Paul tells us to pray continually, which suggests a constant conversation with our Father about everything in our life. But there are times to focus on prayer and ask about specific things that are near to His heart. And if we want to know what's important to God, we only need to look at the prayers of Jesus.
In the Book of John, we're given a front-row seat to one of the most critical prayer meetings in history. Jesus was about to go to the cross, and John records his anguished prayer for the disciples—and for us.
John 17 opens with Jesus praying for Himself. As His work on earth is completed, He asks the Father to glorify Him so that He, in turn, can point that glory back to God. Then He turns His attention toward the disciples.
He asks God to protect them as things get difficult and to help them develop unity. Taking the gospel around the known world is going to be rough, and they're going to experience a lot of resistance from those opposed to their message. They're going to need God's arm around them to protect them and help them not to fall into division.
The end of Jesus's prayer is focused on those who will believe because of the disciple's message, and that's us. When we examine this prayer, we see what was important to Jesus at this critical time. And it can help inform our own priorities.
Let's examine three ways that Jesus prayed for the church.
1. That all of them may be one
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:22–23).
Before the creation of the universe, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelt in a perfect relationship. Each was maintaining His own unique, individual nature while sharing fully in the life of the other two. When Jesus prays for the church, His heart is that we would share that same kind of relationship.
It's bold of Jesus to pray that Christians would be one in the same way that He's one with the Father. But if it weren't challenging, He wouldn't have had to pray for it. The fact that He focuses on this issue underlines its significance.
Why is our unity so essential? Jesus spells it out for us. Our unity in a divided world is what confirms to the world that our faith is legitimate.
2. To be with Me where I am
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24).
Jesus wants us to finish well. It's His heart that we would run the race He's set before us (Hebrews 12:1). And that when our race is complete, that we would be rewarded by seeing Jesus's true glory and living in His presence. He is not only preparing a place for us (John 14:3), but He cannot wait for us to join Him there.
In the meantime, Paul explains how we are to live in the interim while we look forward to spending eternity with our Lord:
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it (2 Corinthians 5:6–9).
3. That I Myself may be in them
Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (John 17:25–26).
Throughout the Old Testament, God related to His people through the law and the sacrificial system. And while this was an adequate stop-gap measure, it didn't empower the Israelites to be faithful. So they were trapped in a cycle of sin, repentance, and short-lived faithfulness.
But the gospel changes everything. Now God's people can experience Jesus dwelling within them through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the means through which Jesus continues to make the Father known to us, and how we are "transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Living out Jesus's prayer
The prayer Jesus prayed is as essential today as it was when He prayed it thousands of years ago. We need to care about our unity, look forward to being united with Him, and continue to mature through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. And as we do, we get to help Jesus's prayers come true.
To learn more about prayer read this short article.