Jesus prayed for his disciples, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
What would Jesus pray?
Around the church, we often say that praying shapes believing. What we pray, what we ask for, what we think about, determines where we give our heart, one way of describing belief. As Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount: Where is your treasure, there will your heart be also.
I often tell folks that if you want to know what we believe about a particular liturgy, about baptism or eucharist, marriage or burial, look at the prayers in the service. Do a deeper dive by looking at the verbs in those prayers. They tell a lot about what we affirm, why we even bother with the service, and what we hope to become.
Yesterday in church, we read a portion of John 17. That whole chapter is a prayer Jesus offers, for himself, for disciples gathered with him on that night before he died, and for those who would come to faith through the ministry of the disciples. (That’s you and me, kids.) It’s enlightening to see what Jesus prays. He prays for protection for the disciples, a recognition that the world is a dangerous place. He prays for joy (different from happiness), a sense of well-being undiminished by circumstances. He prays for unity, for oneness among his followers. He’s not expecting that they will all be the same, or even always agree. How boring would that be? But he prays that they will be pulling in the same direction, bringing their diversity of gifts to make the way of love the way of the world. And since the reading was a chosen for a Sunday to observe Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the passage suggests that Jesus continues to pray for those things for us.
What do you make of the prayer for protection? Where do you feel that need? As Martin Luther put it, we live in a world with devils filled that threaten to undo us. We need a mighty fortress. A pandemic caught us all by surprise, illustrating vulnerability, a stark reminder that we are not in control. Coinciding pandemic of mass shootings and other forms of violence make that prayer all too real. All God’s children, but especially right now Israelis and Palestinians, stand in need of protection at this hour.
What do you make of a prayer for joy? When have you experienced joy, perhaps especially when circumstances told you it made no sense? Who do you know that demonstrates that kind of resilient joy? What makes them able to navigate life with that attitude?
Where have you seen the unity for which Jesus prays? His prayer indicates that the unity of his followers will be a witness to God’s activity in the world. In a time of partisan division in our society it’s often difficult to imagine unity. The message of the New Testament is that the Jesus movement strives for that unity.
The question of what Jesus would pray is instructive. Perhaps an equally important question would be: Why would Jesus pray? The gospels tell us that Jesus was always going off to pray by himself. (When he went off to pray, as God among us, wasn’t he just talking to his holy self?) I often wonder why he spent so much time doing that. He was on a mission to save the world. He had three years to do it. Time was short. Was this the best use of his time? Apparently, he thought so.
Jesus becomes our teacher in prayer. We could do worse that to follow his example and pray for protection for all God’s children, to pray for the joy of abundant life, to pray for the unity of all God’s children, a sign of God’s love at work in the world. Pray for those three things this week with specificity. From what specifically do you sense a need for protection? What do you imagine would be a source of joy? Where is there division that can be transformed into the unity that points to God’s activity in the world?
Make time for prayer. It’s a Jesus thing. Not because prayer changes God’s mind, but because prayer changes us.
The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.