I was in the pulpit at Atkinson (ME) United Methodist Church this morning. Here is what I shared.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:4).
As a faith community, we are active in lifting each other up through prayer. Look at our prayer chains. Notice how quickly we respond to the needs not only of members of our congregation, but co-workers, friends and neighbors regardless of their “denomination” or lack thereof. We care.
What if Jesus joined our prayer chain? What if He prayed with us and for us?
Although canonically, our gospel reading is from Luke, I’m going to focus more on John 17. It’s right there in black and white. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours.
Did you get that? Jesus prayed for you. Jesus prayed for me. And I can say that confidently because even though we are removed by 2,000 years in time and space, we are His disciples today. And I bet you thought Jesus’ prayer was just for the apostles and disciples.
Well, it was … but it continues through discipleship right through today.
To put John’s gospel passage in context, Jesus was with His disciples following the Last Supper. After the meal, He was trying to prepare them for the trials and tribulations of next few days. In Luke’s account from Chapter 11 and Matthew in Chapter 6, Jesus shares His thoughts on the mechanics of prayer, but in John He is praying just before heading out across the Kidron valley to the garden of His betrayal. Knowing His death was imminent, you and I were on His mind. How’s that for love?
With the world shouting Jesus was a failure, and death knocking on His door, He intercedes before God for you and me. How’s that for compassion?
His thoughts during His final moments on earth are not on Himself, but on others. Before Jesus faced the cross, He prayed for His disciples, then and now.
Theologians and commentators call John’s account the real Lord’s Prayer … a contrast to what we commonly pray as the Lord’s Prayer, which could more appropriately be called the Disciple’s Prayer.
Breaking it down further, the structure of the prayer is in three parts. First, Jesus looks upward as He magnifies the Father, knowing His work on earth is finished; then Jesus looks outward as He prays for the well-being and care of His disciples, knowing He is sending them into enemy territory; then Jesus looks forward as He prays for the unity and holiness of the future church, knowing the world will base their belief of the Father on the actions of believers. He prayed for His disciples and for all those who would come to faith in Jesus Christ, ultimately becoming His followers. That means you and me.
It’s a fairly easy script for us to follow … look upward, look outward and look forward.
With Jesus’ prayer as a model, our prayers should glorify the Father and reflect the will of God, not our will. Jesus wanted people to understand and recognize the importance of God in their lives. He had a much higher purpose in mind than merely taking care of our needs and wants. Through His praying Jesus shows prayer’s highest aim is not to get our will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.
The end result of our lives is to have the nature of God so much a part of our being that people see Jesus — a glorification of the Father — in us. Jesus has given us a mission to go into the world. All too often the great commission becomes the great omission.
Our mission is not inside the walls of the church, but outside. R.C. Sproul compares the mission to the marketplace. “The cradle of the church was the marketplace. From the preaching and public ministry of Jesus to the daily acts of the apostles, the central scene was the marketplace … The marketplace is where we belong. It is where needy people are found. It is not enough for the church to hang a welcome sign on her door. We dare not wait for the world to come to us.”
When we rub shoulders every day with people who need the power and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ we are the living and breathing answer to the prayer of Jesus.
In His last prayer Jesus also prayed you and I would be one. He prayed we would love each other, as we go forward to love the world for Him. And when Jesus prays for something four times – as He did as recorded in John — He is making a major plea. Jesus does not take unity lightly. It is a major concern for Him. It should be for us as well.
Pray with integrity for unity. If we pray for unity and are at odds with another believer, we are hypocritical. Pray within the family, both our physical and spiritual families, for unity. Before we pray for the church family to be unified we need to pray for unity in our family. Pray in practice for unity. Pray together with others. Praying together recognizes our deep need for one another.
Jesus says the reason we are to unite as believers is to be a witness to a watching world. The reputation of God is at stake. When Christians stand together in unity, they bear living proof of the truth of the gospel. A unified church will convince people there is a God in heaven. Unity creates belief.
But if unity creates belief, then disunity fosters disbelief. How can the world come to believe the gospel if those who already believe it are battling among themselves? When the world sees denominational leaders fighting over control, or young and old members of the same congregation dueling over worship styles, or a church splitting over the color of the new carpet, it says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” When Christians splinter over frivolous and non-essential issues, observers have reason to doubt the very validity of the gospel.
Is it fair to say one of the hindrances of people being drawn into churches today is the way we treat one another? Is it fair to say one of the hindrances of people being drawn into churches today is our denominational dysfunction? Did you know there are an estimated 43,000 Christian denominations worldwide, up from a mere 500 in 1800?
