and Jesus prayed that their faithfulness to Him would continue.
Believers must be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, one of our first prayers for self and brothers and sisters in Christ is that God’s Word is our authority. We cannot depart from it.
I once heard a theological professor, speaking to a group of pastors, say that it is necessary for us to interpret Scripture in the light of present-day culture. His point was that if we do not give our culture a hearing, society will not listen to us.
This is not what Jesus taught. He said that believers are to be the “salt of the earth.” We are not to be influenced by culture. Culture is to be influenced by God’s Word.
The professor went on to say if we live in a culture that accepts same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals the Evangelical Lutheran Church should do the same. This is being disobedient to God’s Word.
In the light of such temptation facing the Church, we should pray, “Lord, make your Church obedient to the Word.” You can be sure that this petition has a high priority with our Heavenly Father.
Jesus prayed that His Church would be protected from the evil one.
“I am coming to you, Holy Father. Protect them by the power of your name. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”
Notice that Jesus did not pray that they would be protected from physical danger. Our Lord knew that they would be beaten, insulted, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and killed for the cause of Christ. He does not ask that the Father would take them out of the world so that they could be spared from such treatment. He knew it would be during those difficult hours that Satan (the evil one) would be testing their faith. Therefore, Jesus prays that their faith would not waver, but they would be spiritually strong.
When I examine my prayer life, I must confess that it is much more common for me to pray for my loved ones’ physical safety than for them to be protected from the temptations that Satan throws at them many times each day. Is that true in your prayer life? Christ places a greater priority on our spiritual well being than on our physical health. Is that shocking? This does not mean that we should not pray for good health and physical healing. Jesus is simply pointing out which one carried the higher priority. After all, this life is limited to a few years. Eternity has no end.
Jesus prayed that His Church would be united.
“My prayer is that they will one just as you are in me and I am in you.”
In spite of our differences, Christ will make us one. That unity is based in love. Jesus says, “Father, I have made them known to you, and will continue to make you known to them, so the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them.”
St. Paul makes it clear that while we are on earth, Christians will have differences of belief when it comes to teachings in the Christian faith. However, we do not differ in what we believe about Christ. He is the Divine Son of God who has come into this world to die for our sins. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has made full satisfaction for all of our sins. If we will repent of our sins and receive Him, we will be saved. This is the central teaching of the Christian faith. If one denies this truth, he or she is not a Christian.
Having said this, we might have different understandings of other teachings such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, this difference should not divide us. It might place us in different denominations, but we are still one in Christ Jesus. When we stand before God Almighty in the judgment, He will not ask us how we interpreted baptism. And if our interpretation is wrong, we will not be eternally damned because of it. This is not to make light of baptism, but it should not divide brothers and sisters in the Church whom God prays will be united as He and the Father are One.
Is this Jesus’ all-inclusive prayer? No, but these blessings from God have a higher priority in Jesus’ prayer life.
Can we, and should we, pray for other blessings? By all means. However, as we grow in our relationship with Christ, and our prayer matures, I believe we will have a greater concern for our spiritual needs.
Will we ever get beyond the prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray”? Not on planet earth.