That means, non-believers have 43,000 reasons to remain non-believers. You see, unity is the evidence to the world our faith is real. When unity is present, we answer Jesus’ prayer. We must speak of the essentials and not get bogged down in the superfluous. Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists. We may not agree on the hows … but we all agree on the whats. May we focus on those “whats” essentials so our unity can be evident to all.
To an unbelieving, but watching world came love. Love may be the most powerful apologetic in the Christian’s arsenal. But people need demonstrations of love and not just communications about a loving God if God is to be known. When true love is demonstrated, people are changed. Love, hand in hand with truth, is the strongest persuasion any believer can give to a watching world. When hungering souls see radical, unexpected love in Christians they are drawn irresistibly to the Christian faith. Love is the most powerful message we can preach so people can know God.
Yes, Jesus had you and me on His mind. He was praying for us. He knew His disciples and their disciples — from Matthias to us; yes, we are their disciples — are in a war. They and we would face opposition as we entered hostile territory. Jesus knew they and we need His life, His words, His protection, His care, His joy, His glory, His love. As a people they and we need to be unified and sanctified for the world to know Jesus.
Unfortunately, we live in world where people do not know, recognize or understand God. They will call the providences of God coincidences; the miracles of God medical marvels; the work of God scientific achievement. In fact, the only things the world attributes to God are cataclysmic events like hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons and tsunamis. These are called “acts of God.”
Our adversary is, plain and simple, Satan. In many respects, it is not the world we are to be protected from as much as the executive director of the world system — Satan. Satan is the one operating behind the scenes, pulling the strings of this worldly system; he is the real threat to us. Through enticements and temptations he will use every device to prey upon our human nature and pry our hearts away from God. Or as Peter notes, he is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8).
We are called to resist him, but it isn’t enough to just resist temptation, we must resist the temptor. To resist him, we must understand our role in the battle. John White reminds us, “His (Satan’s) supreme object is to hurt Christ. You personally are of no interest to him. It is only as you relate to Christ that you assume significance in his eyes … Now that you are a Christian his interest in you has nothing to do with you as an individual so much as with your potential for Christ’s cause. Do not flatter yourself. To God you are very important. But to Satan you are nothing more than a potentially useful microbe.”
We see it all the time. As our walk with God solidifies, often things seem to go “wrong.” Our faith is attacked and challenged. How we respond makes all the difference.
Jesus knew the battle would be tough. He fought continually with Satan. The stakes are high, and, therefore, protection is needed. Jesus’ promise is as certain today as it was in apostolic times. We will be protected. In fact, He makes the bold declaration none of them is lost. Aren’t those comforting words? None of them is lost.
Do you realize you can experience God’s grace without experiencing God’s presence? You can have an understanding Jesus died for your sins, and not ever have an intimate relationship with Him? You can know facts and figures, dates and times, and still not really know the One who loved you first. What a shame to be saved and not really enter into the joy of knowing Christ. Sadly, people do it all the time. Our churches are full of people who know who God is but don’t really know Him and have never experienced His presence.
Like a parent, He wraps his enveloping arms around us, especially if the night is the darkest and we are the most scared. He not only goes before us; He goes with us.
When the ambulance comes, He is with us.
When we are wheeled into the ICU, He is with us.
When we are left to face the empty house, He is with us.
When the boss hands us the pink slip, He is with us.
When the check won’t last the month, He is with us.
You see, when we pray we don’t have to convince God to show up. He is already present. We just need to recognize His indwelling presence and then wait for His revealed presence. Isn’t that what we truly desire in prayer — to be in the presence of the One who loves us unconditionally?
May I suggest you pray with the following thoughts in mind:
Knowing life is short, pray for the best use of your life on earth.
Knowing death is certain, pray for urgency in making every day count.
Knowing heaven is real, pray for understanding of its wonder.
Knowing Jesus will return, pray you are ready to meet Him.
Knowing change is needed, pray most of the change will occur here on earth not in heaven.
Knowing people are lost, pray for people you love and want to be with you in heaven.
Knowing time is running out, pray for motivation to reach those not yet saved.
Knowing heaven is for all believers, pray for reconciliation within the fractured body of Christ.
I’ll leave you with a story from the mission field. A small group of missionaries were being threatened by a jungle tribe one night. They prayed and asked for prayer from their mission church, fearful of their imminent demise. A prayer chain quickly followed.
Inexplicably, their would-be attackers abruptly left.
Months later after working with this tribe, some became believers. One of the missionaries asked a tribesman about that night when the tribe threatened them. The tribesman said, “We were planning to attack, but when we saw the garrison of armed soldiers surrounding your campsite we withdrew.”
The missionary knew there was no army surrounding them … except for the presence of God and His host of warring angels.
When we pray we pray both for God’s presence and we pray for His power. And Jesus is right there praying with us.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. — Corrie ten Boom